Trail mix

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By Virginia Betz

Courtesy of Maricopa County Parks Department

The word “treadmill” is synonymous with “boring routine.” Walking, however, is often cited as the optimal form of exercise, bestowing the greatest cardiovascular benefit with the least risk in terms of injury or overexertion. Walking lowers the production of “bad” cholesterol and increases the production of “good” cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, elevates mood, and helps with weight management. Even at a very leisurely pace of 2 to 3 miles per hour, a walker can burn 150 to 300 calories per hour (depending on body weight). An actual destination, some decent scenery and maybe a companion or two make walking a more appealing form of exercise. With the falling temperatures of November, LPM recommends that you take advantage of the over 200 miles of walking trails in the Phoenix Parks system. With so many trails to choose from, each excursion can provide a unique panorama, as well as an opportunity to learn more about the local environment. Moreover, different trails are tailored to people with varying fitness levels, including some recently designed “barrier-free” trails to accommodate disabled users.


South Mountain Park/Preserve

Main entrance: 10919 S. Central Av.; Pima Canyon entrance: 9904 S. 48th St.

At 16,000 acres, this is the largest municipal park in the country. South Mountain began its career as a city park back in 1924 when Senator Carl Hayden spearheaded an effort to purchase the land from the federal government. Today, it boasts 51 miles of primary trails in open, undeveloped desert. It is also the site of the South Mountain Environmental Education Center (10409 S. Central Av., 602-262-7393). Trails are open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Judith Tunnell Accessible Trail: Length: 1 mile; Elevation change: minimal

Level: easy and barrier-free with a prepared surface suitable for users of wheelchairs and other walking aids; bicycle and equestrian traffic also permitted; benches, water fountains and interpretive signs along trail

Ranger Trail: Length: 1.6 miles; Elevation change: 800 feet; Level: moderate

Holbert Trail: Length: 2.5 miles; Elevation change: 1,100 feet; Level: difficult


Papago Park

625 North Galvin Parkway, 602-495-5458

Well known for its exotic sandstone formations and as the home of the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo. The Park also features an all-metal station exercise course that covers 1.7 miles and an extensive network of trails, open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

West Park Accessible Trail: Length: 1.2 miles; Elevation change: minimal

Level: easy, has an asphalt surface

West Park Loop Trail: Length: 4 miles; Elevation change: 50 feet

Level: easy, dirt


Camelback Mountain

Echo Canyon Trailhead: 5950 N. Echo Canyon

Perhaps the city’s most inviting hiking spot, the summit is 2,704 feet above sea level. At one time an Indian reservation, the mountain eventually became private property in the 20th century. The base is dominated by residential development, but the “hump” and “head” above 1,200 feet have been spared due to a concerted preservation effort in the 1960s. Parking at the trailhead is extremely limited due to the popularity of the landmark. Hiking is only permitted from sunrise to sunset.

Echo Canyon Bobbie’s Rock Trail: Length: one half mile; Elevation change: less than 200 feet; Level: easy

Cholla Trail: Length: 1.6 miles one-way; Elevation change: 1,200 feet; Level: difficult


Reach 11 Recreation Area

Located between Cave Creek and Scottsdale Roads, the Park runs east-west for seven miles along the north side of the Central Arizona Project Canal. There is an 18-mile system of numbered, interconnecting trails that bisect the park. All trails are wide, flat and hard-surfaced. The Barrier-Free Nature Trail, accessed from the east side of Tatum Boulevard, is a pedestrian-only trail featuring interpretive signs, a pond and picnic area.


Deem Hills

51st Av and Deem Hills Parkway, 602-262-7901

This recreation area of 1,000 acres is characterized by upland vegetation and black rock formations resulting from ancient lava flows. Due to the hilly topography, most of the 9.5 miles of trails include some elevation changes. Trails open sunrise to sunset.

Palisade Trail: Length: 1.53 miles; Elevation change: 325 feet; Level: moderate

Ridgeline Trail: Length: 1.45 miles; Elevation change: 350 feet; Level: difficult


Phoenix Mountains Recreation Area, 2701 E. Squaw Peak Drive and Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, 2421 E. Northern Av.

These two recreation areas surround the base of the 2,600-foot-high Piestewa Peak, only recently annexed to Phoenix in 1959. The area offers trails less traveled and less developed than in the other parks. Trails open at 5 a.m. and you definitely don’t want to be on them after dark.

Dreamy Draw Nature Trail (#220): Length: 1.5 miles; Elevation change: 200 feet; Level: easy to moderate

L.V. Yates Trail (trailhead at 40th St. south of Shea Blvd.): Length: 2.45 miles; Elevation change: 220 feet; Level: easy to moderate

Summit Trail (ascends to the highest point in Phoenix Mountain Park; no dogs): Length: 1.2 miles; Elevation change: 1,200 feet; Level: strenuous

Maps of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Areas are available at Trailheads, parking facilities, restrooms and ramadas for picnicking are clearly marked on them. The website also provides details on the character of every developed trail, as visitors must keep to prepared trails. Dogs are usually allowed, but must be kept on a leash; many trails are shared with cyclists and horseback riders. The partial listing of trails given here ought to convince you of the variety of pleasures so readily available in our city parks and how easy it is to turn an afternoon walk into a mini-adventure. 

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