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1. Echo Canyon
Echo Canyon, located on Camelback Mountain, just underwent considerable renovations that included adding twice as much parking, rerouting part of the trail and installing a permanent bathroom, a chilled drinking fountain and a shade ramada. It is a favorite of Scottsdale climbers, so finding parking can be challenging even with the added parking spots.
This trail is an intense and difficult hike the entire 1.2 miles to the summit. It ascends 1,280 ft — starting at an elevation of 1,424 ft, you reach 2,704 ft at the top of Camelback. There are two rail sections which are the steepest and most difficult parts of the trail. Once past the second rail, the Echo Canyon trail consists of large rocks, phenomenal views, and continued steep grade until the summit with many good places to stop for water and photos.
Tom’s Thumb Trail, located within the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, is 4.2 miles for a round trip endeavor. This moderately difficult hike weaves in and out of gorgeous vegetation and provides breathtaking views of Phoenix and Four Peaks.
As an added bonus, just west of the Thumb is a path that leads to the Ogre’s Den, a natural cave that was created by boulders leaning up against each other. There is a hiker log there, along with some interesting trinkets and rock art.
3. Waterfall Canyon in White Tank Mountains Regional Park
Easy access makes this .8 mile, family-friendly trail a favorite among passionate hikers and first-timers. The short, barrier-free trail runs along Waterfall Canyon Road and is relatively flat the majority of the way. The hike takes only about an hour to complete.
Waterfall Canyon is aptly named after a waterfall, which flows only after a good rain. So, be sure to plan accordingly if you are hoping to see the waterfall. This trail also has the option of night hiking – don’t forget to bring a flashlight, scorpion light and bug repellent.
Pinnacle Peak Trail runs through Pinnacle Peak Park in North Scottsdale and is regarded as a moderate hike with an elevation gain of approximately 1,300 feet. The 1.75 mile (one way) trail provides a very smooth hike with a lot of up’s and down’s that aren’t too steep for a beginning hiker. It is not a loop trail so you’ll come back over the same trail.
Catch great views of saguaros, cholla cacti, creosote plants and wildlife such as bobcats, Gila monsters and western diamondback rattlesnakes. This trail also offers night hiking and astronomy talks where participants can enjoy a desert evening looking and learning about the stars as well as rock climbing in certain locations.
5. Deem Hills West
Deems Hills West only just recently opened in 2010. It maintains a more secluded feel than some of the more well-known trails around while boasting exquisite, uninterrupted views of the valley. Deem Hills is really 2 hills in one with a 6 mile circumference trail around both hills. There are also multiple combinations of trails you can take to create a shorter cut through.
The trail itself is well cut, although the desert can still be pretty loose in places due to its newness. For an average hiker it’s a very nice hike but for a beginner there are inclines that might pose a challenge in places, especially if you head up to the summit (the Ridgeline Trail).
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