It can be hard exercising outdoors during an Arizona summer. Unless you exercise early, early, early — like sunrise. Below are five relatively short hikes that take just an hour or two.
They’re not terribly technical, although hiking footwear is recommended, and these hikes include a variety of Valley parks and mountain ranges. Scrambling to the top for sunrise will be an experience not soon forgotten. And it’s a great way to start the day.
GOLDMINE GULCH TRAIL Where: San Tan Mountain Regional Park Distance: 2 1 /2 miles round-trip Getting there: From U.S. 60, take Ellsworth Road south through Queen Creek to Hunt Highway. Turn west on the Hunt Highway to Wagon Wheel. Turn south on Wagon Wheel and west on Skyline. Proceed to the gate on your left.
There isn’t much to this trailhead, just a sign notifying hikers that they are about to enter the San Tan Mountain Regional Park and a box for the $5 entry fee. Proceed on a rugged road up a slight incline. The desert is sparse here — limited cactuses and brush — but the raw beauty is unmistakable. In the cliffs on your left are the remnants of the area’s mining activity. Take note of the two graves on your right, Marion E. Kennedy (1874-1960) and Carter Mansell (1902-1987), who once lived in these hills. At the sighting of those graves, you need to veer left and head up a very rocky road requiring good shoes and preferably a walking stick. As you reach the saddle the cooling breeze is invigorating, as is the view. But even better is the scenery a few hundred yards past the saddle to the south ridge. There, with the exception of few rough roads, you see what area pioneers saw — blue sky, puffy clouds and raw nature. Up and back, this hike takes a little over an hour.
Historical note: Prehistoric people farmed this land, although crop variety is not definitively known. In the 1940s, many attempts were made to coax gold and copper from the earth, but eventually those mines were abandoned. Now the California leaf-nose bat makes its home in these hills.
32ND STREET ACCESS
Where: Phoenix Mountain Preserve
Distance: Two miles round-trip Getting there: Take Loop 202 to the 32nd Street exit and head north, or right, until the road dead-ends at Lincoln Drive. The 32nd Street access to Phoenix Mountain Preserve is located through the traffic light and to the right.
This is a relatively easy trail to negotiate. It takes about an hour, and it’s one your dog will enjoy. (Waste bags are provided at the trailhead.) The first quarter-mile is flat, but then a few ups and downs with loose rocks will make you glad you wore hiking shoes. Make sure you follow the arrows pointing out Trail 8. As you negotiate the path, note a fissure to your left. Look for small statues and structures in the walls of this fissure as people have been known to tuck them there. The second mile includes some rough steps as you wind your way along the side of the mountain. At the top you are rewarded with a cement bench. If you wish to continue, take the short trail to the top of the next summit on your left. Another bench awaits you there, plus a delightful view of Piestewa Peak.
Historical note: Efforts to preserve the mountains within Phoenix began in the early 1960s. The Phoenix Mountain Preserve Council was formed in 1970. Today Phoenix owns more than 6,000 acres of the 7,071-acre preserve and has added more than 1,000 acres to South Mountain Park.
Where: Echo Canyon Trail
Distance: 2 1 /2 miles round-trip Getting there: 44th Street north will turn right and become McDonald Drive. After the light, on the right, is a road called Echo Canyon Parkway. Turn right and proceed to the parking lot. Portable toilets are available.
If you’ve never hiked Echo Canyon Trail, take someone who has. If you’re hiking before sunup and you have a light that straps to the head, take it. It will free your hands for the rock scrambling. This trail starts with sandstone steps and quickly graduates to granite rock faces and crevices requiring a good pair of hiking boots. The ascent is dramatic with the Valley blanketed in lights before sunup and at daybreak a widening ribbon on the horizon. At times the trail is hard to follow, but undoubtedly a "regular" will go by to lead the way.
Depending on your experience and physical fitness, this hike will take from 70 minutes to more than two hours. Elevation gain in the 1 1 /4-mile hike is 1,200 feet. You won’t see any large wildlife on this hike, but you might see some interesting spiders, lizards and, in our case, mice.
Historical note: During the late 1800s, the federal government held onto Camelback Mountain for an American Indian reservation. By the 1940s, almost the entire mountain was in private hands. In 1965, the Preservation of Camelback Mountain Foundation led by Barry Goldwater spearheaded an effort to save as much of the summit as possible. In 1968 this effort succeeded.
Where: Telegraph Pass
Distance: Three miles
Getting there: Take Interstate 10 to Chandler Boulevard. Head west on Chandler Boulevard, continuing through the "loop" until you get to Desert Foothills Parkway. Turn north onto Desert Foothills Parkway until you get to Eighth Place, where the trailhead is located. No bathroom facilities. Water faucet.
Traffic is brisk on this hike as many local residents make the climb before heading to the office. The ascent is about 600 feet with a trail that starts in concrete and progresses to coarse rock and then desert path. On either side of the trail, desert doves perch atop saguaros and coo in the morning. Slowly rising, the trail plunges into the shadow of South Mountain (Greasy Mountain to the local Indians) for the more difficult portion of the ascent. The last bit of this hike, to the pass, is the steepest, but a bend awaits you there. It’s a good place to have a slug of water and a snack before heading down. Round-trip, Telegraph Pass takes about 45 minutes. Historical note: The first telegraph line into Phoenix was strung along this route. The trail is part of 58 miles of trails within the country’s largest municipal park. Between 1934 and 1937, 200 Civilian Conservation Corps workers constructed 40 of those miles. The job paid $30 a month plus food and shelter.
Where: Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
Distance: 3.2 miles
Getting there: Take U.S. 60 east to Ellsworth Road. Head north on Ellsworth 7 1 /2 miles to Usery Mountain Regional Park. Inside the park ($5 per car), proceed to Usery Cave Drive West and the Wind Cave Trailhead.
To stand at the trailhead and look up at the volcanic tuff where the wind cave is located can be a bit daunting, but the hike is fairly moderate. In 1.6 miles over granite/desert terrain, hikers experience 800 feet of elevation gain.
There is some loose gravel, so good hiking boots/shoes are recommended. As you ascend, lush landscape gives way to more rugged desert terrain and then the cave, really an indent where the tuff and granite meet. From this spot on a clear day, you can clearly see the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix. Round-trip, the Wind Cave hike takes 1 1 /2 hours, if you include time for a picnic breakfast at the top.
Historical note: Pass Mountain, where the Wind Cave is located, was once known as Scarface Mountain. The recreation area was named after King Usery, an area rancher of questionable character who was eventually apprehended by the law, reportedly after stealing a gold bar. Usery Mountain is actually the hill with "Phoenix" spelled out in white paint. Some say the lettering was a Boy Scout project, while others believe the military was responsible, placing it there to guide aircraft flying supplies during World War II.
Periodic summer sunrise schedule
Today: 5:40 a.m. May 15: 5:26 a.m. June 1: 5:18 a.m. June 30: 5:20 a.m. July 15: 5:28 a.m. July 31: 5:39 a.m. Aug. 15: 5:49 a.m. Aug. 31: 6 a.m. Source: The Farmer’s Almanac
• Always use designated trails.
• Use common courtesy and good sense when meeting other hikers on trails.
• Downhill yields to uphill. Keep to the right.
• Slow your pace and announce your intentions when approaching or passing another hiker.
• Do not disturb, pick up or remove any wildlife, plants, sticks or rocks.
• Do not litter.
• Trail use after sunset is not recommended. Source: South Mountain Environmental Education Center