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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Traveling on Trails in Arizona

Arizona Hiking Trails

By Christine A. Vogt, Ph.D.

Arizona Hiking Trails

Before there were roads, there were trails. Early settlers who entered Arizona from the east or south were on foot, horse or coach, and traversed the rugged landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Today, some of these historical routes have been turned into recreation trails by local, state or federal agencies.

Trails are the most popular form of recreation facilities, according to dozens of park and
recreation studies that I have conducted across many Western and Midwestern states. From the old to the young; able-bodied to disabled; hikers, runners, mountain bike cyclists and equestrians, non-motorized trails are versatile for a variety of users which makes trails so popular.

In Phoenix, there are a plethora of convenient trails for those who live near one of the
mountain parks.

Any Amenities?

Trailheads can be found at ends of roads or in parking lots that sometimes offer a restroom, water, picnic ramada, or information center. In Phoenix and other municipalities’ parks, access to trails is free. This is truly one of the treasured assets of the Phoenix community for residents, dogs, horses and visitors to enjoy year-round. Extensive trail systems also exist in Tucson, Flagstaff, Prescott, Payson and Sedona, to name just a few other big trail communities.

Local, state and federal agencies, along with citizen volunteer groups, work together to vision, plan, fund and maintain these in-city pathways that often connect to the outlying areas of the community.


On most mornings, parking lots are full of users. At night, bobbles of lights on trails reflect
evening hikers enjoying a vast sunset view or being outside during a cooler part of the day.
Trail users are encouraged (and expected) to follow etiquette, which includes carrying enough water for yourself and others including pets, parking in marked areas, and not calling out search and rescue unless it is life or death.

How to Find Trails

There are many resources to find a nearby or excursion trail. Local, state and federal agencies provide online maps via websites and apps. Arizona has many avid hikers who have penned their own books, including Roger Naylor. Robert Manning, a retired parks and recreation professor, and his wife, Martha, share their trail adventures in Arizona and around the world in coffee table-style books, aiming to feature trails that are bucket list-worthy. There are also smartphone apps such as AllTrails.

The Benefits

Being on a trail provides a fresh-air experience, results in some level of exercise (depending on pace and distance), allows for wildlife-viewing (always be watchful of rattlesnakes—I have seen a few!), and is a part of the day that might be for self-reflection and relaxation, or for hanging out with friends or family.

In a hurried life, being on a trail is a refuge, unlike battling traffic on highways and interstates.

Favorite, Recently Hiked Trails

  • The 100 and 8 Trails in North Mountain Park, Phoenix
  • Geronimo Trail in South Mountain Park, Phoenix
  • Boynton Canyon, Sedona
  • Arizona Trail in and around Flagstaff

Trail Etiquette & Safety

  • Stay on the trail—it keeps you safe and helps the environment.
  • Bring water while you are on the trail and also have water in your car.
  • Park in a designated space.
  • Know the trail—get prior information about the distance, elevation change and any
  • Be friendly—smile and chat with other trail users.
  • Take cell phone pictures of the physical map at the trailhead. Do not always count on cell phone service.



Christine A. Vogt is a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University. She serves on the Arizona State Committee on Trails, housed with Arizona State Parks and Trails agency. She is an avid trail user and supporter and hikes regularly.

Photo by Dani Cropper.


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