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The Hardest Hikes in Phoenix, Arizona: A Local’s Guide

the hardest hikes in arizona

If you’re an experienced hiker looking for a challenging trek, this post highlights some of the hardest hikes in Phoenix, Arizona, and how you can conquer them! 

Phoenix is known for its sunny weather, stunning desert landscapes, and an abundance of hiking trails. If you are seeking a challenge, the city offers even more! From heart-pumping ascents to rugged terrain, the hardest hikes in Phoenix, Arizona, are not for the faint of heart. 


I was born and raised in Phoenix and have been hiking for 10+ years! While I consider myself an experienced hiker, I haven’t even attempted some of the tough treks on this list. But for those who dare to conquer them, the reward is nothing short of spectacular views and a great workout. 


Keep scrolling for a list of the hardest hikes in Arizona, including Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak, and Flatiron

hardest hikes in arizona

>> Please respect nature by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

A Note About Phoenix Hiking Weather

The summer temperatures are no joke, especially in Arizona. Hiking in the heat can cost you your life if you’re not smart and prepared.


If you’re visiting from out of state or not accustomed to hiking in such extreme heat, avoid hiking these trails from May to October


If you want hot-weather hiking tips, watch this helpful video I shared on Instagram!

Best Hikes In Arizona for Experienced Hikers

tom's thumb hike in scottsdale

An important note about the hardest hikes in Phoenix: these trails are very popular! If you choose to attempt these hikes, I advise getting up early to secure a parking spot. 


All of these hikes require sturdy shoes with good traction and plenty of water. Do not attempt these hikes in the summer

Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail

hardest hike in mesa
  • Trail Length: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,641 ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Kid-friendly: No
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Parking: There is plenty of parking at the trailhead.
  • Fee/Permit: Lost Dutchman State Park charges a fee to enter. For more information, please visit this website.


Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail is one of Arizona’s hardest and most rewarding hikes. Located in the Superstition Mountains, this hike begins in Lost Dutchman State Park and follows the Siphon Draw Trail. 


The first stretch of this hike is relatively easy, but soon, you’ll be ascending over 2,600 feet in just 2 miles. The trail is rocky and steep, with some sections requiring the use of your hands to scramble up the rocks. 


The final push is the most challenging part of the hike, but you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views in all directions! Make sure to take a break to refuel and hydrate before you start the climb down. 

Piestewa Peak Summit Trail #300

the hardest hike in phoenix arizona
  • Trail Length: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,148 ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Kid-friendly: Yes
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Parking: There is a parking lot at the trailhead. 
  • Fee/Permit: No


Don’t let the trail length fool you – you’ll be climbing over 1,000 feet in just one mile! 


Piestewa Peak Summit Trail #300 is located in the heart of central Phoenix in the Phoenix Mountain Preserves. This popular trail features a series of switchbacks and steep climbs to the summit. 


The summit itself is a rocky outcropping that offers hikers a place to rest, refuel, and enjoy the views! While this is one of the hardest hikes in Phoenix, it gives you the best views of the Phoenix area, including Camelback Mountain, downtown Phoenix, and the surrounding suburbs. 


Due to its popularity and proximity to the city, this is a popular trail! Please be sure to be courteous to other hikers and stay on the trail to avoid damaging the delicate desert ecosystem.

Camelback Mountain via Echo Canyon Trail

hiking camelback mountain
  • Trail Length: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,420 ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Kid-friendly: Yes
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Parking: There is a parking lot at the trailhead. 
  • Fee/Permit: No


Located in a Phoenix suburb, Camelback Mountain is known for its distinctive shape, which resembles the hump and head of a camel… which you can climb!


Camelback Mountain via Echo Canyon Trail is one of Phoenix’s most popular and strenuous hikes. The trail starts with a steep climb and ends with a steep climb up the mountain’s red sandstone cliffs. The trail can be narrow in some places, and hikers often need to use their hands to scramble up some sections of the trail. 


But as you climb higher, the views get better and better! Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding city and desert landscape. 


If you choose to take on the challenge of this trail and want to see a hidden cave, you’ll want to read my post on cave hikes in Phoenix!

Camelback Mountain via Cholla Trail

hiking the hardest hikes in arizona
  • Trail Length: 3.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,279 ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Kid-friendly: Yes
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Parking: There is a parking lot at the trailhead. 
  • Fee/Permit: No


When comparing Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain, Cholla Trail is actually the easiest of the two. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy trail, just easier


The Cholla Trail is longer than Echo Canyon Trail, making it a more gradual climb. While this trail is easy to follow, you’ll have to do some scrambling for the final half-mile or so. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Valley Of The Sun. 

Tom’s Thumb Trail

  • Trail Length: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,236 ft 
  • Route Type: Out & back
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Kid-friendly: Yes
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, on a leash
  • Parking: There is a parking lot at the trailhead.
  • Fee/Permit: No


If you’re looking for the hardest hike in Scottsdale, I recommend Tom’s Thumb Trail! Located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, this trail gets its name from the unique rock formation that looks like a thumb! 


The trail has a gradual ascent all the way up, but you can see peeks of Tom’s Thumb from several points along the trail, which is a good motivation to keep going! Once you get to the top, you’ll get an up-close look at Tom’s Thumb and stunning views of Four Peaks Wilderness, Superstition Mountains, and the Fountain Hills area. 

What Makes A Hike Difficult?

hard hikes in Phoenix

While the difficulty of a hike is subjective, as each hiker has their own level of fitness, experience, and preferences, there are several factors that can contribute to making a hike hard. 


  • Elevation Gain: The amount of elevation gain on a trail is a key factor in determining a trail’s difficulty. Hikes that climb steeply, with a lot of elevation gain over a relatively short distance (for example 1,000 ft of elevation gain in 1 mile), can be very challenging.
  • Distance: The length of a trail is also a factor in its difficulty. Longer hikes can be tiring, especially if they involve a lot of climbing or downhill walking.
  • Terrain: The type of terrain on a hike can also affect a hike’s difficulty. Trails that are rocky, uneven, or have loose footing can be more challenging to hike than smooth, well-maintained paths.
  • Weather: Hot or cold temperatures, strong winds, or rain can all make a hike more challenging, especially if the trail is exposed to the elements.
  • Altitude: Hiking at high altitudes can be challenging, as the air is thinner and it can be harder to breathe. This is particularly relevant for hikes in mountainous regions like Colorado.


What may be an easy hike for one person can be challenging for another. Coming from an experienced hiker of 10+ years, I consider the hikes in this post to be hard. 

FAQs About The Hardest Hikes in Phoenix

the hardest hikes in arizona

What is the hardest hike in Phoenix?


Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak are among the hardest hikes in Phoenix. 


What is the hardest hike in Arizona?


There are lots of hard hikes throughout the state of Arizona! At the top of the list are Flatiron, Bright Angel Trail, Brown’s Peak Trail, and Echo Canyon on Camelback Mountain. 


Which is harder, Camelback or Piestewa?


While both hikes are hard, Camelback is a bit more technical, so I’d say Camelback is harder. 


What is the highest elevation hike in Phoenix?


If you’re looking for the highest elevation hike in Phoenix, it’s Camelback at 2,704 feet!


Is it too risky to hike during the summer in Phoenix, AZ?


Short answer: yes. Temperatures are regularly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which puts hikers at serious risk for heat-related illnesses, injuries, and death. 

Best Beginner-Friendly Hikes in Arizona

best hikes in arizona

Even though I consider myself an avid and experienced hiker, I don’t really like hard hikes! If you’re like me and looking for some beginner-friendly hikes in Arizona, check out my other posts. 

Final Thoughts On The Hardest Hikes in Phoenix

hard hikes near Scottsdale

If you are looking to take on the challenge of these hard hikes in Phoenix, I applaud you! Just be sure to prepare before you go by checking the weather, packing more water than you think you’ll need, and knowing your abilities. 


Let me know if you have any questions about the hikes I mentioned in this guide. Happy hiking! 

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Meet the author

Jacey West

My mission is simple: Inspire you to get outside. I like camping, hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, and exploring National Parks. I’m passionate about sharing all the details of my adventure so you can plan some of your own!

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