Phoenix Pain-Friendly Hiking Trails

Phoenix offers hiking trails for a range of abilities, from the elite athlete to those looking for a more pain-friendly option. Although the Valley’s more famous trails include the notoriously difficult Camelback Mountain and others with precipitous paths featuring sheer drop-offs, there are a huge number of pain-friendly hiking trails that offer a good workout, scenic beauty, and the chance to enjoy the great outdoors.

Hiking is a wonderful form of exercise for losing weight, increasing cardiovascular capability, improving bone health, and managing pain. Although some people hike all year, the winter is the most popular season for enjoying the mountain preserves and national forests surrounding the Valley.

Besides offering physical health benefits, exercising and spending time in nature both promote mental health. There’s nothing like working up a sweat underneath a bright blue sky, surrounded by singing birds and animals to uplift the mood. For extra fun, invite a hiking buddy and hit the trails. If you’re not sure whom to ask, try joining a Meetup. There are several Phoenix hiking groups geared to beginner hikers.

However and wherever you go, be sure to take plenty of water and wear supportive shoes with a good grip. Wearing good shoes is particularly important if you suffer from any kind of knee or leg pain. Stay safe and have fun!

1. Desert Loop Discovery Trail

Located inside Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, the 1/3-mile Desert Loop Discovery Trail meanders through the garden’s exhibitions of beautiful desert flora. The trail is completely paved, offering good accessibility for people experiencing chronic pain or who might not have a high level of physical fitness.

The Desert Loop Discovery Trail connects to other pain-friendly botanical garden paths, including the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, which runs 1/4 mile and offers stunning views of surrounding mountains.

Accessing the trails requires paying the admission fee to the botanical garden. The fee provides day access to the garden’s 140 acres and 50,000-plus plant displays.

2. Riparian Preserve

Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch offers beautiful scenery, access to fishing lakes (license required), and a network of well-maintained trails covering about 4.5 miles. The trails loop and interconnect, so you don’t have to walk the whole thing. It’s more like a park that feels like a nature preserve.

There are also many places to sit and take a rest along the way. The trails are dirt, but relatively flat and pain-friendly. All told, the preserve covers 110 acres and nearly 300 species of birds have been spotted on the grounds, according to the website.

The preserve is free to explore and provides a feeling of escape even thought it’s in the middle of Gilbert. The trails are also dotted with interpretive signs, providing the opportunity to learn about the animals living on-site.

3. Phoenix Zoo

Combine a day of bonding with exotic animals with the great outdoors. The Phoenix Zoo encompasses 125 acres and includes about 2.5 miles of walking trails. The trails are divided into four sections—Arizona, Africa, Tropics, and Children’s. Traversing all the trails typically takes around three hours, but you can visit however many you would like.

Walking the trails at the Phoenix Zoo is very pain-friendly. The paths are well maintained and there are plenty of places to sit and rest while checking out the zoo’s more than 1,400 species of animals.

4. Papago Park

Phoenix’s large Papago Park technically includes the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, but also features an array of trails suited to all levels of hikers.

One pain-friendly trail in the park is West Park Accessible Trail, which spans 1.2 miles, the first part of which is handicapped accessible although the entire length is paved. Three benches are situated along the way, providing respite for weary hikers or to simply stop for a moment and enjoy the view. The trailhead can be accessed from Papago Park Road.

For an easy, but longer hike, try the four-mile West Park Loop Trail. This trail is not paved, but features minimal elevation gain, making it relatively pain-friendly if you can tolerate the longer length. Part of the trail winds around a golf course, providing pretty views.

5. Bobcat Trail, Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve

This easy hike runs just over two miles round trip and gains 135 feet in elevation from start to finish. It’s a one-way trail, which means you’ll hike in and back out along the same path. Access to the trail can be found at the eastern end of Sonoran Desert Drive.

Terrain features gently rolling hills and abundant desert flowers when in season. The hike ends when Bobcat Trail intersects with a longer trail called Dixie Mountain Loop, a moderate, 3.8-mile hike that provides a bit of a workout with 1,322 feet gained in elevation.

6. Hieroglyphics Trail

This popular trail in Gold Canyon, east of Mesa, is in the Superstition Springs wilderness area. It’s three miles round trip and well-maintained, but has some loose rocks to watch out for along the way. The trail typically takes 90 minutes to complete, and gains 588 feet in elevation.

Hikers traverse through fields of saguaros with other desert plants while enjoying wide, expansive views of the surrounding wilderness and city. At the trail’s end, hikers will be rewarded with views of Native American hieroglyphics. After a rainstorm, you may see pools of water collected in the rocks.

The trail is not a loop, and so you can hike back as far as you wish and then turn around. Hikers will find a parking lot at the Hieroglyphics Trailhead, and there is no cost to park or hike.

7. Mormon Loop Trail

This five-mile, moderately difficult hike takes around three hours, and is located in South Mountain Park. It can be a little rocky and is the most difficult of those on this list, but still doable and pain-friendly for someone in reasonably good shape. Note that although this trail is called a loop, it’s actually not a loop. It’s one way in and out, but still five miles round trip.

For the trek, you get stellar views of the Valley and surrounding mountains, as well as a good workout. The trail is popular and can get busy with mountain bikers and other hikers, so be prepared for company. Alternatively, you could hit the trail early and try to beat the crowd.

What’s your favorite pain-friendly hike in Phoenix?

Image by Andy Jou via Flickr