There's one great warning about hiking in Phoenix: This is the desert. Even though there are terrific trails within the city, it's risky to set out when the temperatures are hovering around triple digits. The sun can be unforgiving: If you want to hike in the middle of summer, get up early or set out in the evening, when there is some shade. And take plenty of water.
But there's all the rest of the year to enjoy a hike along the many trails to be found in Phoenix, and the weather is usually sunny.
You can do the sort of urban hiking that involves sidewalks and neighborhoods in Phoenix. There's a mile-and-a-half walking tour of historic downtown Phoenix, with a guide available from the city's Historic Preservation Office. The route takes you by a number of 1920s-era buildings and railroads.
Through the year, various groups organize urban walks with themes such as wine-tasting or the arts. But the big attraction that has earned Phoenix attention in such publications as National Geographic is its parks. The city has preserved large tracts of desert and mountains, and it opens them to hiking. South Mountain Park, covering nearly 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares), is the largest city park in the United States [source: Phoenix ASAP]. and has 58 miles (93.3 kilometers) of trails. Three mountain ranges are within the park, and there's plenty of desert flora and fauna.
South Mountain is joined by other city parks. Nearly 26,000 acres (10,522 hectares) within the city limits are in parks and preserves, offering more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) of trails. There are trails to suit just about any taste. You can climb a mountain, or you can take the kids on a paved nature trail at Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, where many species of birds and small animals enjoy the Salt River. Phoenix's desert and mountain habitats offer an unparalleled urban hiking experience.
Author's Note: 5 Best Cities for Urban Hiking
The most important discovery I made while researching this article was that I am an urban hiker. I don' t live in an urban area, so that's not how I do most of my walking. But whenever I visit a city, I tend to do a lot of walking. I've discovered great hikes in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, Va., and near the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. I love to take the Metro to the Smithsonian station in D.C. and hike for hours past the monuments and museums. Urban hiking, I learned, isn't an activity only for some sort of expert.
Another thing I learned is that it's a rare city that doesn't have interesting places to hike. All you have to do is look and ask. The five cities listed here have outstanding hiking possibilities, but others have a lot to offer as well.
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Mountains are definitely not the only thing worth climbing. Learn more about the urban climbers scrambling up cranes, skyscrapers and even Corcovado.