Caption: Hiking is an excellent way to introduce your kids to exercise
Phoenix desert preserves are a world of wonder for kids of all ages. Kids can gaze at ancient petroglyphs, scout for critters and birds of all shapes and sizes, and marvel at cactuses ranging from the teeny to the towering. We’ve come up with some suggested family hikes that are free of steep climbs and tricky footing. Step out and discover that the Phoenix desert preserves are a great way to engage kids’ minds and strengthen their bodies.
The symbols to the left of each trail name represent difficulty ratings. Click on any icon to see full descriptions of the rating categories.
The Pima Canyon area of South Mountain Park/Preserve offers numerous loops and out-and-back hikes with moderate grades. Hikers can gaze at stunning petroglyphs in this area or catch a glimpse of a Great Horned Owl, Roadrunner or hear the yelps of coyotes at dusk. To avoid steep ascents, families should avoid the Ridgeline Trail. The main dirt road is a great option. Hikers can turn around at the junctions of the National and Mormon trails and make a loop by returning via the Pima Wash trail. Both the East and West Loop trails are less-crowded options.
The Pima Canyon area is located on the far east end of this South Mountain Park/Preserve trail guide.
The entire trail system at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area provides an excellent opportunity for hiking or biking with kids on either a hard or soft surface. The paved, hard surface trails meet ADA requirements. The area’s soft surface dirt trails offer smooth surfaces that can accommodate mountain bikes and jog strollers.
The riparian habitat in Rio Salado is a haven for birds -- more than 200 species of birds (and counting…) have been spotted there so far.
This area can give kids a glimpse of the Salt River was like when it flowed year round through Phoenix at the turn of the century.
The Rio Salado webpage offers details on parking locations, trail locations and bird species.
Caption: The lower loop of the Penny Howe barrier free trail offers a hummingbird viewing area
Trail 40, Penny Howe Barrier Free Trail: This hard-surfaced trail, .3 mile in length, is ideal for toddlers, people with strollers, and anyone looking for an easy walk in an attractive desert setting. Restrooms, drinking water and paved parking are nearby.
The Penny Howe Trail is visible on the North Mountain trail guide as Trail 40 at the trailhead location on 7th Street north of Cave Creek Road.
Caption: The trails in the vicinity of Piestewa Peak offer gradual elevation, restrooms, and drinking water nearby
While the summit trail has put this area on the map, the preserve areas around the peak offer great family hiking options free of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the summit
Trail 304, Nature Trail - This 1.52 mile trail has a gradual elevation change of 180 feet during the course of the hike. Paved parking, restrooms and drinking water are nearby. A special feature, most noticeable if you are walking the trail clockwise, is a large meteor-looking rock to the right of the trail, at the very north end of the trail loop. This trail also has several interpretive signs for vegetation along its length. The trailhead is located at the Apache picnic area at the end of the entrance road in Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area. Paved parking, drinking water and restrooms are available.
You can find the Nature Trail near the Phoenix Mountains Park trailhead on the Piestewa Peak-area trail guide. The Park is located on Squaw Peak Drive.
With relatively flat terrain and smooth trails, Papago Park is a perfect place for family hikes. Details on hikes and parking are available on the Papago Park Trail Guide.
Trails on the west side of Galvin Parkway The parking lot located on the western end of Papago Park Drive has a drinking fountain, bike rack and picnic ramada with a few tables (not reservable). There are no restroom facilities on the west side of the park.
West Park Accessible Trail
Length: about 1.2 miles
Elevation gain: minimal
Difficulty: easy. Located on what used to be West Park Drive, the second half of the trail becomes more difficult for wheelchair users with a few slopes that exceed 5 percent grade. The trailhead is located on the Papago Park Road – head west on the road from Galvin Parkway just north of Van Buren Street. (Heading east on Papago Park Road off of Galvin Parkway leads to the main park entrance). This is an asphalt surface that follows accessible guidelines for the first .6 of a mile. There are three benches along the way and this first part of the trail goes near Eliot ramada. The second part of this trail has the same surface but has a few slopes that exceed 5%.
West Park Loop Trail
Length: 4 miles
Elevation gain: minimal, about 50 feet
Difficulty: Easy This trail begins from the parking lot on the west side of Galvin Parkway. To the east of the parking lot is a single track, dirt trail that heads north towards the big buttes. It continues counterclockwise around the big butte and heads south around the smaller butte. It continues west around the golf course eventually leading back to the parking lot. This is an easy trail for hikers and mountain bikers.
Trails on the east side of Galvin Parkway (Papago Park)
This is the main part of the park. There are restrooms, drinking fountains, picnic ramadas, and fishing ponds.
This trail begins at the ranger office (follow the signs from the park entrance. This easy trail features interpretive signs that describe Sonoran Desert plants and animals.
Length: Very short, about 1/10 of a mile.
Elevation gain: about 200 feet
This very short trail leads to a very popular landmark with some very good views. Even though this trail is very short it gains all of its elevation in a very short distance.