Nestled on the western border of the Phoenix-metro area, just before the city gives way to the desert (for now), are the majestic White Tank Mountains. Protected by both Maricopa County and the White Tank Mountains Conservancy, these mountains offer an unrivaled opportunity to explore nature.
Many of the trails here are 5+ miles long or more, and allow hikers access to wilderness-type conditions. However, there are wonderful, short hikes in the White Tank Mountains that are perfect for people short on time, just getting into hiking, and/or looking to explore with their families. All of the trails that I am going to include here have relatively little elevation gain. They are short in length. And they offer perfect opportunities to experience the beautiful Sonoran Desert of the White Tank Mountains without dedicating half a day to an excursion.
- 1 Why You Should Visit the White Tank Mountains Preserve?
- 2 Habitat Connectivity and the White Tank Mountains
- 3 Short Hikes in the White Tank Mountains
- 4 Need to Know Information
- 5 Safety Considerations
- 6 Guide to Arizona
Why You Should Visit the White Tank Mountains Preserve?
Whether you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area, or you are planning a trip to Arizona, you might be wondering – what are the White Tank Mountains? And why would I take the time and resources to visit them?
This range of Sonoran Desert Mountains are located on the western (growing) edge of the Phoenix-Metro area in Buckeye, AZ. They stretch from the north to the south. For much of the last decade, they have marked the boundary between the city and the open desert. For as long as I lived in Phoenix, the White Tank Mountains were a wild place. And before 2022, to reach them, you had to drive to the edge of the city and then take surface roads through farmlands. Once you reached the mountains, you were and still are transported to a more vibrant, biodiverse desert. They were the home of the Sonoran Desert of the past, before Phoenix had grown so large. Today, the mountains are about to be surrounded by city, but they can still teleport you away from the urban area.
Now cared for by Maricopa County Parks and Recreation as well as the White Tank Mountains Conservancy, the park that protects parts of the desert here offers some easily accessible opportunities to explore and experience the desert. Short hikes in the White Tank Mountains give you the chance to see beautiful landscapes, see indigenous petroglyphs, and peek into the power of water in the desert.
It is the perfect place for anyone looking for an easy escape, and unique views of the beautiful Sonoran Desert. These short treks are particularly good for those of you traveling with family, or looking for hikes that are better for beginners or people on the mend.
Habitat Connectivity and the White Tank Mountains
The White Tank Mountains are important for more than their beautiful trails. As the petroglyphs in the mountains can attest, these desert peaks have been a part of the human landscape for thousands of years. And today they represent the Sonoran Desert as it was before the city grew across the Valley. There is a huge variety plant life here, and you can still see large animals in this landscape as well. And this is because the mountains have remained thoroughly connected to the open expanse of the desert – up until now.
Although there have been plans to develop the lands west of the White Tank Mountains for decades, the 2008 recession held off plans for a very long time. But with people moving to the Phoenix-area in the thousands now, and a desperation for housing, those development plans are now fully in motion.
While there aren’t hopes for this development not to happen, it is very important to the mountains that there are strong connections maintained between the mountains and the desert. In the environmental biz, we call these “habitat corridors” – aka byways of intact environment connecting protected areas (such as White Tank Mountains) to others areas where plants and animals can thrive. Development that is built around these corridors is possible, but will take creativity and a kind of building that would be unique (and arguably much better) than traditional development that is the norm common in Phoenix.
Learn More and Support Conservation in the White Tanks
To learn more about habitat or wildlife corridors, visit the creators of the image above – Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife.
The White Tank Mountains Conservancy has been working on just this, and if you are interested in supporting their work after visiting these short hikes in the White Tank Mountains, please be sure to donate if you can or elevate their messages across your networks.
Short Hikes in the White Tank Mountains
The Waterfall Trail
The Waterfall Trail is the most popular of the short hikes in the White Tank Mountains, and for good reason. This 2 mile out-and-back trail takes hikers up from the trailhead, and into a beautiful, boulder-lined canyon. Along the trail petroglyphs can be seen, and at the end there is a stone funnel that serves as a waterfall seasonally.
There often isn’t water flowing here, because it’s the desert, but this trail is still a beautiful romp. The canyon is exceptional. The petroglyphs are priceless. And the trail is easy enough for kids and beginners to explore and enjoy.
That being said, the one downside is that this is a popular trail. You may need to fend for yourself among crowds if you visit. Try going in the middle of the week for a little less foot traffic.
The Black Rock Trail (Long Loop)
The Black Rock Loop Trail is about 2 miles of trail that crosses through the open Sonoran Desert. There are actually two loops that make up this trail – the short loop and the long loop. That makes this a very flexible option among the short trails in the White Tank Mountains. If you only have the time and energy for a short walk, take the short trail. And if you want a longer walk, combine the two.
This trail is close to the Waterfall Trail as well (although not easily walkable). So, it does make for a nice combination with the Waterfall Trail. But due to its proximity to the popular trail and the entrance, it can be busy as well.
The Ironwood Trail is the place to go if you are looking for some peace and quiet among the short hikes in the White Tank Mountains. It is interconnected with other trails that you can make into loops, or you can do an out-and-back. Either way, this trail is flat and offers views of the desert. I would especially suggest checking this area out at dawn or dusk, because the light over the mountains creates a beautiful landscape that can’t be beat.
Need to Know Information
Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle (2023) or an Maricopa County annual pass for $85
Address: 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell, AZ 85355
Remember, your safety is up to you. This guide does not guarantee you a safe or enjoyable hike. And just because these short hikes in the White Tank Mountains are easier, doesn’t mean that you can ignore safety while exploring them. Take care of yourselves, my friends.
Guide to Arizona
Check out our Guide to Arizona! We have posts from a 30+ years in the state.
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