Tempe Hiking Trails: Hayden Butte Preserve, Evelyn Hallman Park and Tempe Papago Park

If I’m being frank, Tempe, AZ isn’t known for its hiking options and for good reason. There really aren’t a lot of options in this Phoenix suburb for outdoor adventurers, and nothing supremely challenging. That being said, Tempe hiking trails do offer some good opportunities for exercise and exploring the Sonoran Desert. Furthermore, because these trails are not particularly challenging, they are accessible to more people at different levels of experience and physical needs. (I also know from experience the Tempe parks and rec department is full of amazing people looking to protect the habitats that their desert parks include). Although there are no sweeping peaks in Tempe, there are sacred lands with evidence of long-standing indigenous use. So, let’s explore what hiking you can do in Tempe, Arizona.

Hayden Butte Preserve

tempe hiking trails

ABR (c) 2019

If you are looking for a mountain from among Tempe hiking trails, Hayden Butte Preserve is for you. Also known as A Mountain, this butte is easily identifiable from the south side of the mountain by its large, cement ‘A.’ This may be painted different colors throughout the year depending on University of Arizona/ASU competition and pranks.

It’s about a 0.7 mile RT hike from the base of this little mountain to the top. But it is pretty steep, so Hayden Butte is a popular spot for exercisers. If you are working up to big mountains, and starting from little hiking experience or you are rebuilding strength, this is a great option. The trail is mostly paved and pretty wide. Towards the top, there are stairs that need to be navigated, however. And there are sections of dirt trail as well.

Special Points for Hayden Butte Preserve

tempe hiking trails

ABR (c) 2019

Besides being the only mountain from among the Tempe hiking trails, the Hayden Butte Preserve is also home to some other unique elements: Native American petroglyphs, learning opportunities, and the historic mill.

At the summit of Hayden Butte, you will notice some signs asking you to stay out of a certain area. And likely, you will see many many people ignoring the signs. This is a huge problem, because the summit of Hayden Butte is home to cultural artifacts which are damaged by careless hikers. In fact, there are over 500 petroglyphs on the little Hayden Butte, so it is a very important cultural landmark and should be respected by all. Please do your part and follow the signs even if no one else does.

tempe hiking trails

Defaced- but this is asking you to stay out of this area; ABR (c) 2019

If you are visiting town or just looking for a nice little desert area to explore, the dirt stretch of trail on the southern side of Hayden Butte has some nice little informational plaques. Learn some things about the history of the Butte and the ecology of the Sonoran Desert!

Finally, it will be hard to miss, but Hayden Butte is a great place to see the historic Mill for which Mill Ave is named. There are trails near the mill and great views from the mountain.

General Information for Hayden Butte Preserve

tempe hiking trails

ABR (c) 2019

Trail length: 0.7 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Entry Fee: None

Toilet facilities at the trailhead: No

4WD Required for access: No; city trailhead

Parking: Parking in the Mill Ave area is mostly paid unless you have an ASU parking pass.

Public Transit: You can access Hayden Butte easily from the Phoenix Light Rail from the University Dr/Rural Rd station.

Evelyn Hallman Park

The Evelyn Hallman Park would be considered by some to be less of a hiking locale and more of a neighborhood park, but insofar as Tempe hiking trails go, I like to count it. The park has some natural desert habitat, and it is also a wonderful place for bird watching due to the ponds that it features.

Evelyn Hallman Park is about 40 acres of multi-use land, which is primarily characterized by the palm-ringed ponds and the plentiful creosote bushes. Its trails are flat, wide, and although they aren’t paved, they will be accessible to anyone who can manage the hard, sand-covered surface. For an easy stroll, this is an ideal location. And if you really want to take your time, sit in the shade of the trees and enjoy the wildlife attracted to the oasis that is the park.

There are tons of other things you can do at Evelyn Hallman Park, including fishing, picnicking, and, as I mentioned bird watching.

General Information for Evelyn Hallman Park

Trail length: —

Difficulty: Easy

Entry Fee: None

Toilet facilities at the trailhead: Yes

4WD Required for access: No; city trailhead

Parking: 33°26’53.1″N 111°56’12.2″W

Tempe Papago Park

tempe hiking trails

(c) ABR 2019

Tempe’s side of Papago Park is smaller than the Phoenix side, but in terms of Tempe hiking trails, it has the most options. Similar to the Phoenix side, Tempe’s Papago Park Preserve has red, sandstone buttes that jut up out of the rolling hills that characterize the area. While similarly interesting, these are much smaller and less red in color than their neighboring counterparts. Hiking in the area will take you through the hills, around the buttes, and towards Lo Piano Riparian Area and a small Native American ruin that is protected by the preserve.

Most of the trails on the Tempe side of Papago Park are fairly easy, but can offer some opportunities for strength building. The tracks emanate out from the trailheads, crossing the hilly landscape, towards a variety of points of interest. The surface is a hard packed soil with small pebbles and stones on the top, which can make slipping a concern. By linking various trails in the park, you can make a trip of 2-4+ miles. Although there are named trails, I find that the problem of spider trails (or social trails created by hikers off of mapped tracks) is still a problem in the Papago Park Preserve. Thus, navigation using maps of the park can be difficult. I suggest moving towards landmarks of interest using established trails in order to get around.

As far as I am aware, there are no ADA-rated accessible trails at the Preserve, however, the Riparian area may offer some opportunities for exploration due to the level ground. That being said, I am not an expert in that realm.

Lo Piano Riparian Area

tempe hiking trails

(c) ABR 2019

The Lo Piano Riparian Area makes use of canal water to replicate wetland habitat. From the tops of the Papago Park Preserve hills, you will notice this special part of the park by its striking, green forest of cottonwoods. Due to urbanization in Central Arizona, many wetland habitats have been lost as water was drained and diverted from rivers for use in households, industry, and producing food for everyone living in the Valley of the Sun and beyond. So, while Lo Piano retains some of its urban character, it is a beautiful and ecologically important addition to the park. Luckily, you can explore this verdant area by exploring the Papago Park Preserve trails.

Loma del Rio Archeological Site

tempe hiking trails

(c) ABR 2019

Likewise, you can reach the Loma del Rio ruins. These were built by the ancient Hohokam people, who created the infrastructural marvels that were the canals that Phoenix was built on. So, while they may look unassuming to some, the archeological site dates from A.D. 1300 to A.D. 1450. And they represent human resilience in the Sonoran Desert landscape.

General Information for Papago Park Preserve

tempe hiking trails

Trail length: —

Difficulty: Easy

Entry Fee: None

Toilet facilities at the trailhead: —

4WD Required for access: No; city trailhead

Parking: 1000 N College Ave, Tempe, AZ 85281

Notes on Tempe Hiking Trails

Tempe hiking trails are completely embedded within the urban landscape, and thus, they create some unique challenges for travelers.

Living Spaces for Struggling Residents

As someone who hikes solo with fair regularity, one of the things that stands out to me about many of the Tempe desert parks is that they are attractive to people without homes. I’ve had to tip-toe past sleeping people in the parks. I keep my eyes open for groups of unfamiliar men while exploring the desert. And I’ve noted some more permanent camps on the fringes of the park.

Personally, I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone. But I know people who live and work in these areas have run into people struggling with drugs and mental illness. And this has created potentially dangerous situations. In saying this, I simply want anyone visiting the parks to be aware of the potential for finding homeless people. Please respect their space, and be aware of who is around you. If you ever feel unsafe, you may consider contacting the local parks department or the police if the situation warrants it.

Mixed Uses 

tempe hiking trails

(c) ABR 2019

Besides hikers, fishers, and people just trying to survive, the Tempe desert parks are also the site of bikers, runners, kids, and students. All that to say, these are very loved spaces. That does mean that at times you will see people doing destructive things. From trampling petroglyphs to digging and shaping the dirt into ad hoc biking parks. If you see something destructive going on, you might consider reporting to the Parks and Rec department. They might not be able to do anything right away. But rest assured that the City is working on how to improve conditions to protect cultural and environmental value while also serving as many people as they can.

Safety on the Trail

Besides the general tips above, there are a few additional tips that I have for Tempe hiking trails.

(1) Remember that Tempe hiking trails are urban, and thus people from all walks of life have access to them. This is a good thing and a wonderful amenity to the people of Tempe and surrounding communities. However, it also means that there is more traffic than more isolated areas. Thus you have a higher chance of meeting potentially ill-intentioned people. Always be aware of your surroundings, carry a charged phone, and be cautious when dealing with strangers.

tempe hiking trails

(c) ABR 2019

(2) Don’t underestimate the heat and dryness of the Sonoran Desert. Even though these are easier trails, you can still become dehydrated and suffer from heat related illness while exploring the desert. Be sure to stay hydrated. And avoid hiking in the heat of the day during the summer and hotter months of the spring and fall.

(3) Practice water safety. In two of the locations described above, there are relatively large bodies of water. Do not attempt to enter or swim in this water, and protect children and pets while walking near water. Drownings in canals is not as rare in Arizona as some might assume, and even still water is dangerous.

Want to Explore More of Arizona

Read about the many wonders of our home state in our Guide to Arizona. We’ve got hiking guides, restaurant reviews, city and town itineraries, and more.

Want to save this for later? Consider pinning it!

Previous

Mt. Humphreys Trail: A Guide to the Arizona Highpoint

2 Comments

  1. There are a lot of nice looking hiking trails in this area! I think I would like to hit up the ones that are of a moderate level, just because my calves usually hurt on the tougher ones.

  2. Kez

    I love that there’s so much history in some of these areas.

    I’d really like to see A mountain.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén