Hiking is one of the mainstays of Arizona, and unlike rampant partying, it’s a part of our tourism product that I fully approve of. There is an endless plethora of trails throughout the state, and even after having lived here for more than 30 years, I’ve only scratched the surface. But perhaps, you are in town for a conference. Or visiting a friend in the city. And you don’t have the wiggle room to commit to a full day hike, but you still want to get out and take in the exotic, natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Or maybe you are just getting started hiking. Whatever, the case, if you are searching for some good, short hikes in Phoenix, Arizona, this is the post for you.
Today, I present to you two hikes, appreciated by both myself and others in the hiking community here. The first is the LV Yates trail in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, which is a great escape in the city. And the second is Blue Point to the Ovens, which is located just outside of town in the Salt River section of the Tonto National Forest. Both are about 3-5 miles and relatively easy in terms of elevation gain. I hiked both recently thanks to the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge 2021 which is a three month hiking challenge based on stewardship of some of the Sonoran Insiders’ favorite trails.
If you have just a few hours to spend hiking, consider giving one of these short hikes in Phoenix a try.
- 1 LV Yates Trail (#8)
- 2 Blue Point to the Ovens
- 3 Stewardship and the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge
- 4 Safety First!
- 5 Guide to Arizona
LV Yates Trail (#8)
The LV Yates Trail (#8) stretches from a northern edge of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, south. It’s one of the perfect short hikes in Phoenix for exploring the Sonoran Desert characteristic of the Valley of the Sun. While this specific trail doesn’t cross all the way to the other side of the park, it does interlink with trails that do. So, this is a great area to visit if you’d like to tailor your trek a bit- you could make a lollipop, a loop, or a shuttled one-way hike. However, this guide is going to focus on the out-and-back route that includes the #8 trail only. If you’d like to see what other options there are, check out the City of Phoenix map for the park.
From the 40th street parking lot, you will head out from the western side of the lot, and the trail will take you across the flat valley, parallel to Two Bit/Dixie Peak. This is a great warm up. And for those of you not used to Sonoran Desert hiking, a good intro to the trail conditions. Note that our trails are dry, rocky, and often framed by pokey plants. Watch where you are putting your feet, and wear good shoes! The rocks and spines can make it through thin soles easily.
After crossing the valley, the trail will begin a fairly steep and rocky journey upwards to a pass in between the mountains. If you take a moment to catch your breath and look to your left, you will be a big vein of quartz jutting out from the ground. And at the top of the pass, you can sit down on a stone bench and take in the beautiful view.
Second Leg of the Outward Trek
Then, if you continue on, you will follow the trail down from the pass, and back into the valley on the other side. This is a great point to enjoy a distanced perspective of Piestewa Peak, one of the most popular hiking spots in the city. Believe me, it is much more peaceful from this distance. LV Yates is one of the quieter short hikes in Phoenix, although it is not entirely without a steady visitor flow.
Once you are down from the pass entirely, the trail will wind through a fairly deep wash. Although this is dry most of the time, flooding can occur in this area with a bit of rain, so be sure to avoid the wash during storms. (Avoid hiking generally during storms, as that damages our trails and monsoons come with flooding and lightning.) But on a good day, like the day you will go, the wash will be dry and showcase the beautiful “fluff” of the Sonoran Desert. Our desert is one of the wettest in the world, and Arizona itself is the 3rd most biodiverse state in the US!
The final leg of your outward trip, will take you up to another mountain pass, and the trail will end at a junction point with good views of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve as a whole.
Need to Know Information
Trail Length: 4.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 620 ft
Entry Fee: None
Toilets at the trailhead: Yes
Thanks to 8tskid for suggesting this trail for the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge.
Blue Point to the Ovens
I’ve been kayaking the lower Salt River for a few years now, and I had tubed the area for even longer. Surprisingly, however, I had not hiked in this part of the Tonto before! So, I really enjoyed exploring this trail for the opportunity to see a landscape I’ve seen many times from a new perspective. Even better though, is that this is a really varied hike. It has more plant and environment types than most short hikes in Phoenix. You will get great views of the river, hike through the sand of a wash, see the Sonoran Desert, AND get to explore a historic landmark. It’s really got a little bit of everything and it isn’t all that long of a trek either!
In order to start this walk, you will need a car, because there’s no way to get here by bus. You will park at the Blue Point parking area, and this will require a Tonto National Forest permit or an America the Beautiful Annual Pass. From the parking lot, walk away from the road towards the mesquite forest that grows along the mountainside. Then, turn to the left if you are facing the closest mountain, you will start off on the trail through the forest.
This trail will travel between the river and the steep sides of the mountain. It’s a great section of the hike to snap pictures of the beautiful Salt River. And this is the part of the path that is the most difficult in terms of elevation gain. You will be climbing up and down some little hills, and the trail is pretty rough but easy to follow. This section ends when you come to a sandy beach on the river.
Up the Wash
From here, you will be heading up through a fairly big wash. Head to the right, away from the river. The trail basically disappears at this point, so I’d suggest just sticking to the bottom of the wash. It will meander a little bit, but overall, this section of the trek is flat. The hardest thing about it is slogging through all the sand.
Keep your eyes open, because the ovens are not really apparent from the trail. But when we visited someone had put together an arrow pointing to the ovens. This was made out of white quartz rocks, so it was pretty evident if you were watching from trail sign. The ovens are to the right of the path, tucked back a little ways behind some bushes. The oven itself is pretty darn big once you see it. The hole at the bottom is large enough to climb into. And then on top of the bluff there is a stone structure.
While I am not sure how safe it is… or how sure I am that I should be suggesting this to anyone else, we did admittedly climb into the oven. It was a neat view from the inside. This is definitely one of the most interesting short hikes in Phoenix- hands down.
In order to get home, you will head back the way you came. On the way back, consider picnicking along the river (assuming it isn’t too busy!).
Need to Know Information
Trail Length: 3-3.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 354 ft
Entry Fee: Tonto Pass ($8 in 2021)
Toilets at the trailhead: Yes
Thanks to azveronika for suggesting this trail for the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge.
Stewardship and the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge
I have hiked the LV Yates trail many times through the years, but the Blue Point trail was new to me. I explored both of these short hikes in Phoenix when I did because of the #ILoveAZHikingChallenge. The challenge is something that I conceived of because I wanted to explore new trails, and continue to regularly hike in 2021. The Sonoran Insiders made it happen by sharing some of their favorite trails with the group.
The point of the challenge is about more than just the hike though. It’s about stewardship. In this case, picking up trash along the trail. It might not be too much of a surprise, but you can make a huge difference by picking up trash when you hike. Besides making things look dirty, trash is dangerous for animals. So, it’s nice to know that there was a little less out there for birds and small mammals to feed their babies.
If you decide to do these trails, bring along a little trash bag to collect a few things and you too can make a huge difference. That being said, only pick up trash that’s safe to do so… some people leave toilet paper and… yeah, don’t touch that. Better yet, please don’t leave toilet paper in nature.
When it comes to hiking, staying safe is one of the most important things! Lots of people go out into the desert and they aren’t prepared. This can endanger others (other hikers, rescuers, etc.). Sometimes not being prepared can lead to tragedy. Here are some tips for staying safe on your short hikes in Phoenix.
(1) You are your own responsibility.
Trails that are easy to others might be hard for you, and the weather changes every day. Make sure that you listen to your body. Only hike trails that you are physically prepared for. And don’t hike in any kind of bad weather. You need to keep yourself safe and this guide is not a guarantee that these trails will be safe for your hiking level or the day you choose to go. You are responsible for your own safety; don’t take chances!
(2) Go with the right gear.
Wear good shoes! Bring more water than you will need (at least a liter and probably more) and have snacks. Plan ahead in case you might need first aid, or have to shelter for the night.
(3) ALWAYS let someone know where you are going.
Whether you are going hiking with friends or on your own, let someone at home know where you will be and when you think you will get home. Check in when you leave, and check in when you get home.
(4) Don’t hike in the heat.
They call it a dry heat, but it’s a killer heat. Don’t take the desert conditions for granted! Hiking during the heat of the day in late spring, summer, or early fall are not safe in Central Arizona.
Guide to Arizona
Want to learn more about what to do in Arizona? Check out my guide! I’ve grown up in Arizona- so I have tons of great posts to both popular places and undervalued gems.
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