Flying into Phoenix to do some hiking
December 21, 2016 4:38 PM   Subscribe

We are planning a trip to Arizona in late February with the primary goal of doing some backpacking/hiking. We're flying into and out of Phoenix with about 5 days in between but have no other fixed plans.

I have the following questions:

1) Where should we hike? Day hikes, overnight trips?
2) Is there any way we can get around doing this trip without a car? What if we flew in and Ubered to the hotel, dropped our bags, and cabbed it to a local bike shop - how bikable is the surrounding area?
3) What else should we not miss? Any recommendations for food, drinks, or tourist sites?
4) Anything to bear in mind for out of towners aside from hydration and sunscreen?
posted by House of Leaves of Grass to Travel & Transportation around Arizona (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Phoenix is in no way bikeable. You will need a car.
posted by dilaudid at 4:46 PM on December 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would not bike. There are bike lanes and all, but the distances to good hiking paths are to great.

Hiking: One of the most iconic (and easy to reach) hikes is Camelback. Verges on rock climbing occasionally. Very fun.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 5:01 PM on December 21, 2016

You will definitely need to rent a car in Phoenix and to get to most every hiking trail. I know someone who lives in Phoenix who chose to forego a car, so it must not be impossible, but he spends hours and hours biking around. I don't know that would be the best use of your time if you're only spending five days there.

For hiking, Camelback Mountain, Tom's Thumb, Piestewa peak are all good options and close by.

For food, Los Reyes De La Torta is pretty good/popular.

I also love, love the Phoenix Art Museum! It's not huge, but still one of the larger museums in the Western US and I think it's a well-curated collection that showcases the Southwest nicely. It also participates in Free First Sundays if you have Bank of America, and I think first Friday evenings of each month are free/suggested donation.

If your flight works out such that you have an hour or so to kill beforehand, you might enjoy the Desert Botanical Garden, which is very close to PHX. Lots of Chihuly and makes for a pleasant stroll.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 5:38 PM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing needing a car, pretty much anywhere in Arizona. Sky Harbor Airport shuttles everyone to a separate building for rental cars. It's pretty efficient/easy.

As far as things you should know, make sure you do your research about flora and fauna. There's a lot of poisonous, spiky, or otherwise unfriendly animals and plants in the area (specifically look at jumping cholla cactus and backcountry safety re: snakes/scorpions/other creatures like that).

If you're up for a longer drive, Saguaro National Park is near Tucson, about 1.5 hours south of Phoenix. If you go down for that, spend the night somewhere and also go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and get delicious Sonoran/Mexican food at Cafe Poca Cosa downtown (reservations recommended).

Have fun!
posted by bananacabana at 5:58 PM on December 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't know the Phoenix area at all, but in five days where hiking/backpacking are the goal, I'd consider the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, The Wave, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly and Natural Bridges.
posted by cnc at 7:14 PM on December 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you've never been I'd head west to Joshua Tree or Death Valley tbh.
posted by fshgrl at 8:15 PM on December 21, 2016

Yes on car. Phoenix is bikeable but really really sprawling. For hiking you really should get out of the city. Weaver's Needle in the Superstition Mountains is closish and cool. Suaguro National Park has good hiking and isn't too far. Pikacho Peak is a fun bike between Phoenix and Tuscan. Walnut Canyon is really neat. The Grand Canyon is a real bucket list item but is a bit farther.
Arizona is a great state for hiking and Phoenix is centrally located. For hiking Phoenix is a gateway, not the destination.
posted by jclarkin at 5:22 AM on December 22, 2016

If you go North it is likely to be cold. I've been at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with snow on the ground in March (actually, I've been in snow in Sedona in March, too) and I think it should get down into the 20's overnight at Canyon de Chelly.
posted by SandiBeech at 6:47 AM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd echo the recommendations for the Superstition Wilderness -- I've done some great multiday backpacks from Lost Dutchman State Park/Apache Junction, in the far southeast corner of the Phoenix metro area. Since you'll need to be carrying gear, I'd look into arranging a car ride to and from the trailheads. I've road-biked many miles in Phoenix, and the city has done a good job recently of growing its bike lane network, but the vast size of the city means any ride to a particular destination ends up being much longer than you might expect looking at a map. The suburbs go on forever!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:58 AM on December 22, 2016

Adding to the chorus of "Phoenix is for cars," I got a sunburn walking to an ATM because I went the wrong way around a mega-block and 10 to 20 minute walk turned into an hour long trek in the summer.

Given you only have 5 days it's probably not the best use of your time, but Albuquerque, NM, is very bike-able, with plenty of outdoor access in the area, too (hiking around ABQ and New Mexico at large; backpacking in NM is also plentiful, with some Albuquerque-area specific options, many of them being up and around Sandia Mountain).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:14 AM on December 22, 2016

Came here to recommend making the 2-hour(ish) drive to Tucson where there is hiking aplenty, and much of it very, very good. I'm quite partial to Saguaro West and specifically the King Canyon Trail for a short day hike. The Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area has lots of great day hikes and there may be water in the park around that time too. There are also some lovely hikes in the Santa Ritas.

If you to to Tucson, additional sights to see include the Desert Museum (which is among the best and least-zoolike zoos in the country) and the Kitt Peak National Observatory (if you're into giant telescopes). Cafe Poca Cosa is good, but we were also very partial to the Guadalajara Grill on Prince, El Charro, and Teresa's Mosaic Cafe.

If you're set on staying around Phoenix, then I agree that the Superstition Wilderness are probably the best hiking there is to offer there. I also echo about the teddy bear chollas - on my very first solo hike in Arizona, I unwittingly brushed very gently against one and ended up pulling spines out of my arm with tweezers for several hours, and getting a tetanus shot!
posted by honeybee413 at 11:31 AM on December 22, 2016

Phoenix has got to be the most "need a car" city I can think of. It is really big and sprawling. Even though I'm from the West, I still laugh when someone in Phoenix says something is "right down the street" and it's a 30-45 minute drive. On the freeway. It's not terrible for walking or biking, it's the distances that make it a killer.

When you get a piece of cholla stuck on you, and you will, stop. Don't move, kick, wave your arms around, just stop. Carefully figure out how you're going to get it off. If you try to fling it off it will whip back at you and stick worse.
posted by bongo_x at 2:26 PM on December 22, 2016

Since no one else mentioned it, the City of Phoenix has a 16,000 acre park with about 60 miles of hiking trails: South Mountain Park. I was in Phoenix for a business trip last month and bookended my trip with two nice hikes in South Mountain. The north entrance to the park is about a 20 minute drive from the airport.

South Mountain trail descriptions and map

Have fun!
posted by kovacs at 6:05 AM on December 23, 2016

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