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Phoenix Scottsdale Tucson Hiking Illustration

Classic wilderness hiking is minutes away from the cities of Scottsdale, Phoenix and Tucson. In a few hours, hikers of all levels experience a world of unusual plants and wildlife found only in the Sonoran Desert. Phoenix hosts the bulbous red rocks of Camelback Mountain, and South Mountain Park, the largest city park in the world. Scottsdale, known for its world class resorts and prime golf courses, breaks way to some of the most rugged terrain on earth. Tucson is famed for Saguaro National Park, and the Santa Catalina Mountains that stretch from the desert floor to the ponderosa pine, hosting plants representing 7 elevation zones.

Camelback Mountain

Hiking Photo The bulbous red rocks of Echo Canyon mark the way to the Camelback Mountain trek, leading to the summit of Phoenix at 2,710 feet. The low sun of early morning and late afternoon brighten the fluted walls and red rock cliffs, and long saguaro shadows stretch over the land. This wilderness in the city offers a myriad of desert plants, such as cholla, agave, prickly pear, yucca, jojoba, palo verde and mesquite trees, adding texture and dimension to the landscape. The hike is leisurely and includes a break in a large alcove overlooking Paradise Valley. At the summit, a panoramic view of the Valley of the Sun awaits, including the famous Pinnacle Peak and Four Peaks at the horizon. The trailhead is minutes away from resorts, and the program lasts about 3 hours.

South Mountain

Hiking Photo South Mountain Park is the largest city park in the world, rich in cultural history and an ideal place for hiking, llama trekking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Records show the area was first claimed for Spain by Father Marcos de Niza who traveled throughout the area in 1539. The Yaqui Indians once settled here in a village called Guadalupe, and Father Kino also passed the area. American settlers didn't come until 1838. This vast hilly desert also offers a chance to see petroglyphs carved into rock faces as early as 1,500 years ago. A fabulous 6-mile hike skirts the entire ridge of South Mountain. The mountains are 1,600 feet at the highest point and create the southern border of the Phoenix metropolitan area. The program lasts 3 hours.

Scottsdale Nature Hike

Jagged crags, canyon walls and centuries-old cacti mark the rugged terrain of North Scottsdale. Rich in cultural and natural history, the Sonoran Desert spreads over thousands of acres, providing a home for animals, plants and reptiles found no place else in the world. History shows more than 200,000 pre-Columbian Indians flourished here into the late 1600s, building elaborate canal systems, some of which are used today to bring water to the Valley of the Sun.

During this trip, hikers learn about desert plants and their uses in serving the area's birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects. Pre-Columbian and modern civilizations used many of these plants for medicine and therapy.

Suitable for all physical abilities, the area is ideal for those seeking more than a flat-land trek. The route ascends a moderate incline to the base of Tom's Thumb, where vast views of the Valley and desert wilderness await. The summit of Tom's Thumb -- a massive 150-foot granite spire rising 2,000 feet from the desert floor -- is accessible only by rope. The program lasts 3 hours.

Santa Catalina Mountains

The Santa Catalina Mountains bordering Tucson represent one of few sky islands in the U.S. Hikers have a rare opportunity to travel from the desert floor to ponderosa pine in a 6-mile trek. Few places on earth offer such a variety of fauna and flora in such proximity. The route is the Catalina Passage, part of the Arizona Trail -- an intricate system that the U.S. Forest Service is now establishing across Arizona, similar to the Appalachian Trail of the East. Hikers begin exploring the Sonoran Desert before trekking upward through terrain that hosts plants from 7 elevation zones. The route's uphill trekking varies from easy to difficult.

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