Are you planning to go hiking in Arizona this year, but want to make sure you start on a trail that’s both beautiful and easy enough to complete?
Hiking trails come in varying levels of complexity and beauty. You might want to hike a trail like Camelback Mountain to challenge yourself by seeing how quickly you can complete it. Our record, as of the writing of this post, is 1:29:25 (an easy target for most skilled hikers). If you’re new to hiking, these types of trails may seem out of your league.
The popularity of the Camelback and Piestewa Peak trails might make you think that all trails are difficult and therefore not worth the effort, because you wouldn’t be able to complete them anyway.
This could not be further from the truth. Hiking in Arizona can be enjoyable for the entire family.
Trails like the Waterfall Trail in the White Tank Mountains are beautiful and can be very enjoyable for everyone in the family. Every hike, however, deserves preparation, especially on a trail that you haven’t previously hiked. With this in mind, we’ve prepared a list of 9 tips to help you complete your first hike, whether it’s the Waterfall Trail in Waddell, AZ, or another “easier” trail somewhere else.
We hope these tips help you as begin your journey of hiking in Arizona. We also welcome any tips or tricks that you use that might not be listed here.
Planning For Hiking in Arizona
This may seem like a no-brainer since it obviously gets very hot in Arizona, but we can’t stress this enough. You should start pre-hydrating for a hike, up to 2-3 days before you step foot on the trail (depending on the hike, of course). Any trail with a significant amount of elevation gain will require more water than a simple hike with little or no elevation gain.
The Mayo Clinic recommends 15 ½ cups of water a day for men and 11 ½ cups for women. We recommend setting daily and weekly goals to help you meet the Mayo Clinic’s water intake recommendation. Stay safe and stay hydrated.
2. Check The Weather
Now that you’re properly hydrated, what does the weather look like? Arizona weather typically has two traits, hot and dry in the summer OR cool and dry in the winter. Remember, though, Arizona has a monsoon season that typically runs from June through September of a given year. Depending on the terrain of your hike, conditions can get very dangerous very quickly.
Be aware of rain forecasts before you go hiking in Arizona, so you don’t get stuck on a trail in the rain. Likewise, it’s a good idea to start as early in the morning as you can during the Summer. If you’re in the Phoenix area in the Summer, temperatures can reach 100 degrees by 10 am.
3. Choose A Trail That Aligns with your Fitness Level
It’s important to know your own fitness level before setting out for a hike – which means being honest with yourself about your fitness level. If you’re a beginner hiker, you should consider starting with a shorter hike with little to no elevation gain. With time and experience you’ll grow to be able to complete more difficult hikes.
Regardless of which trail guide you choose to go hiking in Arizona, remember to prepare accordingly for the distance. Choosing the trail is one of our favorite parts of the hike! Feel free to review our Trail Guides for details on difficulty, distance, elevation gain, if any fees are required, whether or not bathrooms are on-site and also whether or not pets are allowed.
4. Pack More Food/ Snacks Than You Think You’ll Need
Once you’ve selected a hiking trail, it’s time to think about how to fuel your body along the way. A short hike with no elevation gain will require less food, or snacks, than a long hike with extended elevation gains. If the weather surprises you, or you get injured or delayed, you’ll want the extra food to keep you energized. We highly recommend a snacks similar to Honey Stinger products to help prepare you for each hike and to provide energy while on the trail.
While on the trail, if you feel light-headed or more tired than normal, sit down and grab a snack. Fresh fruit and pre-packaged trail mix are also great snacks for hikes at any distance.
5. Wear The Right Hiking Gear
To prepare for what you’re going to wear while hiking in Arizona, think head to toe for all of your gear needs:
- Head Wear – A brimmed hat can help prevent sunburn. At the minimum you should have a cap or something that can help protect your neck from the sun when hiking in Arizona.
- Top Base Layer – A polyester or “dry-fit” shirt can help you stay cool in the hot months. Avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture and can cause chafing. We recommend going with a Polyester or synthetic material because it will also dry quicker to help control temperature in colder months.
- Jackets/Extra Layers – Prepare accordingly considering the weather forecast. Consider a rain jacket if there’s a chance of light rain or a heavier fleece jacket during colder hikes.
- Pants – It’s important to wear comfortable, breathable and sturdy pants that will adequately protect your legs. Some trails are very narrow and full of cacti. Leggings and shorts, while comfortable, may not always be the wisest decision.
- Socks – Socks and shoes can make or break your hike. Look for synthetic or wool socks while shopping and preparing for a hike. Your feet will be thankful, especially on longer trails. Our sock vendor of choice is Darn Tough socks.
- Shoes – Hiking shoes are typically more durable and provide better grip on rocks than tennis shoes. You can also consider a hiking boot that will provide more ankle support on longer trails with more difficult terrain. Again, prepare accordingly with your desired trail in mind. On a slippery trail, you’ll want shoes with good grip to keep you from slipping or losing your balance. On slippery trails I use the Adidas Five Ten Trailcross LT Shoes.
6. Bring Navigation Tools
It’s always wise to use a GPS on a trail that you’ve never hiked before. A good GPS will keep you on trail in those moments where scrambling is necessary. Scrambling is the process of climbing over rocks/boulders where a trail ends. Typically you will re-find your trail after scrambling over a few rocks.
Additionally, you can use your cell phone as a GPS to help you navigate hiking in Arizona. Apps like Alltrails and Strava are designed to help navigate the most common trails. However, don’t forget to charge all of your devices before your hike. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know the health statistics of your hike.
7. Bring Survival Gear Essentials
Survival essentials like utility knives, first-aid kits, headlamps or flashlights are must-have items while hiking for beginners. Ankle turns, knee bruises from slips and falls, and scratches from cacti are unfortunately common on Arizona hiking trails. Your first aid kit will almost certainly get some use over the course of a year. You’ll want to pack these essentials in your bag, and also replenish your supply before each hike.
Not to be forgotten and equally as important are bathroom essentials. Nature always calls on hikes longer than 4 miles for our family. Toilet paper, wet wipes, a trowel (a pooper scooper) and dog poop bags are must-haves for extended hikes. Follow trail etiquette and leave no trace that you were there while out on the trail.
8. Tell others your location before you go
It’s never a bad idea to tell others where you are going while hiking in Arizona. Bad weather, an injury, or unexpected wildlife can turn any planned day hike into a much longer unplanned event.
Feel free to utilize apps, or other technologies, that can send location notifications when needed. Apple and Android, both, have the ability to track devices for those in your “family accounts”. You can also use apps like Strava to send location pings at certain intervals, just to make sure you are safe.
9. Stay on the designated trail
This tip is a no-brainer for some, but it’s very important to stay on the designated trails. Going off trail may seem like a fun idea at the time, but be aware that “off-trail” is where snakes, spiders, and scorpions.
Going off trail can also be damaging for plants and the ecosystems of certain wildlife. It’s very important to Leave No Trace while hiking in Arizona. Read here for more information on Leave No Trace.