Phoenix may be the sixth-largest city in the nation, but just minutes away from a buzzing metropolis are mountains and wide open desert that make Phoenix one of the best hiking cities in the U.S., according to a recent National Geographic article.
Kate Siber, the National Geographic writer who wrote the article, Best U.S. Hiking Cities, says the choice was based on size and proximity. The city had to be a major city and the hikes had to be within an hour's distance.
They also factored in wildness or how remote a hike could feel despite the closeness to a major city.
"Phoenix is a massive city both in population and geography and yet there are surprisingly wild spots in your midst," said Siber. "Camelback had been nominated for best urban hikes by several readers, but upon closer inspection it seemed like you could find just a bit more of a relatively wild experience at South Mountain. The fact that it is the biggest municipal park in the world clinched it."
South Mountain Park spans 17,000 acres. Siber called it "a veritable wilderness within the city of Phoenix."
David Urbinato, spokesman for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, said he was not surprised that Phoenix was chosen as one of the top 15.
"It's not a surprise because we are an awesome hiking city," said Urbinato. "One of the things that struck me as the big difference between Phoenix and a lot of other cities is our hiking is right in the city. A lot of the other cities on the list were nearby or 30 to 40 minutes away from great hiking. In Phoenix you can do great hikes on your way home from work as part of your daily routine. I think that's why we see such large numbers of people using the preserves is because it's so convenient. That's why it's so valuable."
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Mike Durham spends a lot of time out on the trails. He believes the article may be accurate because Phoenix and the metropolitan area have so many different options.
"South Mountain is kind of a dream come true for me," said Durham. "I enjoy it because you can get out there and be right out there with the flowers and trees and the cactus and animals and what not. It's all right there. I know a lot of people hiking and biking, even though they may have issues between them, really enjoy it out there."
Durham spends a lot of time documenting the effects of erosion on the preserve and wildlife. South Mountain may not be his favorite mountain in the metro area but he says it has something for everyone.
"It has variable heights and altitudes," said Durham. "You have a range of choices of trails you can hike and distances. You can see the differences in growth of the plant life from the base of South Mountain clear to the top as well as the density of saguaro cactuses down close to the housing areas as opposed to up the sides of the mountain and the top.
"You can get some great views. You can see the snow on the Estrellas and the Superstitions. You can see the Four Peaks area almost year round. You can watch the planes land and take off from Sky Harbor which is always great."
National Geographic suggests parking at the Pima Canyon Trailhead and wandering the trails from there or taking on the 14.3-mile National Trail to reach views over Phoenix and Camelback Mountain.
A link to the full article as well as more information on Phoenix hiking can be found at www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails.
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