Some landscapes just beg to be explored on foot. Arizona’s mountainous Sonoran Desert is one of those remarkable places, where the subtleties of spiny cactus and quick-footed wildlife hiding from the sun belie a diverse and richly complex ecosystem. Not that the immense scale of the desert won’t awe you. One hike up any of the trails below, and you’ll be confronted with mammoth, millennia-old geological wonders and panoramic views.
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The Phoenix-Scottsdale area offers numerous hiking options, from family-friendly paved trails to strenuous treks for elite athletes and extreme-sport junkies. (For the record, my own hiking preferences fall squarely in the former.) Whatever your athletic prowess, it’s important to exercise extreme caution when hiking the Arizona desert. The dry climate and extreme temperatures can be deceptively brutal, and more than a few visitors (and even residents) have underestimated their physical toll. Be sure to bring lots of water on any hike; it really is a matter of life and death.
The kneeling camel profile of this red sandstone and granite mountain is the city’s most beloved icon—and a challenging, must-climb destination for hikers. Two summit trails ascend the mountain: the Echo Canyon Summit Trail, which starts at the “camel’s head” (you can even make out the eyelash) and the less-crowded Cholla Trail. Steep, rocky terrain and slick patches make this a difficult hike.