Cacti & Canines: 15 Dog-Friendly Hikes Near Phoenix

Posted by
Jake Case
July 26, 2019
Updated October 15, 2023

phoenix hikes with doggos

Is there any place better than Phoenix for going hiking with your dog? The winter weather is impeccable, and a hike can even be doable on the hottest days of the year if you start early enough.

Whether you’re new to the Valley, added a new four-legged member to your family or need tips for your vacation, you’re here because you want the 411 on the best hikes for dogs in the Phoenix area — and we’ve got you covered.

We’ve put together a list of 15 top-notch spots to hit the trail with your pooch, plus some tips to make for safe and successful dog hiking trips.

Related Read: 14 Cozy Pet-Friendly Cabin Rentals in Arizona

Keys To Successful Desert Hiking With Your Dog

Safe hiking in the desert mountains near Phoenix requires safely navigating rocky trails and cactus fields, staying hydrated, and minimizing heat and sun exposure.

Hiking preparations are important just for humans alone, but becomes doubly important for your canine as threats like dehydration and heatstroke often hit dogs faster than us homo sapiens.

Take the following tips to heart and you’re sure to encounter less problems when you and your dog head out on the trail:

  • Bring plenty of food and water for you and your dog
  • Don’t hike in hot weather — it’s illegal to take your dog on City of Phoenix trails in 100+ degree heat
  • Protect your dog’s pads with booties
  • Train your dog for the trail
  • Use a harness instead of a collar and consider a dog backpack
  • Bring a first-aid kit (especially one specifically for dogs)
  • Choose trails that are good for dogs (yep, we’re getting there soon)

Follow these tips and you should be able to keep your dog happy, safe, and ready for action out on the desert trails.

Phoenix Mountains Preserve Hikes

1. Dreamy Draw


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Why you should go: A convenient and easy place to introduce your pup to hiking in the desert

  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 135 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Dreamy Draw Nature Trail is a series of mellow loops to the north of Piestewa Peak — easily accessible right off the 51. If you’re looking for an easy-as-pie first hike with your dog, this should be at the top of your list.

The three-mile distance above is misleading as you probably won’t do all of it. Realistically, you’ll probably end up hiking somewhere between one and two miles on this “choose your own adventure” style trail.

Once you’ve traversed this web of trails rolling through the foothills you can extend your adventure, too. The Perl Charles and Charles M. Christiansen Trails connect to the rest of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve trail system — but plan to bring enough extra water if you think your pup will want to go the extra distance.

Related Read: 12 Best Hikes in Arizona, From Desert to Tundra

2. Shaw Butte


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Why you should go: Loop trail with excellent views from the Phoenix Mountains

  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Shaw Butte has multiple trailheads, but we recommend parking in the lot at the intersection of Central Avenue and Aster Drive. From here, it’s easy to catch a hike on this sweet loop. It’s a wide trail most of the way, too, so it’s pretty easy on your furry friend.

It’s uphill, so you’ll do a little work to get to the top, but the views of downtown Phoenix are worth it. On the southern slopes, be on the lookout for an old foundation — the last relic of a restaurant that operated on the mountain decades ago.

3. North Mountain


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Why you should go: Puppy-friendly paved path the whole way up to 360 degrees views of the city

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 650 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

If you’re looking for a hike avoiding rocky trails altogether, North Mountain is the ticket — it’s 100% paved if you choose the correct route.

Starting from the small parking lot off of 7th Street just south of the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort (accessible to southbound traffic only), it’s a paved path uphill all the way to the top. The moderate grade makes it a great exercise hike that’s doable for nearly everything, dogs and humans alike.

Also note, there are numerous other trails in the area, so you have the option of making a longer loop, the most obvious using the trail dropping off the southern slopes of the mountains. Of course, you’ll also leave the pavement behind in the process.

South Mountain Hikes

4. Mormon Trail to Hidden Valley


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Why you should go: Gradual uphill climb to rocky mountaintop “playground” — fun for dogs, kids, and adults too

  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 850 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

Hidden Valley is a popular area atop South Mountain for good reason. A large boulder field makes it a blast for rock hopping, exploring, and all-round fun for all ages! Just be ready to squeeze through “fat man’s pass” — a narrow passage between two enormous boulders.

The name Hidden Valley is 100% accurate, too. It’s stuffed between two ridges so you can’t even see the city from within, which makes it easy to pretend you’re in a remote wilderness.

The access route via the Mormon Trail (trailhead at 24th Street and Valley View Drive) is a nice climb that’s doable for even marginally fit humans and dogs. The views of downtown Phoenix are pretty sweet before cresting the ridgetop and dropping into Hidden Valley.

Related Read: The 7 Best Caves in Arizona for Subterranean Exploration

5. Holbert Trail


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Why you should go: Winding climb to a popular viewpoint overlooking the Valley

  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Holbert Trail is undeniably a South Mountain classic. From its trailhead near the entrance to the main South Mountain Park entrance (off Central Avenue), the Holbert Trail winds it’s way up to the iconic Dobbin’s Lookout.

This is one of South Mountain’s more popular hikes, so expect company on the trail and at the lookout (it’s accessible by car, too). Of course, sometimes following the crowd is the way to go as it leads to the most spectacular views, and that’s the case here!

If you and your doggy are up for even more trail time, the Holbert Trail continues past Dobbins Lookout and connects to the National Trail. Continue west on National to connect to the Kiwanas and Los Lomitas Trails for a seven-mile loop connecting back to the Holbert Trailhead — just plan ahead with plenty of water and snacks for yourself and your dog.

6. Ranger-Kiwanas Loop


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Why you should go: A moderate loop with great views making for a nice alternative to Holbert

  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

While any South Mountain trail can be busy on a perfect weekend day, sometimes the crowds at Holbert’s Dobbins Lookout are just over the top. The solution: take your pooch for a ride on the Ranger-Kiwanis Loop.

Ranger itself doesn’t have a big destination, but makes a great entry point to access the epic stretch of the National Trail east of it’s junction with Ranger. Here, the National Trail follows a narrow ridge for a half-mile of some of the best panoramas on SOMO culminating at the National Trail Lookout.

It’s just a natural fit to return via the Kiwanas Trail, which follows a rocky canyon bottom adding contrast and variety that your dog will appreciate.

You can consider starting at the Los Lomitas or Kiwanas Trailhead to shave a mile off the round-trip distance, but those small parking lots fill up fast.

Related Read: 17 Best Arizona Swimming Holes to Hit This Summer

7. Desert Classic


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Why you should go: An easy roam around the base of SOMO for your canine entourage

  • Distance: Variable
  • Elevation Gain: Variable
  • Difficulty: Easy

For hikes with multiple options, we still like to fill out the stats above with the data of the most common route. However, for Desert Classic, there’s so many possibilities, we’ll leave it wide open.

You see, this trail clocks in at 8.5 miles one-way, so you’re probably not doing the whole thing (unless you and your pup are absolute beasts). But the hiking is mellow on SOMO’s rolling southern foothills, so you might make it farther than you think.

It’s also likely you’ll want to branch off onto one of the 10+ other trails that connect to Desert Classic. Some of these connectors keep it low-key and explore the lowlands, while others climb upward on the ridgelines above (which would in turn increase the difficulty of your excursion).

No matter how far you go or which route you piece together, Desert Classic is the best option if you’re looking for an easy SOMO hike with your dog. There are multiple points of access to this trail, but the best parking is at the Pima Canyon Trailhead.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hikes

8. Lost Dog Wash


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Why you should go: When the trail has “dog” in the name, you know you gotta take your pup there

  • Distance: 4.2 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

While other areas get more fanfare, Lost Dog Wash is a gem that flies a bit under the radar. However, this beautiful desert valley is a gem, and it’s an easy one to get your dog out on the trail. The stats above are for the hike to Taliesin Overlook, the classic way to do Lost Dog.

This trail is a bit of a roller coaster with a few ups and downs, but it’s a wide trail and gradual climb with views of McDowell Peak and Thompson Peak towering above. Crest the saddle and there’s a short spur trail to the overlook.

Taliesin West, the winter home of the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is visible downslope to the southwest. A round, teal-roofed building is also visible and is often mistaken for Taliesin West, but was designed and built by David Dodge, one of Wright’s apprentices.

Related Read: 13 Best Hiking Trails Near Scottsdale, Arizona

9. Tom’s Thumb


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Why you should go: Wide trail, awesome granite rock formations, and big views

  • Distance: 4.3 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Tom’s Thumb is one of the most popular hikes in the valley, and for good reason. The granite eye-candy is to die for, as are the views across the Valley once you gain the ridge line. Come spring, the wildflower displays up here are legendary.

Tom’s Thumb, a large granite monolith, is indeed the destination. Standing at it’s base will make you feel like you’re experiencing something special.

Our friend Jason Locklear is also a fan of the Thumb: “I love all the saguaros, cholla cacti, and the large boulders throughout the trail. There isn’t much shade — so bring a hat and extra water for this one.”

Although you can hike to the Thumb from the Gateway Trailhead, that’s a long-ass hike. We recommend starting at the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead at the north end of the preserve. It’s a longer drive, but a more reasonable hike. The trail up is wide and pretty gradual, making it a top-tier dog hike all the way around.

10. Marcus Landslide Trail


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Why you should go: Easy alternative to the Tom’s Thumb Trail with rockin’ geology

  • Distance: 3.8 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 525 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Tom’s Thumb isn’t anything too hard, but if you want something super easy to start your pup out with in the far north of Scottsdale, Marcus Landslide is the way to go. Crossing the northeastern foothills of the McDowells, it jostles through granite boulders with views toward the Four Peaks.

Oh, and did we mention this crosses the 2nd largest landslide in Arizona? Yeah, this is prime country for the geology buffs out there. Be on the lookout for the optional .7 mile interpretive loop near the trailhead — while the main trail makes a little lasso loop up onto the actual landslide as well.

Don’t worry, wildflower junkies, you can get your fix here in the spring too. Yep, dog lovers of all interests have a reason to get out here.

Northwest Valley Hikes

11. Dixie Mountain Loop


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Why you should go: Take your dog on a tour of the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

  • Distance: 4.7 Miles
  • Elevation Gain:  800 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

Located just east of I-17 in the Norterra area, the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve is a beautiful piece of land. The Dixie Mountain Loop is a great way to explore the park, but there’s a whole network of easy to moderate trails out here, so you can easily build-your-own hike as you please.

We love the Dixie Mountain Loop because you get plenty of variety, exploring the cactus-fields of the valley floors as well as topping the easy-to-attain summit of Dixie Mountain. The views up top are pretty sweet, of course, but be sure to enjoy the lowlands where in many places there’s not a home or a road in sight.

All of the trails in the Sonoran Desert Preserve are wide and pretty mellow, so it’s a top notch area for dog hikes on the north side of town.

12. Sunrise Mountain


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Why you should go: Wide trail with lots of turnaround points — great for all fitness levels

  • Distance: 4 Miles
  • Elevation Gain:  1,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

Peoria, Arizona is home base for the Territory Supply founders, and Sunrise Mountain is one of our go-to neighborhood hikes, with or without our dogs in tow.

Sunrise sports a small network of mostly wide trails, although a few stretches of trail get pretty steep and rugged, though the first mile is definitely laid back and suitable for all walks of life.

When we take our older dogs out here, we usually turn around before the trail really starts climbing, and senior pups are usually tired enough by then anyway. Younger dogs, however, will definitely have the energy to get to the top.

Superstition Mountains Hikes

13. Treasure Loop


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Why you should go: It’s a dog-friendly introduction to the Superstitions

  • Distance: 2.5 Miles
  • Elevation Gain:  500 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Supes is most convenient for those in the East Valley, but the epic nature of range makes it a destination for folks valley wide. It’s a deep wilderness to explore, and the Treasure Loop is a great place to dip your toe in.

While most Supes hikes are rugged and not super dog-friendly, the Treasure Loop offers wide trails with easy grades while the jagged silhouette of the Superstitions’ western ridge towers above — arguably the most iconic view in the Valley. You and your doggie will be happy as can be.

Get a taste of the Supes’ glory and then consider a venture deeper in their storied depths. Check for current parking fee information with Lost Dutchman State Park.

Related Read: 20 Superstition Mountains Hiking Trails You Can’t Miss

14. Boulder Canyon Trail

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Enjoying the views on the Boulder Canyon Trail // Photo: Jason Locklear

Why you should go: Classic Superstitions vistas on the trail, lakeside parking to cool your pup off in the water post-hike

  • Distance: 5 Miles
  • Elevation Gain:  1,150 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The trailhead for the Boulder Canyon Trail is at most a few hundred yards from the cool waters of Canyon Lake, so if your pup loves to hike and swim, this could be your go-to spot. You wouldn’t be the first to fall in love, as it’s a favorite hiking-with-a-dog enthusiast Jason Locklear, as well as local writer Bri Cossavella.

Here’s Jason’s thoughts on Boulder Canyon: “I’ll admit, it’s not the best trail for dogs due to some loose rocks — but Bodhi and I love the climb up to the sprawling views of Canyon Lake, the Superstitions, Four Peaks, and Weaver’s Needle. And you can park for free at the Marina near the trailhead without needing a Tonto Park Pass.”

If your pup is an energetic one, a hike up Boulder Canyon topped off with a dip in the lake is just what the doctor ordered.

Related Read: Boulder Canyon Trail: Where the Water Meets the Desert

15. Peralta Trail


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Why you should go: Awesome views of Weaver’s Needle and extended hike options

  • Distance: 5 Miles
  • Elevation Gain:  1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Peralta Trail is a Supes classic (and a popular one), with an epic view of Weaver’s Needle from Fremont Saddle as the most popular turnaround point. That’s what we’ve described in the stats, as that’s what most folks will go for.

However, if you, your dog, and a friend with an extra car are ready for a real adventure, our friend Jason has a tempting recommendation: a 12 mile shuttle from Peralta Trailhead to First Water Trailhead.

You’ll have to drop a car off at one end in order to make it work, but it’s worthwhile to get a full tour of the Western Superstitions. The route has some rugged spots, but overall it’s more dog friendly than most Supes hikes.

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