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Top 10 Running Trails in Phoenix

Headed to Phoenix? This fast-growing city is a runner’s paradise, with plenty of sunshine, mountain views, and a variety of trails and parks. Although running options in downtown Phoenix are somewhat limited, the canal trails and scenic desert preserve off-road trails are just itching to be explored on foot. Below, we’ve compiled 10 of our favorite spots for running in Phoenix.

1. Papago Park

Papago is a desert park spanning 1,500 acres in Phoenix and Tempe. It’s one of the most popular areas for runners near Phoenix, featuring both paved and unpaved trails and lots of hills. Located just minutes from downtown Phoenix, this is a convenient area with relatively flat and smooth trails for running. With several different trail options, you can create your own running route based on your goals and preferences. Papago Park is also home to several popular area attractions, including the Phoenix Zoo, Desert Botanical Garden, the popular Hole-in-the-Rock scenic viewpoint, and several museums.

Tips: Are you a first-timer at this park? For a whole park experience, try running the 2.3-mile Double Butte Loop!

2. Tempe Town Lake Trail

View Tempe Town Lake Trail at night.

Tempe Town Lake Trail is actually in the heart of downtown Tempe, but we had to include it on our list because it’s one of the best places for a long, flat, off-road run in the Phoenix area. Whether you run the 3.5-mile stretch of trail along Tempe Town Lake or run a 7.5-mile loop between S McClintock Drive and N Priest Drive, you’ll enjoy a scenic workout with nice mountain and water views. The trail is also paved and smooth if you plan to run with a stroller. If you want to extend your run further, you can easily access downtown Tempe and the Arizona State University campus via the south bank or head to Papago Park on the north side. There are many great nearby spots to grab a bite to eat or a drink after your run.

Tips: This trail also lights up at night. So, if you prefer to run after the sun goes down during the hot summer months, the Tempe Town Lake Trail is a safe and fun place to do so.

3. Arizona Canal Path

View of Arizona Canal Path

The Arizona Canal Path is one of the most popular locations in the city for runners and cyclists. The trail runs along both sides of the Arizona Canal, and it’s one of the longest multi-use paths in Maricopa County. Connecting Phoenix and Peoria, the Arizona Canal Path spans about 36 miles total, and you can start your run anywhere along the path. While you run, you’ll enjoy a mix of paved and gravel trails and several recreational areas and shops along the way, including the charming downtown area of Scottsville. There’s also plenty of foot traffic along this route if you prefer to run somewhere busy.

Tips: This trail also connects to several others in the area, including the Southern Canal Path, Cave Creek Wash Trail, Indian Bend Wash Trail, Old Cross Cut Canal Park Path, and more.

4. South Mountain Park and Preserve

Path of South Mountain Park and Preserve

If you’re looking for off-road long-distance running in the Phoenix area, South Mountain Park and Preserve is one of the best areas. Within this gorgeous 16,000-acre park, you’ll find more than 51 miles of multi-use trails, featuring stunning mountain views, challenging rocky and steep sections, dry waterfalls, unique boulder piles, and panoramic views of the city. Although this isn’t city running, it’s a very popular area for runners, hikers, and mountain bikers, so you’ll share the trails with other people while you’re out there, especially on weekends! There are many different trails to explore at South Mountain Park and Preserve, but if you want a variety of elevation changes and scenery, try the National Trail, which spans 14.5 miles through the park’s length. For a shorter run, you can turn back once you reach the famous Fat Man’s Pass (an extremely narrow passageway formed by boulders) and finish your run through Hidden Valley. Other popular running routes include the Hidden Valley Trail and the Javelina Canyon Trail.

Tips: Most of the landscape in this area is rocky and filled with cacti, so venturing off the trails is not recommended.

5. Murphy’s Bridle Path

Path of Murphy’s Bridle Path

Murphy’s Bridle Path used to be a horse trail, but today, it’s a popular location for runners and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located five miles north of Downtown Phoenix, the trail follows Central Avenue, past some of the most historic homes in Phoenix. It’s lined with olive, ash, and citrus trees, for a nice shady run. Murphy’s Bridle Path is a little more than 5 miles, there and back, and is considered an easy run that’s relatively flat. Although it’s a much-loved path by runners in the area, it’s not lit at night, so you’ll want to consider that when timing your workout.

Tips: This gravel trail runs right alongside some heavy traffic and has busy intersections, so use caution when running it.

6. Steele Indian School Park

The main entrance of Steele Indian School Park.

Steele Indian School Park opened in 2001 at the former Phoenix Indian High School location. It’s home to 72 acres of lush, green grass and shady trees. The perfect spot for a run on a hot summer day, this historic park has a 2.5-mile trail for runners. It also features a dog park, a playground, several ramadas for picnics and parties, a bird lake, and basketball and sand volleyball courts if you want to switch up your workout after running. After your run, check out the Phoenix Indian School Visitor Center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a great way to learn about the school’s history and its role in Phoenix’s growth.

Tips: While you’re there, check out the 15-acre entry garden. It features a short trail for compilation and meditation, perfect for a mindful cooldown after a solid run.

7. North Mountain & Shaw Butte

Shaw Butte as seen from the Visitor Center of the North Mountain Preserve in Phoenix.

North Mountain and Shaw Butte, at 2,104 feet and 2,149 feet in elevation, respectively, are two very recognizable landmarks in the Phoenix area. A popular place for runners and hikers, these mountains offer a great variety of trail options for runners of all skill levels. One of the most popular running trails in this area is the Charles M. Christiansen Memorial Trail, more commonly called Trail 100. A moderately difficult run, the trail starts at the North Mountain Visitor Center and stretches 10.7 miles through the natural landscape, featuring plenty of cacti, agave plants, and wildflowers during the spring months. With a few steep sections along the way, it’ll challenge you at times, but this trail is considered a moderate run for the most part.

Tips: Trail 100 is the longest single trail in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, but there are three trailheads throughout the route, so you can break it up into smaller sections if you prefer.

8. Ridgeline Trail

View of Ridgeline trail to Devil's Chair.

Head to the Deem Hills Recreation Area to access the Ridgeline Trail, a challenging 1.5-mile route through the hot Sonoran Desert. The Ridgeline Trail is the highest in elevation within this trail system and leads you up to the highest parts of Deem Hills (2,050 feet) for gorgeous panoramic views of the area’s landscape, including Ludden Mountain to the west. With an elevation gain of 353 feet and several steep switchbacks, this trail will definitely get your heart pumping and push you to your limits. Bring lots of water and consider running here in the cooler winter months.

Tips: You can also connect to the Circumference Trail at the beginning or end of the Ridgeline Trail.

9. Piestewa Peak’s Summit Trail

Squaw Peak's cactus-Along the Summit Trail.

Piestewa Peak’s Summit Trail is an excellent route for experienced trail runners who prefer hilly routes and a good challenge. A classic in the Phoenix area and internationally recognized among hikers, this trail is designated for foot traffic only, so you don’t have to worry about watching for bikers along the way. At only 1.2 miles long, the Summit Trail gains a whopping 1,200 feet of elevation, making it one of the most difficult trails in the system. Starting at the 302 Trailhead, you’ll run through steep, jagged sections of gravel and rock, with multiple switchbacks that will test your endurance. On the plus side, the Summit Trail rewards your hard work with some of the best views of the Phoenix metro area from above. If you haven’t yet ventured out into the rugged trails of this area, it’s best to try a few easier trail runs first before attempting to conquer this one.

Tips: There are restrooms and water at the base of the trail, but definitely bring lots of water to drink along the way. You’ll need it!

10. Sonoran Preserve

Sonoran Preserve

If you want Instagram-worthy views of Phoenix and the desert landscape while you run, head to the Sonoran Preserve: it won’t disappoint. This area in North Phoenix features more than 9,600 acres and 36 miles of trails between the three trailhead locations: Desert Vista, Desert Hills, and Apache Wash. The Dixie Mountain Loop is a popular running route here, featuring 3.8 miles of rolling ascents and an elevation change of 401 feet. As you run, you’ll loop around the side of the northern mountain and enjoy beautiful views of Dove Valley, including fields of saguaro cacti and other native plants. For a leisurely jog at the Sonoran Preserve with a very gradual incline, try the East Skip Rimsza Paseo. This 1.9-mile trail has a paved concrete surface and parallels Sonoran Desert Drive. It’s perfect for families!

Tips: The Dixie Mountain Loop is exposed with very little shade. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, especially if you plan to run during the hotter summer months.

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References:

  1. https://www.visitphoenix.com/sonoran-desert/parks/papago-park/ 
  2. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/tempe-town-lake-trail–2
  3. https://www.traillink.com/trail/arizona-canal-path/
  4. https://greatruns.com/arizona-canal-trail/
  5. https://www.srpnet.com/water/canals/graphics/CanalTrails_Map_Large.png 
  6. https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/south-mountain/trail-descriptions-and-map 
  7. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/hidden-valley-trail-via-mormon-trail 
  8. https://www.phoenix.gov/phxtv/video/5953 
  9. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/murphy-bridle-path-trail 
  10. https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/parks/alphabetical/s-parks/steele-indian-school 
  11. https://www.phoenix.gov/parkssite/Pages/North-Mountain-Shaw-Butte-Trails.aspx
  12. https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/north-mountain 
  13. https://www.trailrunproject.com/trail/7013145/trail-100-charles-m-christiansen-memorial-trail
  14. https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/deem-hills
  15. https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/deem-hills/trail-map 
  16. https://www.phoenix.gov/parkssite/Pages/Piestewa-Peak-Dreamy-Draw-Trails.aspx 
  17. https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/sonoran-preserve/trails

Photo Sources:

John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Alan Stark, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bureau of Land Management, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Mark S. Süever, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Marine 69-71 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Sonoradocent, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Crishazzard, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Robertbody at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
SScotwriter21, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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