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Hiking Piestewa Peak – Phoenix Arizona – Jessie On A Journey


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Peta Despain



Welcome to Piestewa Peak, an iconic hiking destination located in Phoenix, Arizona. This majestic mountain, named after Lori Piestewa, a Native American woman who served in the U.S. Army and tragically lost her life in Iraq, offers breathtaking vistas, challenging trails, and a glimpse into the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert.


Rising 2,610 feet above sea level, Piestewa Peak stands as the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Its prominent location and proximity to downtown Phoenix make it a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a quick escape into nature. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker seeking a challenging workout or a beginner looking to dip your toes into the world of hiking, Piestewa Peak has something to offer.


The Piestewa Peak trail system offers various routes with different levels of difficulty, allowing hikers of all experience levels to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and invigorating exercise. As you make your way to the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Phoenix metropolitan area, Camelback Mountain, and the vast Sonoran Desert.


Before embarking on your Piestewa Peak adventure, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the trail options, difficulty levels, and safety precautions. Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make the most of your hiking experience while ensuring your safety and minimizing your impact on the environment.


In this guide, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to plan and enjoy a memorable hiking experience at Piestewa Peak. From getting to the trailhead and choosing the best trail for your fitness level to packing the right gear and staying safe on the mountain, we’ve got you covered.


So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your water bottle, and get ready to explore the incredible natural beauty that awaits you at Piestewa Peak. Let’s dive into this adventure together!


Getting to Piestewa Peak

Piestewa Peak is conveniently located in Phoenix, Arizona, making it easily accessible for both locals and visitors. Here are a few options for getting to the trailhead:

  1. By Car: If you’re coming from downtown Phoenix or surrounding areas, take the AZ-51 (Piestewa Freeway) and take the Glendale Avenue exit. From there, head east on Glendale Avenue until you reach the Phoenix Mountain Preserve parking lot. Alternatively, you can use GPS or a navigation app to find the most efficient route to the trailhead.
  2. Public Transportation: The Valley Metro bus system provides service to the Piestewa Peak trailhead. Check the Valley Metro website for the most up-to-date schedules and routes. Keep in mind that the bus service may have limited schedules, so plan accordingly.
  3. Biking: If you’re feeling adventurous and enjoy cycling, you can bike to the trailhead. Phoenix has a growing network of bike lanes and paths, making it possible to reach Piestewa Peak on two wheels. Just be sure to check the local regulations and bike safety guidelines before embarking on your journey.
  4. Rideshare Services: Popular rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are available in Phoenix and can drop you off right at the trailhead. Simply enter “Piestewa Peak Trailhead” as your destination, and your driver will take you there.

Once you arrive at the trailhead, you’ll find ample parking spaces available. However, keep in mind that Piestewa Peak is a popular spot, especially during weekends and holidays, so arrive early to secure a parking spot. If the parking lot is full, you may need to find alternative parking in nearby areas and walk to the trailhead.


Now that you know how to get to Piestewa Peak, it’s time to choose the trail that suits your fitness level and hiking preferences. In the next section, we’ll explore the various trail options available at Piestewa Peak.


Trail Options

Piestewa Peak offers a variety of trails that cater to hikers of different skill levels and preferences. Here are some popular trail options to consider:

  1. Summit Trail: The Summit Trail is the main trail that leads hikers to the top of Piestewa Peak. It is a challenging and steep trail, covering a distance of approximately 1.2 miles. The trail features rocky terrain, switchbacks, and an elevation gain of over 1,200 feet. Hikers can expect stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape along the way.
  2. Freedom Trail: The Freedom Trail is another popular option for hikers. It is a moderate trail, with a distance of 2.4 miles round trip. This trail offers a slightly less strenuous ascent compared to the Summit Trail, making it a great choice for those seeking a less intense hike. The Freedom Trail also provides beautiful views of the Phoenix skyline and the desert below.
  3. Nature Trail: If you’re looking for a more leisurely hike or have children with you, the Nature Trail is a fantastic choice. This easy trail is approximately 0.7 miles long and meanders through the desert landscape, showcasing the region’s unique flora and fauna. It provides an opportunity to learn about the natural environment while enjoying a stroll in a picturesque setting.
  4. East Parking Lot Trail: For a less crowded option, the East Parking Lot Trail is worth exploring. This trail starts at the eastern parking lot and offers a quieter and less strenuous hike compared to the Summit Trail. It provides panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and a tranquil escape into nature.

Each trail has its own unique features and rewards, so choose the one that suits your fitness level and desired hiking experience. Remember to check the trail conditions and any updates or closures before heading out, as the trails may be affected by weather conditions or maintenance work.


Regardless of which trail you choose, always stay on designated paths and follow any posted signs or guidelines. Respecting the natural environment and fellow hikers will ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.


Now that you’re familiar with the trail options at Piestewa Peak, let’s discuss the difficulty level of these trails in the next section.


Difficulty Level

The trails at Piestewa Peak range in difficulty, offering options for both novice hikers and seasoned outdoor enthusiasts. Understanding the difficulty level of each trail will help you choose the one that best suits your abilities and fitness level. Here’s a breakdown of the difficulty levels at Piestewa Peak:

  1. Summit Trail: The Summit Trail is considered the most challenging trail at Piestewa Peak. With steep inclines, rocky terrain, and an elevation gain of over 1,200 feet, this trail requires a good level of fitness and endurance. It is best suited for experienced hikers or those looking for a strenuous workout.
  2. Freedom Trail: The Freedom Trail is a moderately difficult trail that offers a less intense ascent compared to the Summit Trail. It still requires a moderate level of fitness, as hikers will encounter some uphill sections and rocky terrain. This trail is suitable for those with a moderate fitness level or those wishing to challenge themselves without the intensity of the Summit Trail
  3. Nature Trail: The Nature Trail is the easiest trail at Piestewa Peak, perfect for beginners or those looking for a leisurely stroll. With a relatively flat terrain and a shorter distance, this trail is accessible to hikers of all ages and fitness levels. It provides a great opportunity to enjoy the desert scenery and learn about the local flora and fauna.
  4. East Parking Lot Trail: The East Parking Lot Trail offers a less crowded and less strenuous alternative to the Summit Trail. With a gradual incline and fewer rocky sections, this trail is suitable for beginners or those seeking a less challenging hike. It still offers beautiful views and a peaceful hiking experience.

When choosing a trail, be honest with yourself about your abilities and physical fitness. If you’re not an experienced hiker, it’s recommended to start with easier trails and gradually progress to more challenging ones as you build up your stamina and confidence.


Regardless of the trail you choose, it’s important to come prepared with proper hiking gear, plenty of water, and appropriate clothing. Pay attention to your body and take breaks when needed. Remember to pace yourself and enjoy the journey rather than solely focusing on reaching the summit.


Now that you have an understanding of the difficulty levels at Piestewa Peak, let’s move on to discussing what you should bring for a successful hiking experience.


What to Bring

When preparing for a hike at Piestewa Peak, it’s important to pack the essentials to ensure a safe and comfortable experience. Here’s a list of items you should consider bringing with you:

  • Proper Footwear: Choose sturdy hiking boots or trail shoes that provide good traction and ankle support. This will help prevent slips, sprains, and other foot injuries on the rocky terrain.
  • Appropriate Clothing: Dress in lightweight, breathable layers that can be easily adjusted as the weather changes. Opt for moisture-wicking materials that will keep you dry and comfortable during the hike. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Ample Water: Staying hydrated is crucial when hiking in the desert. Carry at least one liter of water per hour of hiking, and more if you’re tackling longer trails or hiking in the heat of the day. Use a reusable water bottle or hydration pack to minimize environmental impact.
  • Snacks/Energy Bars: Pack lightweight, high-energy snacks to keep you fueled throughout the hike. Trail mix, energy bars, and fruit are great options to provide a quick boost of energy on the go.
  • Navigation Tools: Bring a map of the trail system or use a reliable hiking app with offline capabilities to ensure you stay on the right path. Familiarize yourself with the trailhead and any junctions along the way to avoid getting lost.
  • First Aid Kit: Accidents can happen on the trail, so be prepared with a basic first aid kit. Include items like band-aids, antiseptic wipes, blister pads, and any personal medications you may need.
  • Hiking Poles: Consider bringing hiking poles for added stability, especially on steep or uneven terrain. They can help reduce the strain on your knees and provide extra support.
  • Cell Phone/Communication Device: Carry a fully charged cell phone or communication device with you in case of emergencies. Ensure you have a backup battery or portable charger to keep your device powered.

It’s important to pack light but also be prepared for unexpected changes in weather or trail conditions. Keep in mind that hiking at Piestewa Peak may require additional items based on individual needs and preferences. Plan accordingly and do your research to ensure you have all the necessary gear for a safe and enjoyable hike.


Now that you know what to bring, let’s move on to some safety tips to consider while hiking at Piestewa Peak.


Safety Tips

While hiking at Piestewa Peak can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience, it’s important to prioritize your safety. Keep these safety tips in mind for a successful hike:

  1. Know Your Limits: Be honest about your fitness level and choose a trail that suits your abilities. Don’t attempt trails that are too challenging or beyond your current capability.
  2. Check the Weather: Before heading out, check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Avoid hiking during extreme heat or inclement weather conditions to minimize the risk of heatstroke, dehydration, or getting caught in a sudden storm.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout your hike to stay properly hydrated, especially in the dry desert environment. Carry more water than you think you’ll need and refill whenever necessary.
  4. Use Sun Protection: The desert sun can be intense, even during cooler months. Apply sunscreen before heading out and reapply as needed. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing to shield yourself from harmful UV rays.
  5. Hike with a Buddy: It’s always safer to hike with a companion. If possible, bring a friend or join a hiking group. If hiking alone, let someone know your plans, including the trail you’ll be taking and your estimated return time.
  6. Stay on the Trail: Stick to designated trails and avoid veering off the path. Straying from marked routes can be dangerous and harmful to the fragile desert ecosystem. Follow posted signs and respect the environment.
  7. Carefully Watch Your Step: Pay attention to your footing at all times. The trails at Piestewa Peak can be rocky and uneven. Watch out for loose rocks or slippery surfaces to avoid tripping or falling.
  8. Pack Out Your Trash: Keep the trails clean by carrying out all your trash. Leave no trace and follow the principles of Leave No Trace ethics. Dispose of waste in appropriate bins to help preserve the natural beauty of the area for future hikers.
  9. Be Respectful of Wildlife: Piestewa Peak is home to a variety of desert wildlife. Maintain a safe distance and observe animals from afar. Do not feed or approach them, as it can disrupt their behaviors and create potential hazards.
  10. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any signs of fatigue, dizziness, or discomfort. Take breaks when needed and listen to your body’s needs. If you start feeling unwell or experience severe symptoms, seek help and stop hiking immediately.

Following these safety tips will help ensure a smooth and enjoyable hiking experience at Piestewa Peak while minimizing risks and accidents. Now, let’s explore some of the wildlife you may encounter during your hike.


Wildlife Encounters

While hiking at Piestewa Peak, you may have the chance to encounter various forms of wildlife that call the desert home. Here are some common wildlife species to keep an eye out for:

  1. Sonoran Desert Tortoise: This iconic reptile is well-adapted to the desert environment. If you’re lucky, you may spot a desert tortoise slowly making its way across the trail. Remember to observe from a distance and never disturb or touch these endangered creatures.
  2. Rattlesnakes: The Sonoran Desert is home to several species of rattlesnakes. Exercise caution when hiking, especially in warmer months, as snakes may be more active. Stay on marked trails, avoid tall grass and rocky crevices, and be attentive to your surroundings.
  3. Javelinas: These small, pig-like mammals are often seen foraging in the desert. Javelinas are generally timid and will usually flee when approached. Give them plenty of space and avoid feeding or trying to pet them.
  4. Gila Monsters: The Gila Monster is one of the few venomous lizards in the world. Though their bites are rare, it’s best to admire these unique creatures from a distance. They are slow-moving and typically avoid human contact.
  5. Various Bird Species: Piestewa Peak is home to a diverse array of bird species. Look out for roadrunners, quails, hawks, and hummingbirds, among others. Bring binoculars to enhance your bird-watching experience and enjoy the beauty of these feathered inhabitants.
  6. Desert Plants and Insects: Keep an eye out for the unique and resilient plant life that thrives in the desert. Cacti, including the iconic Saguaro, Cholla, and Prickly Pear, dot the landscape. Be mindful of thorns and spines while exploring. You may also come across desert insects like beetles and butterflies, contributing to the delicate desert ecosystem.

When encountering wildlife, it’s important to maintain a respectful and safe distance. Do not attempt to touch or interact with any animals, as they are wild and unpredictable. Avoid leaving food or garbage behind, which can attract wildlife and disrupt their natural behaviors.


Remember, you are a visitor in their natural habitat, so observe and appreciate these creatures from a distance, and take the opportunity to learn about the unique ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert.


Now that you have an idea of the wildlife you may encounter, let’s explore some other activities you can enjoy in the area surrounding Piestewa Peak.


Other Activities in the Area

While hiking at Piestewa Peak is a popular activity, there are also other exciting things to see and do in the surrounding area. Here are a few suggestions for additional activities to enhance your visit:

  1. Visit the Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Explore the expansive Phoenix Mountain Preserve, which encompasses Piestewa Peak and several other nearby mountains. This vast area offers numerous hiking and biking trails, as well as picnic areas for a relaxing day in nature.
  2. Enjoy Scenic Drives: Take a scenic drive through the beautiful desert landscapes surrounding Piestewa Peak. There are several scenic routes to choose from, such as the Apache Trail, the Sonoran Desert Loop Drive, or the scenic drives within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
  3. Experience Desert Botanical Garden: Located just a short drive from Piestewa Peak, the Desert Botanical Garden showcases a stunning collection of desert plants from around the world. Stroll through the various exhibits, learn about desert conservation, and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the desert flora.
  4. Visit the Heard Museum: Dive into Native American history and art at the renowned Heard Museum in Phoenix. This museum showcases Native American artwork, cultural exhibits, and performances that offer insight into the rich heritage and traditions of the Southwest tribes.
  5. Explore Papago Park: Located nearby, Papago Park is another fantastic outdoor destination worth exploring. Visit the iconic Hole-in-the-Rock rock formation, hike the trails, and take in the scenic views of the park’s unique geological formations.
  6. Embark on a Hot Air Balloon Ride: For a unique perspective of the Phoenix area, consider taking a hot air balloon ride. Soar above the desert landscapes and witness breathtaking views of the city, mountains, and sprawling Sonoran Desert.
  7. Discover Downtown Phoenix: Explore the vibrant downtown area of Phoenix, where you’ll find a variety of restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. Visit the Phoenix Art Museum, catch a game at the Chase Field or Talking Stick Resort Arena, or simply stroll through the lively streets and soak up the atmosphere.

These are just a few examples of the many activities you can enjoy when visiting Piestewa Peak and its surrounding area. Whether you crave more outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or urban exploration, Phoenix offers something for everyone to enjoy.


After immersing yourself in the beauty of Piestewa Peak and exploring the surrounding attractions, it’s time to wrap up your adventure. Let’s conclude this guide in the final section.



Hiking Piestewa Peak in Phoenix, Arizona, offers an incredible adventure filled with stunning views, challenging trails, and a connection to the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking to explore the outdoors, Piestewa Peak has something for everyone.


From the summit trail that tests your endurance to the nature trail that offers a leisurely stroll, the various trail options cater to hikers of all skill levels and preferences. It’s essential to choose a trail that matches your fitness level and always prioritize safety during your hike. Staying hydrated, dressing appropriately, and being aware of your surroundings are key to a successful and enjoyable hiking experience.


Beyond the hiking trails, the Piestewa Peak area and its surrounding attractions offer a wealth of activities to complement your adventure. Explore the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, visit cultural sites like the Heard Museum or Desert Botanical Garden, or simply soak in the vibrant atmosphere of downtown Phoenix.


Remember to respect the environment and wildlife during your visit. Leave no trace, maintain a safe distance from wildlife, and appreciate the fragile ecosystem that thrives in the Sonoran Desert.


So, lace up your hiking boots, pack your water bottle, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey at Piestewa Peak. Whether you conquer the challenging summit trail or leisurely explore the nature trail, the beauty and serenity of the desert await you. Enjoy your adventure and make lasting memories in this remarkable outdoor paradise.