Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike to build endurance and get your heart rate going or a fun experience for the whole family, there are tons of options near Gilbert, Arizona. The surrounding desert and mountain areas offer breathtaking views, exciting climbs, and plenty of natural fun. Here are some of the best places to hike near Gilbert.
Tonto National Forest
Image via Flickr by JeffreyTurner
In the southwest corner of Tonto National Forest, you’ll find hiking trails just 20 to 30 minutes from Gilbert. This part of the national forest is called Usery Mountain Regional Park and there are trails with all different difficulty levels in this area. The park is open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day, and the visitor’s center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are camping areas, picnic shelters and tables, and an archery range within the regional park as well as several major campgrounds situated throughout the national forest.
If this is your first time in the park, stop by the center for some trail maps and information. Blevins Trail is a great place to start. The trailhead is just off of North Usery Park Road, which offers several parking areas and restrooms. It’s a loop trail, meaning you’ll end where you started, making it easy to find your car when you’re done. The trail is about 3 miles with only 118 feet in elevation gain and offers easy terrain. It should take about 2 hours to complete.
The Merkle Hill Vista trail is also a good option for kids and novice hikers. It’s an out and back trail with 226 feet in elevation gain, so it is rated as moderate with 1 mile of total distance and about 30 minutes hiking time. At the top of the hill, you’ll enjoy some great views of the surrounding desert and mountains.
Be sure to also check out Wind Cave Trail. This trail is also out and back at a total of 2.8 miles, 2 hours of hiking, and 787 feet of elevation gain. It’ll be a challenge for kids and some hikers, but the experience is worth it. You’ll meet some rocky terrain and even some rock scrambling, which can be fun for older kids. Enjoy a great workout, views inside a cave, and picturesque scenery at the top of the climb.
South Mountain Park and Preserve
At the northeast area of South Mountain Park and Preserve, you’ll find several trail options only 20 minutes west of Gilbert. The park is open to hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and others from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
For a challenge, try the BC to Ridgeline to National to Midlife Crisis trail loop. It runs about halfway through the preserve and back for a total of 11 miles of hiking and takes average hikers about 6 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll come across rock scrambles, rough terrain, wildflowers, and great views. Overall, there’s a 2,000-foot elevation gain, so this hike is for moderately experienced hikers. Kids can do it but should be older and active. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water.
For something easier, check out the Pima East Loop trail. It starts right off of East Pima Canyon Road and creates a 2-mile loop with only 262 feet in elevation gain. There are a lot of other trails and paths that lead off of the trail, so you’ll need to pay close attention to the trail markers as you go. It’ll take about 2 hours from start to finish.
Hayden Butte Preserve
Not only is Hayden Butte Preserve a great spot for hiking, but it’s also home to more than 500 rock art images, or petroglyphs, some of which date back as a far as 450 A.D. The preserve is just a 25-minute drive from Gilbert and welcomes hikers of all ages and skill levels. Right on Arizona State University’s Tempe Campus, this mountain is also called “A” mountain because of the big A at the top.
The main trail that runs up the mountain and along the various rock drawings is about a mile long with 270 feet of elevation gain and easy terrain. It’ll take about 30 minutes to hike, depending on how long you take to stop at drawings to study and admire them. Hayden Butte Preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset and offers many nearby places for food, drink, and restrooms.
Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
Right in the heart of Gilbert, the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a scenic park with eight ponds, fishing opportunities, and hiking. Each pond features a trail that loops around the water’s edge. The Preserve is open every day from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. This is a great place for a family outing whether you’re hoping to learn something new about the habitats and species in your area or looking for a nice place to hike.
There are more than 4.5 miles of trails looping throughout the park. Keep it easy and just walk around one pond or challenge yourself to explore the whole preserve. Either way, the terrain is easy and the hikes will take between 20 minutes to an hour and a half depending on how far you go.
Red Mountain District Park
Just about 20 minutes northeast of Gilbert, Red Mountain District Park is a great place for families with small children who want an easy place to hike and enjoy being outside. The park is open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day except Friday.
A flat, paved 1-mile trail loops around Red Mountain Lake and is perfect for bikes, strollers, and skates. There are several spots along the trail for picnics, and restrooms are found throughout the park. A hike around the lake will take about 30 minutes, so you’ll have time to take advantage of the many fields and courts in the park as well.
There you have it. The best places to hike in the area according to Crème de la Crème of Gilbert, AZ. Get out and visit these various spots, check out the trails, and see what you think. Let us know if we missed one of your favorite nearby hiking spots, and we’ll add it to the list.