Best Scottsdale Hikes for Kids


This post is was originally published in 2011 and is well-worth a revisit – it was actually being guest-blogged by a Scottsdale DAD!  Not that moms can’t enjoy hiking with their kids, but it sure is a great way for dads to spend time with their little ones outdoors. One of our favorite family activities on cooler mornings is to get out for a family hike. We are really blessed with an abundance of great trails available in the Scottsdale and greater Phoenix area.


While it seems like everyone I know makes regular trips up and down Camelback, there’s quite a bit of climbing involved and even just finding a parking spot is quite a challenge. We’ve got some recommendations to help broaden your horizons with some trails that are more kid friendly.

Tips for hiking with kids…

First, a few tips for hiking with young kids (we have three of them). First, don’t forget the snacks and water. Allowing them to help pack this stuff is always a good way to get them excited. Also good to have the first aid kit – we average a scrape about every third outing. They will eventually learn not to run – I promise.

Something I’ve also had to learn is to manage my own expectations for hiking with the little ones. This is not about getting that monster workout, you can hit the bike later! I’d recommend setting an amount of time you want to hike, say an hour, and how ever far you’ve gotten in a half hour, turn around. You can make it farther up the trail next time, and remember it is supposed to be fun.  Don’t let your baby or toddler be left out – they make some great hiking backpacks and we got a ton of use out of ours.

Easy trails…

Let’s start with some easy hikes right in Scottsdale. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy site is a great resource for local trails ( )  This is also a good map.

  • Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Rd. – The Gateway Loop trail is a great first hike for any child. This is a paved, ½ mile trail that has multiple stops to describe local plant and animal life.  I also have to admit it is great fun on a bike.
  • Lost Dog North end of 124th Street just beyond Anasazi Elementary School.  The Lost Dog trail is another great, easy hike, very beautiful as you start getting in among the hills. The first ½ mile is super easy and it starts to climb a bit after that.
  • Pinnacle Peak, 26802 N. 102nd Way.  This is a bit more of a moderate hike at one of our most striking vistas. It has more ups and downs but if you are looking for some great views this would be my top recommendation for a hike the young ones can handle. The great thing is that you don’t have to get very far to get some great views, whether of the peak itself or the surrounding area.

Ready for a bigger challenge?  

After you’ve mastered these easier trails there are still so many left to explore. Depending on how much time you have you can find some unbelievable views.

  • Sunrise – Via Linda and 145th Way.  This is another one with a bit more climbing, but is one of the most beautiful hikes in the McDowells.
  • Bell Pass (access via Bell Road trailhead or Gateway)  This is probably my favorite hike in the McDowells, so I had to include it. The last 1/3 is some serious switchbacks and a great quad workout. And yes, I have seen some Scottsdale moms trekking up there, although you probably won’t make it all the way to the top with the kids. If you do, the view is amazing out toward the northeast – you can see Rio Verde and Four Peaks, and usually there’s a good bit of wind blowing through to cool you off.
  • Tom’s Thumb – This is a newer trail that we haven’t actually tried yet, although it is listed as difficult. We last went up this way before there was a trail in place, but what an amazing view. The trailhead is a bit more off the beaten path so if you are looking for a bit less crowded area this is the way to go.

Half-day trips…

If you’re willing to drive a bit there are so many more wonderful hikes in the area. Everyone knows Camelback and Piestewa Peak but here are a few others that are great family hikes. Take a lunch along and have a picnic.

  • South Mountain – Phoenix  One thing I like about this one is that you do gain a good bit of altitude without really feeling like you are doing a lot of climbing. Great views of the valley and downtown.
  • Usery Mountain Park – Mesa  This one is a bit of a trek and the only hike on here that requires an entrance fee ($6 per vehicle last time I checked), but really worth it. If  you get to the end of the Wind Cave trail there is a series of caves cut into the mountainside – don’t worry, it is not fully enclosed, they are more like large overhangs. Very cool to hang out in and take refuge for a while.
  • North Mountain – Phoenix  This is another good beginning trail. Although there are some ups and downs, the trails are paved which gives some peace of mind for those of us with little hikers who like to take off at a full sprint occasionally. The views here are comparable to hiking Camelback or Piestewa in my opinion, but less crowded.



  1. Great post! My kids have all flown the nest so we are left taking our big golden retriever on our hiking trips! We will try some of the hikes you recommend this weekend!

  2. I love this! We are always looking for a trail with little elevation change so we can load the kiddo into the backpack or she can walk along with us. Thanks for the tips!

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