No visit to Phoenix  would be complete without climbing Piestewa Peak. The short but challenging Summit Trail rises just over 1,200 feet in 1.2 miles, but it’s worth it. The peak offers panoramic views of the city stretched out for miles in every direction, and when the wind carries the scent of creosote and citrus blossoms up from the valley below, it can be hard to begin the clamber back down.
On weekend mornings, the trail becomes a mountainside promenade as throngs of tanned, supple hikers and runners (and those who wish to be so) make even panting by the side of the trail interesting. But it is the quieter weekdays when jackrabbits, Gila monsters, geckos, and the occasional rattlesnake or coyote come out to sun themselves among the cacti and desert trees that pepper the hillsides. To reach the trailhead, turn east onto Squaw Peak Drive from Lincoln Drive between 22nd and 24th streets.
The other must-hike destination is South Mountain Regional Park . Its 61,000 acres of mountains, arroyos, and flats crisscrossed by 51 miles of hiking trails make this the largest municipal park in the United States. San Juan Road leads to the highest peak in the range, where you’ll find New Deal-era picnic areas and a series of short hikes through the hills.
For the more ambitious, the Alta Trail starts near the park entrance and runs along a ridge, offering 4.5 miles of some of the most stunning city views anywhere. Coyotes, javelina, and rattlesnakes make regular appearances in the park, so be alert and give them a wide berth. The park entrance and main ranger station are on Central Avenue south of Dobbins Road.
Farther north, the 10.7-mile Charles Christiansen Memorial Trail (Trail 100) linking North Mountain, Shaw Butte, and Dreamy Draw is too long for most people to hike in a single go, but it serves as the spine of the entire Phoenix Mountains Preserve trail network and is a good jumping-off point to explore canyons and washes that feel like they’re far from the surrounding city. Find information on the flora and fauna and get maps at the North Mountain Visitors Center (12950 N. 7th St., 602/495-5540, www.phoenix.gov/parks , 7 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat.–Sun.).
Hiking “quickies” seldom lead to anything interesting, let alone iconic, but the Hole-in-the-Rock  trail at Papago Park  is the exception. The easy, 835-foot trail shoots up to a tunnel-like hole in the sandstone that houses an ancient Hohokam Indian solar calendar. The entrancing views of downtown Phoenix  make this one of the best places anywhere to watch a colorful Southwestern sunset. Get there by turning off the Galvin Parkway onto the Papago Park/Phoenix Zoo road. The trail begins from a picnic area on the northern end of the Ranger Office Loop road.
The Phoenix Parks and Recreation department also organizes hikes (free with a city Recreation Card, available for a one-time fee of $20, $10 for residents) through all of its mountain parks, guided by experts on the plants, birds, petroglyphs, and history of central Arizona. Get a full schedule or sign up for a hike at www.online.activecommunities.com/phoenix .
Take a Hike Arizona (866/615-2748, www.takeahikearizona.com ) also leads guided hikes to all destinations around metro Phoenix. Half-day excursions start at $65. Full-day hikes of five hours or more run about $99. Prices include snacks, lunch, and guides.
The steep canyons and rock spires that shape the mountains around Phoenix  are a playground for rock climbers, but the sandstone terrain is often treacherous. Guide outfits Ascend Guide Services (800/227-2363, www.amdest.com ) and 360 Adventures (602/795-1877, www.360-adventures.com ) offer instruction and equipment for beginners and the lay of the land for experts. Prices for full-day rock-climbing or canyoneering trips range $120–400 per person depending on the activity and size of the group.