Few cities boast city parks with a mountain in them. Phoenix is blessed with several downtown mountains that give the hiker a respite from the busy-ness and traffic and some magical views of the city. Several of these are centrally located. Avid hikers can log an hour or two hike on the way to or home from work.
My favorite in-town mountain hike is Piestewa Peak (a.k.a. Squaw Peak), 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak a 1,400 foot elevation climb up the Summit Trail that can be completed in an hour or hour and one half, depending on your shape. During the summer months the best time to climb is just before dawn. There is still a coolness from the evening on the slope and the air is clear. If you are in shape, you can climb to the top, chat with other climbers and return to your car at the bottom in less than 90 minutes. The ascent is intense with a fairly steep, stair-step character. The summit is rocky and clean with views of the city in all directions, including Paradise Valley, downtown Phoenix and even up to North Scottsdale. The descent is smooth and refreshing, clearing your mind for the day’s events.
For a less intense experience, the North Mountain trail brings you up a paved road to the 2,104 foot summit. Still strenuous, the paved road makes this climb much tamer and filled with more vegetation along the way. The view from the top is not as panoramic as that from Squaw Peak though still worth the climb. It borders the Moon Valley area on the north, and overlooks the Pointe at Tapatio Cliffs on the south.
More intense is the famous Camelback Mountain. This longer hike requires more stamina, though it is generally not as steep as the previous two hikes. On a more practical note, parking is more difficult to find, making prior planning important for this climb.
See this link for up-to-date information on these and other City of Phoenix hikes: http://phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/piestewapeak/index.html