Why Tonto Is The Best Local Hiking Option Near Phoenix

Arizona is full of incredible scenery to explore: desert landscapes, alpine mountains, red rock vistas, looming flatirons, and massive canyons are just the tip of the iceberg. Having moved to Arizona about two years ago, it’s been overwhelming trying to maneuver through pages and pages of recommendations, advice, and pictures portraying where the best hiking is.

How does one hike with this view and not feel like an epic pioneer seeking their glory in mountains? It’s not just me, right?

Another navigational obstacle is the universal desire of avid hikers to keep their best spots a secret to prevent them from being overrun. Frankly, I don’t blame people for this. Trying to find a parking lot at a hike in Phoenix (or worse, Sedona) during peak seasons is near impossible, and once you’re on the hike it can feel like you and your 100 acquaintances are all doing the hike together. It’s frustrating and absolutely takes away from some of the appeals of going on a hike — it’s tough to feel one with nature when the guy behind you is blasting music from a speaker (if anyone does this while hiking, I’m here to tell you it’s considered bad etiquette), or the people in front of you seem completely oblivious to your pace.

All that being said, my two years spent exploring the hikes near Phoenix have lead to one conclusion: Tonto is absolutely some of the best hiking in The Valley. That’s not to say South Mountain, Piestawa, Camelback, Squaw Peak, and San Tan aren’t great options; those are all incredible areas with tons of trails to offer, all of which are unique and wonderful in their own rite. But Tonto is something else entirely, something that feels so incredibly wondrous it should be a major destination for people all over the world, but somehow isn’t.

Prospecting for “gold” aka looking for a good spot to sit down and eat the sandwiches we packed.

Yes, there is a fee to enter, and yes, I think it’s well deserved. Seven dollars is a small price to pay to enter into this glorious mountain area. Once you’re in there are tons of trails to choose from. Tackle the flatiron and spend a whole day (seriously, getting up there & back will take about five hours), or simply meander through some of the crazy cacti that litter the land below the huge mountain face.

Some of my favorite trails are Siphon Draw, Wind Gap, Flatiron Trail, Superstition Ridgeline, and Treasure Loop Trail. There are hundreds to choose from, and those are just a few of my favorites.

Straight up Dr. Seuss cactus, ready to take you out if you even THINK about approaching him.

It’s worth mentioning that many of these trails are hard. You’ll want to bring snacks, tons of water, sunscreen, hiking boots (not tennis shoes, please…), and absolutely a camera or phone to take pictures! These trails are truly incredible and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a national park, or maybe a nature documentary about a lone mountain man who goes off the grid and decides to live amongst mountain goats. Either way, you’ll feel epic.

For my fellow Arizonians: this is an absolute must-visit hiking destination. Seriously.

For my non-residents: if you’re ever in town, you really need to check this area out.

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