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Training for Havasupai: Hikes in Phoenix

Remember our Take a Hike With Kate series? She’s back today with some hikes in Phoenix she’s been doing as she trains for her BIG Havasupai adventure!


Training to hike to Havasupai Falls in Southern and Central Arizona can prove to be tricky. We have lots of straight up hikes up mountains and longer flat-ish hikes, but nothing that quite replicates a long downhill hike into a canyon followed a long uphill out of a canyon.

That being said, Phoenix is home to some fabulous hikes. Just ask Lilia Menconi, author of the new release, Take a Hike Phoenix. Luckily, I have writer friends who have other writer friends who could connect me with Lilia, so I was quick to consult her about prospective hikes in Phoenix.

3 Hikes in Phoenix

1. Piestewa Peak. First up is an old standby, Piestewa Peak.


Piestewa Peak at sunrise is really lovely.

I hike Piestewa quite a bit. It’s great elevation training as the 1.2-mile trail goes up 1,200 feet in a hurry. Typically it takes me at least 50 minutes to get to the top, but it’s great training for downhill hiking, too. The Havasupai Falls hike, for which I’m training, covers 2,400 feet in roughly 10 miles. Although it’s important to know that the trail really gets steep towards the top of the canyon; the first 1.5 miles of trail we will descend close to 1,400 feet through a system of switchbacks. This makes descending Piestewa Peak great training for Havasupai. It’s also well traveled and close to my house, making solo trips easy.

2. Boulder Creek. Summer is quickly approaching here in the desert, so I decided to head to the outskirts of town to canyon lake, home to the Boulder Creek hike. I took two friends with me for company for what I had been warned was a hike that inflicts “sweet, sweet” pain. It ended up being a pretty warm day after all, but the advantage of this hike is that it does, in fact, eventually go into a canyon — and then you have to get yourself out.


Yep, the Boulder Creek hike looks just like the book says!

There’s a quick 1.2-mile uphill climb near the beginning of the trail, but then this trail showcases great views as you go into the wide canyon. Even though we arrived early (6:30 a.m.) the temperatures topped 90 degrees as we finished the hike. I have low sodium, so I was sure to pack electrolytes and two frozen bottles of water (in addition to the three liters of water to drink) to toss over my head. The heat was a good example of some of the high temperatures we might face on the trip, so driving to the canyon was worth the time.

3. Christiansen Trail 100. Finally, it was time to rack up some real mileage. Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) recommends being “confident in your ability to hike 10 miles.” So, it was onto the Christiansen Trail 100 that essentially spans Phoenix. Having run several half marathons and trail races, I know that mileage on the trail is different than mileage on the course. To do this trail completely, you’ll need to drop a car on either side of the trail. It came in at 11.5 miles on my GPS with a 1,500-foot gain. We started the trail on the east side at about 7 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m., it was warming up in a hurry. Cool breezes saved the day, but my hiking partner and I were sort of hurting around mile 9. That parking lot never looked so good!

The longest hike in Phoenix that I've done since training!

The longest hike in Phoenix that I’ve done during my training so far!

This hike definitely made me glad I had lots of cross-training planned. In addition to two to three kickboxing and cross-training classes at the gym (think weighted lunges), I’m doing a few open-water swim races, adding in more hiking and really watching my eats. Getting up that canyon will be a lot more enjoyable if I feel I’m really in shape and at my “fighting weight,” so to speak.

The weather is getting really warm here, so oatmeal for breakfast is out. I’ve begun making chia seed pudding with almond milk and and yogurt for breakfast. I’m still doing meatless Monday evening meals, but I’m adding in more fresh veggies from our garden and lean meat protein to work towards my health goals over the next month or so.

I did all of these hikes with a full backpack; the same one I’m taking on the trail and tried different combinations of outfits that I could be sure provided cooling and quick dry time. Countdown to Havasupai: less than two months!

What hikes in Phoenix do you love? Would love more training recommendations! —Kate

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