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Favorite Phoenix urban hikes: The Loop at Shaw Butte

This summer was one of the hottest on record in Phoenix. When enduring the scorching heat of June, July, August, and even into early September in the Valley of the Sun, it can be easy to forget what’s here to enjoy the rest of the year. Fortunately, mid-September rolls around every year and reminds us we have eight to nine months of nearly endless outdoor possibilities in front of us.

A view from near the top of Shaw Butte, looking north.

A view from near the top of Shaw Butte, looking north.

For those of us who enjoy hiking and are lucky enough to live here, the urban park system in Phoenix puts hundreds of miles of hiking trails at our disposal. The Summit Trail at Squaw Peak and the trails up Camelback Mountain get most of attention. But there are some gems off the beaten path that are well worth exploring.

I have a personal rule: I won’t hike in the morning unless the overnight low is below 80 degrees. It dipped below 80 several times this week, but today was the first morning I didn’t have to rush to work. I decided to do one of my two favorite urban hikes, the one I call the Loop at Shaw Butte. It’s a roughly five-mile hike, has a lot of changes in elevation, and is relatively uncrowded.

The trailhead — at 12950 North 7th Street in Phoenix — is less than ten minutes from my home. I can usually finish the hike in about 90 minutes, so I sometimes manage to do it before work. Today, though, I hiked the trail a little slower to collect data on my phone for this blog post. Here’s an overview of the hike:

If you click the link just below the map, you’ll open up a much more detailed, interactive version of the map, with descriptions of each waypoint.

If you decide to try this hike, I’d like to offer a few tips:

  • My preference is to start this hike about 20 minutes before sunrise, earlier if the moonlight or twilight allows. If you start then, you get the shade of North Mountain as you hike up the south side of Shaw Butte. You’ll also get some shade on the north side as you hike down.
  • Carry at least a liter of water. Drink at least a little before you start the hike, but not so much that it’s sloshing around when you walk.
  • The ground is mostly coarse gravel and can be loose in places. Wear sturdy shoes with good tread. Decent sneakers should do the trick, although I prefer a little more ankle support.
  • This should go without saying, but wear good socks. I know someone who tried to hike one of urban trails with no socks. She had to turn back when her feet were all cut up.
  • The sun is strong in Phoenix year-round. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Consider a long-sleeved shirt to cover your arms. If you’re hiking in the middle of the day, sunscreen is a must. Consider sunglasses, too.
  • Eat a little food before hiking. If you don’t, bring something with you. You don’t want to be full, but you don’t want to be hungry.
  • Depending on the time of year, you’re likely to see coyotes. Give them a wide berth. Ditto for snakes. You may also see quail and jackrabbits. They’re harmless. Usually.
A portion of the Shaw Butte trail is occasionally shared with maintenance vehicles.

A portion of the Shaw Butte trail is occasionally shared with maintenance vehicles.

Important! If you’re out of shape like I am, you may be a little winded when you get to Waypoint 10 at the top of the saddle. That’s okay. On the other hand, if you’re completely exhausted, that’s not okay. Turn around and go back the way you came. The hike gets considerably more strenuous after this waypoint, and it becomes a lot more challenging to get back to the parking lot if you continue.

If you have a chance to hike this trail during the workweek, do so. The people you encounter during the week are much more pleasant than the rat-racers who descend on the trail on the weekends. Don’t let that turn you off from going on the weekends, but your best bet, regardless of the day of the week, is to go early.

If you try or have tried the hike, please let me know how you enjoyed it. If you have more questions, please ask, and I’ll use the answers to update this post. Use the comment box below.