Most succinctly stated, the Maricopa Trail is a microcosm of the Valley of the Sun.
Over its 317-mile course, the non-motorized recreational trail connects 10 county parks, wanders through open desert and farmland, tethers to suburbs and urban centers and passes by the canals, dams and lakes that deliver water to the one of the largest and fastest-growing areas in the Southwest.
If you want a walking tour of the Valley’s diverse nature, this is your hike.
The Maricopa Trail represents decades of planning, development and construction in partnership with Maricopa County, Maricopa Board of Supervisors, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department and dozens of volunteer organizations and individuals that contribute time and resources to build and maintain the trail. Phase 1 of the project (completion of the Valley-circumnavigating loop) was completed earlier this year. Phase 2 will roll out this year with designs for a spur trail that will connect with the planned 70,000-acre Vulture Mountain Regional Park in Wickenburg that’s on track to open in 3-5 years. The trail is a huge accomplishment that few communities across the country can match.
“I talk with many county park directors across the country and they are envious of what we have in the Maricopa Trail,” said R.J. Cardin Director, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department.
The trail is organized into 20 segments, each with multiple trailheads and walk-in access points that tie together existing trails, roads and fresh-built paths.
Every section presents a unique snapshot of every corner of the county. From the rugged backcountry of the far north Valley that runs through Tonto National Forest to easy water-centric strolls at Lake Pleasant and easy family favorites like the sandy trails in San Tan Mountain Regional Park. No matter where you live in the Valley, chances are, you’re not too far from the Maricopa Trail.
“To me, the Maricopa Trail is a fast and easy way to escape the city and be one with nature,” said Bill Klewer, Volunteer Coordinator, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department.
“I really appreciate that the trail can be accessed in so many locations throughout the county.”
With so many options, where do you start? The county parks are a good choice for those just getting to know the trail. Well-signed and impeccably-groomed, the sections of the trail that run through parks are low-risk, amenity-rich gateways. One west valley segment to try is the where the trail shares space with the Mule Deer Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Waddell. The park map shows multiple ways to incorporate the trail into a day hike or long-distance trek.
A pleasant out-and-back suggestion begins at the Mule Deer trailhead. Head south and follow the dirt single track that traces the park’s southeast boundary through rumpled washes and lush stands of ironwoods and Palo verde trees that clutter moist drainages. A brief uphill climb lands hikers on a ridgeline with vistas of patchwork grids of cotton fields and subdivisions, agricultural flatlands and distant city high rises. All around, a fringe of mountain ranges circles the Valley.
Up close, the White Tank Mountains, bolster the trail’s western edge while the Sierra Estrella, Cave Creek and Bradshaw Mountain appear as hazy mounds on the distant horizons.
The route drops back down to the desert floor slipping among picnic sites in an unassuming gnarled path. At the 2.25-mile point, the trail meets a junction where a spur path leads to the nature center, a must-see stop when visiting the park. For a quick sampler hike, the nature center makes for a good turn around point, unless, this snippet of a larger entity has inspired you to tackle the entire trail. Fall through spring is the perfect time to explore the Maricopa Trail. And with new kiosk signs designed by the nonprofit Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation and manufactured with a grant from REI Co-op being placed at new access points across the Valley in the coming weeks, navigating the course will be easier and more attainable than ever.
LENGTH: 4.5 miles out-and back as described here, 17.2 miles entire segment.
ELEVATION: 1,506 – 1,377 feet
White Tank Mountain Regional Park
20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell, AZ
From Phoenix, take Interstate 10 west to the Loop 303 North exit. Go north on Loop 303 and exit at Northern Avenue. Go left (west) at the off ramp and continue west on Northern to Cotton Lane. Turn right (north), go 1 mile to Olive Avenue, turn left (west) and go 4 miles to the park entrance.
FEE: $7 daily fee per vehicle
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic areas, horse staging, nature center, camping (fee)
Maricopa Trail + Park Foundation