There are a few tricks to bagging great hikes in Arizona, especially in the summer.
1) You have to know where to go.
2) You've got to prepare and beat the sun to the best of your abilities.
3) You must be up for a little adventure.
And no matter what, whenever and wherever you hike in Arizona, you must always sunscreen up and pack vital water and hydration/electrolyte supplements and mind your body's limits. It's best to ease into summer hiking rather than overheat on your first go and ruin all the fun.
So, first things first: You have to know where to go.
Here are some of the best backdrops for Arizona hiking all over the state in no particular order. What's important to note however is that all of the trails in/around Phoenix typically require that you get on the trail at sunrise or just before sundown to stand a chance against the heat - and since sunlight will not be at its peak, please be safe and ensure you have flashlights, a way to communicate and a solid plan for how to stick to the trail and return safely...
1) Echo Canyon of Camelback Mountain - the steep walls and steps section typically has intermittent shade in the morning and evening, but the main stretch is quite exposed. That said, you can't beat the views!
2) Havasupai Falls - Roughly 11 miles from the top to the bottom, but the aqua swimming holes and waterfalls are worth every bead of sweat to get there. Permits are required and it's advised you pay close attention to stormy weather. There was a flash flood there just last week!
3) Wet Beaver Creek (east of Sedona) - Another swimming hole hike, this trail is relatively flat and winds along a gentle stream. The payoff is a series of red rock cliffs and pools at the end, perfect for a summer picnic.
4) South Mountain Preserve - Fun fact, South Mountain is actually one of the largest municipally operated parks in the country with 16,000 acres and 51 miles of mixed-use trails for hiking, biking, and horses. Phoenicians can't beat the access and versatility any time of the year.
5) Sheeps Crossing, Greer - If you're game for a drive up north and east, there's a beautiful creekside hike in Greer. Top it off with some ice cream from some of the local shops in town or bring your fishing pole and try your luck along the trail.
6) Black Canyon Trail System - While it's best known to mountain bikers and horseback riders, this system north of Anthem near Rock Springs Cafe has multiple entry and exit points and meanders up and around occasional creek beds and stunning desert scenery. It does get quite remote quickly, so plan your hike with safety in mind.
7) West Fork Trail in Oak Creek - Although it's become increasingly famous for its fall colors, this trail is a gem year-round. And since it's an easy 2-hour drive from Phoenix, it's a tremendous day hike option. Plus, you can't go wrong with the stunning drive through Sedona along the way.
8) Mt Humphreys, Flagstaff - Provided you plan your trip around summer monsoons and lightning, this is a truly magical trail in northern AZ. You'll park right in the Snowbowl lot and start hiking right under the ski lifts. The majority of the hike is between the pines and aspen trees, but experienced hikers can venture all 12,633 ft up Arizona's highest peak well above the timberline! Be sure to acclimate to the elevation before trying and you'll need plenty of calories and water. Don't let the nicer temperatures fool you, you're still plenty prone to dehydration and fatigue.
In addition to the Parks and Recs guidelines linked at the top of this post, summer hiking in Arizona mandates responsibility and humility from every hiker. Simply put, summer temperatures, venomous critters, spiky cacti and little water/shade on the trail can be a recipe for disaster if you're inexperienced or negligent.
On the flip side, which brings us to our final point, if you use your smarts, train, pay attention to your body and respect the elements, hiking in Arizona can be an incredible adventure. While the trails above are near and far, some ambitous and others household names, the reality is that there are hikes all over the state. There may even be one right out your backdoor! Choose one to tackle with a friend even if it's the neighborhood loop and you might just add one more thing to your list of summer favorites next to lounging by the pool!
Be safe and have fun!