When I first started trying to learn how to trail run I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t seek out much information and didn’t know very many others that were beginner trail runners to join forces with. I was trying to run up the sides of mountains at a road pace, feeling so discouraged as I ran out of breath and tripped over myself and all the rocks that make up Phoenix area trails. Let’s just say, those are what NOT to do when you’re just starting out! Starting out, it is so much easier (and you will be happier) to start on smooth trails so you can gain confidence and add in technicality as you get more comfortable and your body adapts.
My top 5 local Phoenix trails for beginner trail runners are:
- Brown’s Ranch: Brown’s Ranch trailhead offers a wide variety of routes you can create on flat, nearly rock-less trails. This area is ideal for building up miles as you get more and more comfortable running on the trails. The short loop linked here is a nice launching point that you can continue to add upon as you tack on the distance. The perimeter loop is 14 miles with minimal elevation gain that means it is ideal for growing into long distances with low technicality.
- Phoenix Mountain Preserve: The PMP is one of my favorite areas to explore in, partially because it is close to where I live but also because there is so much variety in this preserve. Starting from the 40th street trailhead you can head out of the parking lot to the west you will follow smooth, well maintained and nearly rock-less trails. Many of these trails are unmarked and leisurely weave around the preserve where you can gain confidence in your form and footing. While you’re gaining your bearings in the preserve you can always look for the lights in the parking lot as a guiding benchmark of where you are! The preserve offers so many different trails with various ranges of technical difficulty which means as you get more confident in your footing and stronger as a runner, you can always find a trail that will help you level up whether that is for distance or elevation gain or technical trails.
- Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve Union Peak Loop : The Phoenix Sonoran Preserve offers many different flat, maintained trails to choose from. The Union Peak Loop is a great option for beginners, especially because it is a looped route. To me, loops are always nice since you’re consistently seeing new things as you go.
- Papago Park Big Butte Loop: A unique little trail system in the middle of the Tempe area, Papago park offers fun flat trails surrounding the Papago Buttes. This red dirt and rock area is fun to play around in as it looks different than anything else in the area without a ton of technicality. If you want to add on a little more difficulty, you can scramble up the buttes and follow trails that take you up into them.
- South Mountain Desert Classic Trail: Starting from the Pima trailhead the Desert Classic trail skirts to the left of the parking lot on well-groomed trail with small, rolling hills. With low technicality it’s a great starter trail that you can build off of distance wise while also having the option to link to additional trails with more difficulty and variation. This trail is exposed with minimal shade so prepare with a hat, sunscreen, electrolytes and water if running in warm weather!
Do you have a favorite trail you like to explore locally here in the Phoenix area? Share in the comments!