And walking here is ok too 🙂
When I got to Phoenix, it was really hard for me to figure out where to run. I like running, but I didn’t know a lot of people and couldn’t “find” casual places. So, here are my favorites and why.
Just a note, I’m not great with directions. I once got lost walking home from grade school after 8 years of attending. There was a single turn on the route. I went the wrong way. So, I tend to favor really simple running paths. It helps me and it helps me get acquainted with a new city. Plus, these are runs I’m advocating for people who aren’t sure where to go. Makes it simple.
North Central Phoenix
Start: Central Ave and Bethany Home St
Distance: 1-15 miles
There are a few reasons why I love this running path:
- There’s ALWAYS parking at Central and Bethany. The huge mega-church is there, which has hundreds of parking spots. Incidentally, this church parking lot is where the Uptown Farmer’s Market is, so if you run on a Saturday or Wednesday morning, you can reward yourself with some fresh Farmer’s Market food or wandering!
- It’s dirt and not pavement, so it’s easy on the joints.
- It’s safe. There’s always people and it’s in a great neighborhood.
- You can easily extend your run. The Bridle Path itself is great and gives you a good 5-6 miles depending on how far north you run (but it really stops being a nice trail at the Canal). At that point it hits the Canal which is basically an indefinite run in either direction. I like going east and not west because I think the neighborhoods are a little better, but that’s just personal preference.
- It’s pretty. The houses along Bridle are beautiful and the canal is nice as well.
And there are a few reasons why I don’t
- I run pretty early in the morning and this trail is quite dark. It’s nothing a headlamp can’t fix, but running without one is almost impossible before sunup or after sundown.
- There’s traffic and traffic lights. Not a lot, but definitely be careful when crossing roads along Central at the beginning/end of the run. The road is quite busy, especially at Glendale and Northern. During the winter, there’s a lot of snowbirds in town living along there; they tend not to look when making right turns. I actually got hit a few years ago by a driver making a right turn on a green light while I was running across in the crosswalk. No harm, no foul – just saying BE CAREFUL and be mindful
Start: Rio Solado and Mill, Tempe Marketplace, or Tempe Beach Park
Distance: 3-8 miles
Things I love about this run:
- It’s super pretty. It’s one of the few “water” runs you can do in Metro Phoenix and it’s beautiful at sunrise or sunset. The modern office park, tempe museum, and new apartment architecture actually looks nice as reflections on the lake too.
- You can choose your distance. There are a series of bridges that run across the lake that let you target distances between 3 and 7 miles without really changing how pretty or nice the run is. If you really want to extend the run, you can loop Papago on the north side. This will add another 5 miles or so.
- The entire path is well lit. It’s easy to run at night or into the night.
Things I don’t:
- It’s not the safest run ever. I would never describe this run as dangerous by any stretch, but there’s are occasional homeless people on empty stretches. I probably wouldn’t do it alone at 4 am.
- Sometimes it’s weird or hard to find parking. There’s parking over by the boat ramp on the north side or Tempe Beach Park on the south side, but not much. You can somewhat illegally park in the apartment complexes that are around. You can park easily at Tempe Marketplace but then you have to run through the mall parking to get to the trail. If you don’t care about money, the easiest place to park is probably the garage at 68 E Rio Solado Pkwy, but each run is gonna cost you $2-3 bucks then depending on time.
- At sunset in the fall, which is arguably the nicest time of year to run in Phoenix, there are a TON of gnats everywhere. It’s a lake run, but it still annoys me. To be fair, this is true at sunrise on the canal as well during this time of year.
Piestawa Peak – Perl Charles Memorial Trail
Trailhead: 1823 E Myrtle Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85020, USA
Distance: ~7 miles
Things I love about this run:
- There’s elevation change, which makes it a great workout.
- It’s a trail. It’s rocky and rugged with lots of turns and changes in terrain. It’s good for your brain and your legs. And there’s no traffic!
- It’s pretty empty early in the morning. I’ve never seen anyone on the trail prior to 7am, which means free and clear running.
- The views, particularly at sunrise, are amazing. It has views of the city as well as the mountains. It’s great in spring time when the flowers are blooming.
Things I’m not as keen on:
- The trail is narrow, so it’s hard to chat and run. You have to run one behind another. So, two people can chat, but a group of 3 or more tends to have to split up or leave people out of conversation. On other words, it’s not possible to run “as a pack”.
- It’s heavily trafficked during the day. Pairing that with the narrowness makes it impossible to do this as a run during most hours.
- I dropped my keys on this run once. They were gone forever. In other words, if you lose something or place something on the run, it won’t be possible really to grab it on the way back.
- It’s VERY dark in the morning – bring a headlamp. Darkness + rocky trail can lead to some twisted ankles, but I’m kind of prone to rolling mine. Other people don’t seem to have this problem.
5018 E Desert Fairways Dr (where I park, but you can park anywhere cause it’s a loop)
Distance: ~10 miles
Things I love about this run
- It’s beautiful. So beautiful. Odd for a run through largely through the streets of Phoenix, but this run has everything. Absolutely beautiful views of the city, amazing homes and architecture, great desert landscape, and wonderful views of the mountains. If you run this so that sunrise is happening when you’re on the west side of the loop, you’ll see the Phoenix city lights glowing in the distance against the sunrise. Then the rest of the loop is well lit for checking out houses and the desert.
- It’s well lit and there are fairly few traffic lights.
- It’s hard (but not too hard). There are rolling hills and you can choose your direction and route to place them within your run (e.g., front load or back load) depending on how difficult you want it to be.
- It’s easy to add mileage, since the whole area around Mummy is pretty and good for running.
Things I don’t
- It’s pretty clear that this run is a quite long loop. It’s pretty tough to make this any less than 8 miles, so make sure you’re prepared to go the whole way!
- It’s all road and sidewalk, and I generally prefer dirt or trail.
- I get lost on this one a lot. It’s a bit hard to navigate if you’re bad with directions or relatively new to the route. I generally won’t run it alone because it involves navigating so many back streets with twists and turns that I know if I go alone I’ll wind up doing like 12-13 miles due to getting lost.
Park at North Mountain Visitor Center
12950 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85022, United States
Distance: 4.5 miles
There are other hikes in the park, but I think this one is a great distance. What I love about this run:
- It’s super hard, especially for being relatively short. There are long uphill climbs that really get your heart going.
- They allow dogs! You technically have to keep your dog on leash, but there’s a lot of climbing and scrambling so I often let mine off for short bits.
- It’s a trail, but for most of the way it’s quite wide, and so it’s easy to run in a group of 3-6 but also pretty fantastic as a pair.
- It’s easy to navigate even with my bad sense of direction. There are lots of trail markers and you almost can’t go wrong since all the trails lead back to the same main ones.
- It’s pretty lightly trafficked. The parking lot is big and there’s ALWAYS parking available, even on the weekends. The low crowds make it easy to run, I’ve never had a stall in running, not even mid morning on the busiest day of the year (like Memorial Day weekend).
- The views are wonderful. That’s kind of my thing. It’s got some great lookouts over Phoenix.
Things I don’t love about it. Well, there’s not a lot specifically in this category, so you might wonder why this isn’t higher on the list. First, for me, the location of this run is slightly inconvenient for myself and my running group. Second, while there’s nothing wrong with this run, it’s not *as* pretty or *as* nice or *as* extendable as the earlier hikes on this list. So, while it’s got all the pluses and no minuses, they all tend to be like 7s or 8s as opposed to 10s.
Other notable mentions:
- South Mountain – Better for biking than running, but still a nice place for a run, hike, or walk.
- Camelback Mountain – There are way too many people (even super early) and too much scrambling/climbing to consider this a good run, though you can run for pieces and get in a good workout. It’s sort of iconic in Phoenix.
- The Northern Canal – This is a really long route that actually links a lot of the routes above. It’s super flat and convenient and has a great sunrise, but in the end it’s really just a canal. You can tack parts of this on to almost all the runs above if you want a little extra distance. And it’s a great great way to get around town on a bike.
- Papago Park – This one didn’t make the list by itself (though I did mention it in the Tempe Town Lake one) because all the trails within are fairly short. It is really beautiful, with lumpy red rocks throughout. The loop around is a few miles (2-3) and you can run around near the Botanical Gardens and Phoenix Zoo.