The comfortable hiking season in Phoenix runs from mid-October to mid-April. Even in January, temperatures climb into the 70s, so carry more water than you expect you'll need. A quart per person for a moderate, hour-long hike is not too much. Sunscreen is essential; a hat is advisable.
Maps and information on these trails are available online from the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department ( www.phoenix.gov/parks/hikemain.html). An excellent pocket-size guide is Best Easy Day Hikes/ Phoenix, by Stewart M. Green (Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT, 1998; $6.95; www.globepequot.com or 800/243-0495).
Camelback Mountain- Echo Canyon Recreation Area
DIRECTIONS:Take the Glendale Ave. exit east from I-17. After 4 miles, Glendale becomes Lincoln Dr. Continue east on Lincoln, then turn right on Tatum Blvd., then left on McDonald Dr. and right onto Echo Canyon Pkwy. At its end is the Echo Canyon Trail parking area.
DISTANCE: 2 1/2 miles round trip to summit; 1,264-foot elevation gain.
DIFFICULTY: Very strenuous.
CONTACT: (602) 261-8318.
South Mountain Park
DIRECTIONS: To reach the Pima Canyon trailhead, take I-10 east to the Elliot Rd. exit. Drive west on Elliot to 48th St. and turn right. Watch for E. La Mirada, and take the next left into South Mountain Park (9002 S. 48th; this is not currently signed as a park entrance). Continue 1/2 mile to trailhead parking. Hike the closed gravel road 1 mile to National Trail. Return via Mormon Trail and Mormon Loop, with a detour through Hidden Valley (well marked).
DISTANCE: 6-mile loop; 700-foot elevation gain.
CONTACT: (602) 534-6324.
Squaw Peak Park
DIRECTIONS: Take Glendale Ave. east from I-17. Shortly after Glendale becomes Lincoln, turn left onto Squaw Peak Dr. and continue to the end at Apache Picnic Area and a parking area. The Circumference Trail is marked with signs reading "302."
DISTANCE: 3 3/4 miles round trip; 700-foot elevation gain.
CONTACT: (602) 262-7901.
FYI: For a satisfying reward after a Piestewa Peak or Camelback summit assault, one of Phoenix's best barbecue joints is just a few minutes away: A&J Chicago Style BBQ (closed Sun; 6102 N. 16th St.; 602/241-7519). Or, if you need to replenish your supply of calcium, you can find great sundaes at the Phoenician's Café & Ice Cream Parlor (6000 E. Camelback Rd.; 480/941-8200), less than 1 mile from the trailhead for Camelback.
Usery Mountain Recreation Area
DIRECTIONS: Take U.S. 60 (Superstition Fwy.) east to the Ellsworth Rd. exit. Drive 6 1/2 miles north to Usery Mountain Recreation Area. Admission $5 per vehicle; trail maps are available at the entry kiosk or online.
DISTANCE: Pass Mountain's Wind Cave Trail is 3 1/4 miles round trip; 820-foot elevation gain.
CONTACT: www.maricopa.gov/parks/usery or (480) 984-0032.