There’s a reason why rangers look so fit — they hike all day. “I’ve been a ranger for six years, and I can remember back when I first started, a five-mile hike was a long hike to me,” says Amy Roberts.
“Now it’s nothing to go out and do a five-mile hike. It’s not enough exercise.”
Now you too can have the quads, calves and stamina of a ranger: All you have to do is get out and hike. Maricopa County has made promoting health a priority and parks all over the Valley are responding with hikes specifically targeting the fitness-minded.
“The whole idea is to do these group hikes and slowly build up their fitness levels,” says Roberts, who is a ranger at Usery Mountain Regional Park.
Fitness hikes aren’t like interpretive hikes; you won’t stop to gaze at petroglyphs or lizards scampering across a rock. These hikes will keep your heart rate up. Rangers will usually work in pairs (one sets the pace, while the other brings up the rear). Each week the hikes become harder as the
participants’ conditioning improves.
Working with a park volunteer, Roberts hosted a six-part fitness series that culminated with an eightmile hike on the Pass Mountain Trail.
“I definitely noticed that certain trails have gotten a lot easier,” says Mesa resident Cindy Kaye, who joined Roberts’ hike with her husband, Chuck. “You definitely work different muscle groups than you can at the gym.”
Both Kayes incorporated hiking into their fitness regime six years ago, thanks to a New Year’s resolution, and have lost weight. Chuck Kaye says hiking plays a huge role in his fitness regime.
“I hike literally no less than twice a week,” says Chuck Kaye, who counts Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak among his favorites. “Every workout is unique.”
If the scenery isn’t enough to vary your hiking route, Phoenix park ranger Robert Nelson suggests incorporating different exercises.
“Find a rock and do pushups,” says Nelson. “That way you get that upper body workout. Or, find a rock and do leg lifts (for abs).”
Just remember to look for wildlife if you plan to use rocks as a workout bench (snakes and other critters tend to lounge underneath them).
Switching trails and the way you cross them is another way to vary a workout, says Roberts. Changing the way you walk on the rocks, walking through sandy washes, going uphill and downhill all use different muscles in the legs.
For the frugal fitness buff, hiking is definitely a costeffective means to better conditioning. For $75 residents of Maricopa County can get an annual park pass, compared with the $30 to $40 per month some people pay in gym fees. The hiking workout is both cardiovascular and strength training (climbing over rocks that are at least a foot tall will definitely build your leg muscles).
“If you hike enough, you’ll start building leg muscles and you won’t even know it,” says Nelson.
Hikers who intend to take these fitness hikes or go off on their own should bring plenty of water, sun protection and a map of the area.
• Extreme Molt fitness hike, 8 a.m. Saturday at Usery Mountain Regional Park, 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa. $5 per car. (480) 984-0032. This hike will meet at the horse staging area.
• North Trail fitness hike, 9 a.m. April 14 at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, 16300 McDowell Mountain Park Drive, Fountain Hills. $5 per car. (480) 471-0173.
• Monthly fitness hike for seniors, 8 a.m. April 19 at Usery Mountain Regional Park, 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa. $5 per car. (480) 984-0032.
• Fitness walk at Cave Creek, 9 to 10 a.m. April 20 and April 27 at Cave Creek Regional Park, 37019 N. Lava Lane, Cave Creek. $5 per car. (623) 465-0431.
• Fitness with a View, 8:30 a.m. April 28 at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, 16300 McDowell Mountain Park Drive, Fountain Hills. $5 per car. (480) 471-0173.
• Drop the Hammer Part 3 Mormon Trail, 2 p.m. April 21 at South Mountain Park Mormon Trailhead, 2425 E. Valley View Drive, Phoenix. $3 adults, $1 seniors age 55 and older and children age 12 and younger. (602) 495-0222 or (602) 534-6324 or