Taking the trail up the tallest peak in Phoenix
Camelback Mountain rises 2,707 feet over Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. The mountain, a short drive from downtown Phoenix, is a popular hiking spot, but it’s not for the unfit or the faint of heart. Begin early in the day to avoid the weekend crowds, and you’ll be back at your hotel in time for a late breakfast.
Two main trails lead to the summit of Camelback, a camel-shaped mountain just 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Both are rated extremely difficult. The Echo Canyon hike is the more rugged of the two and requires steep climbs and scrambling over large rocks. The Cholla Trail, while a little bit less strenuous, is also a little bit longer. The beginning of the hike is easy, with switchbacks and even terrain. The last third of the trail requires scrambling up steep grades with drop-offs on each side. Both hikes are a little under 2.5 miles long. Plan on taking two to three hours, depending on your condition, to make either of the round-trip hikes.
Gear and other essentials
Take plenty of water. Heat stroke is a real possibility when hiking in the desert. Experts recommend hydrating before you start hiking and packing more than you think you’ll need. No matter where you are on the mountain, turn around and head back down once you’ve used half of your water. Wear sunscreen and a hat to protect your face and the top of your head. Pack a camera to capture the 360-degree views from the summit of Camelback.
Leave the pooch at home if you’re hiking Camelback. Dogs are prohibited on all trails. The terrain, weather and elevation gain aren’t appropriate for kids or hikers who aren’t in good condition.
Tips for the trip
Parking lots at the trailheads fill up quickly during the winter and spring when visitation is the highest. On weekends, they may fill for the entire day. When this happens, the park closes the gates and prohibits cars from idling in the street, waiting for the gates to open. Visit the park during the early afternoon on weekdays, when it’s least crowded, or use an alternative method of transportation. Use the restroom at the Echo Canyon trailhead; you won’t find any other accommodations along the trail.
Hikers with a fear of heights should be aware that a sheer cliff drops off the side of the summit. The Cholla Trail’s steep drop-offs might also cause problems. Stay on the trail. People have died from falls.
Pinnacle Peak, about 25 miles north of Camelback Mountain, is the centerpiece of a small park near Scottsdale. A moderate, 3.5-mile out-and-back trail with about 300 feet of elevation gain winds its way through the Sonoran Desert. Three areas in the park have rock climbing routes.
South Mountain Park, on the southern edge of Phoenix, encompasses three mountain ranges. The park has 51 miles of trails leading to spots such as Dobbins Lookout and Goat Hill.
Sandstone buttes rise out of the desert in the urban Papago Park. The park, site of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, has four hiking trails, ranging from a very short walk to the geological formation known as Hole in the Rock to a 3.1-mile hike through the buttes.