Ballantine Trail: Hiking on the Beeline Highway Part 1

If you have ever driven from Phoenix to Payson in Arizona, you’ve had the chance to enjoy the beauty of the Beeline Highway. This road will take you up from the low-land Sonoran Desert to the temperate forests of Payson, and past exceptional mountain ranges to match. It is one of my favorite drive in the state, and so it stands that you might wonder what trails might give you some extra exploration of the landscape. There are several, in fact, but two of my favorites are the Ballantine Trail and Barnhardt Trails. This Part 1 post about hiking on the Beeline Highway will cover Ballantine Trail.

This is the perfect desert trail for exploring the transition from the desert to the higher elevation grasslands. There are exceptional stone formations along the way, and awesome views of the Beeline itself. If you are looking for a little bit of a challenge, and want to explore a diverse part of the Sonoran Desert landscape, this is the trail for you.

5 Reasons Ballantine Trail is for You

ballantine trail

(c) ABR 2019

If you don’t have a lot of time, or you’ve got a lot of trails on your bucketlist, here are 5 reasons that you might want to pick this particular path.

  1. You are looking for a biodiverse Sonoran Desert experience.
  2. You are looking for a winter, early spring, or late fall hike that isn’t too crowded or far out of town.
  3. You enjoy unique geology.
  4. You would like to explore more of the area between Phoenix and Payson along the beautiful Beeline Highway.
  5. You are looking to learn more about the impacts of fire on the Sonoran Desert.

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Hiking in Fountain Hills, Arizona: Adero Canyon

One of the amazing things about living in Arizona is just how close at hand amazing hiking trails almost always are. Nearly every suburb of Phoenix has a few trails if not several mountain parks, and the eastern town of Fountain Hills is no exception. Since the late 2010s, the city has been building trails through the southeastern part of the McDowell Mountains, and created the Adero Canyon trailhead. With less crowds than some of the city’s more marketed trails, hiking in Fountain Hills offers visitors and residents alike the opportunity for challenging climbs, easy walks, and beautiful views. Any local hiking fanatic should definitely check these trails off the hometown bucketlist. This guide will walk you through the main trails of the park and breakdown everything you need to know to visit.

adero canyon

Please remember when you come to take care of this beautiful landscape. It is the home of people, plants, and animals, and the care of every visitor will help protect this place for the future. In this guide, we will be covering Caring for Wildflowers.

Caring for Wildflowers in Central Arizona and Beyond

adero canyon

ABR (c) 2019

You might not imagine that the deserts of Arizona are home to a vibrant array of wildflowers. But every year there are seasonal growths of purple, orange, red, and yellow flowers which can be viewed when hiking in Fountain Hills and elsewhere. Not only are these a beautiful element of the landscape, but the diversity of plants is key to the health of the Sonoran Desert. Diverse flowers support diverse pollinators and herbivores. And the healthier insects and herbivores are the healthier our charismatic predators tend to be. Everything is linked in nature.

Likewise, wildflowers play an important role for indigenous and Western cultures. At the very least, the beautiful colors encourage folks in enjoying the end of the cooler season, and make preparing for the intense summer a little more enjoyable.

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A One Week Kentucky Itinerary for History and Nature Lovers

Kentucky is a land of caves, culture, spectacular river gorges, and more. While people might stop by for the Kentucky Derby, or the state’s other big events, I’d suggest at least trying to spend a week here exploring across the state. This is a good place to start, if you’d like to get a good taste of what Kentucky has to offer. I’ve designed this Kentucky itinerary to include key historic and natural sites, and while it is only scratching the surface, it includes some spectacular places and paints a nuanced picture of the story of this place. If you are wondering what to do in Kentucky for a high-energy week, this is the post for you.

I would suggest this active itinerary for spring or fall, as summers can get hot and winters can be snowy. My plans here do not account for either, although I think summer would be somewhat doable with planning for hydration and staying cool.

This is also designed as a road trip so you will need a vehicle and a safe driver(s) handy for this trip.

Day 0: Arrival

I flew into Nashville, Tennessee when I traveled to Kentucky, because it was much cheaper from my home airport. Depending on where you are coming from you might fly into Nashville, Louisville, or Lexington. You can just adjust this itinerary to fit your starting airport, and consider driving in a clockwise (or counterclockwise!), circular route. I also like building travel days into my itineraries in case of delays or long travel days. You will also want some energy for this itinerary, so it’s good to get some rest.

STAY: In the city of your arrival.

Day 1: Land Between Two Lakes and Lost Cave

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

Since I got started in Nashville, which is south of Kentucky, I started my journey in the lower southwestern corner of the state. Take a peek at a map with rivers and terrain, and you will see why I wanted to visit the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area when considering what to do in Kentucky. It just looks cool! And it is! There are tons of recreational activities in this area. Of course, I went hiking, and I discuss the trail that I explored in detail in my hiking in Kentucky post. But you can hike, fish, boat, and learn about nature at the park’s visitor centers.

It will take about 2 hours to drive from Nashville to the Woodlands Nature Station, which is in the northern section of the park.

Honestly, for nature lovers, you could spend an entire day enjoying this area on your Kentucky itinerary. I include it in mine for the hiking, but you could easily walk in the morning, have a picnic lunch and then spend a lazy afternoon out on the water and/or fishing. Just make sure you check out the official website for information on fishing and hiking permits. If you have any questions, you can always stop by the visitor center as well.

kentucky itinerary

Lost River Cave (c) ABR 2022

For me, I spent about half a day here and then I headed east to Bowling Green. Being the kind of person who loves riding boats through caves, I was super excited to head up to the land of caves. The small city of Bowling Green has you covered with Lost River Cave. This is a great way to end the day, as their tours are pretty relaxed. You will just walk down into the preserve with your tour group and then take a short boat ride in and out of the cave.

It takes about two hours to drive from Woodlands Nature Station to the Lost River Cave. Check Lost River Cave’s tour times to make sure that you arrive there before they close!

Stay the night in Bowling Green, KY.

Day 2: Mammoth Cave National Park

kentucky itinerary

Mammoth Caves (c) ABR 2022

It is about a 40 min drive from Bowling Green to Mammoth Cave National Park, and this is probably my favorite part of my Kentucky itinerary.

Plan to spend AT LEAST one full day in Mammoth Cave National Park. There is so much to do in this park. Top of your list, unless you are scared of caves, is to go on a cave tour. There are several different options in the park, and if you like caves you can try to do a couple. Mammoth Cave is so large that if you do two (or more!) tours you can see different parts of its depths. Just plan ahead, because you will likely want to get reservations. Check out Recreation.gov to plan out your tour reservations.

kentucky itinerary

Mammoth Caves (c) ABR 2022

There is also hiking at Mammoth Cave National Park! So, you can tour the cave and explore the forested lands above. If you want some more details on the park, check out my Caves in Kentucky Post. Caves are essential to one week in Kentucky.

There are a few options of places to stay tonight. Bowling Green is a great option for a second night or staying in Cave City is a good alternative; you might also consider camping at Mammoth Cave NP if that is something you would enjoy.

Day 3: Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace and Louisville 

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

Day 3 could be a bit of a down day for your Kentucky itinerary, depending on your energy level. But if you’d like a little more to do, you might consider revisiting Mammoth Cave National Park for the morning.

Either way, definitely plan on stopping by Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace. This is a small, historic national park unit, and it is free. Spend some time visiting the monument, learning about Abe’s life, and walking the grounds. It could take anywhere from 1-2 hours to thoroughly explore. You can learn a bit more about this spot in my post on History in Kentucky.

After that, drive up to Louisville and consider relaxing in the city for the evening. When considering what to do in Kentucky there is tons of good food here and plenty of places to stay. It’s about an hour from Bowling Green to Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace, and an hour from Birthplace to Louisville.

Stay in Louisville.

Day 4: Louisville

kentucky hiking trails

(c) ABR 2022

Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, and it is full of history and culture to be explored. So, it is a must-visit for any Kentucky itinerary. I would suggest making sure that you do two things while you are there. (1) Walk through one of the city’s beautiful parks, and (2) visit some of the city’s museums.

For us, we wanted to explore the Waterfront Park so that we could walk across the Big Four Bridge to Indiana. This park had a lot of different amenities. These included some bathrooms (which were not in full operation when we visited because they had been overloaded by a huge event the night before). There are playgrounds for the kids to frolic in, bikes for rent, and swings for adults. The Big Four Bridge is also a pedestrian bridge, so it is really nice to walk across. On the other side, in Indiana, there are restaurants and biking paths as well. You could easily spend half a day just exploring and enjoying the park.

(c) ABR 2022

There are also LOADS of museums in Louisville, so really when planning one week in Kentucky, you likely won’t be able to visit them all. We visited the Muhammad Ali Center, which I would highly suggest and which I talk about more in my Exploring the History of Kentucky post. But there is also a bourbon museum, and plenty of great museums for kids.

After you’ve spent a day exploring the city, spent another night here.

Day 5: Camp Nelson and Lexington

Camp Nelson (c) ABR 2022

Camp Nelson might not be at the top of most people’s what to do in Kentucky lists, but for me it is essential. I am trying to visit as many national park units as possible, and it also covers history that you won’t see in many others places. I would suggest getting an early start to this day, so that you can arrive at Camp Nelson as soon as the visitor center opens at 9a. It is about a 1.5 hours drive from Louisville to Camp Nelson National Monument.

The visitor center is only open from May 30th to September 5 each year. Unfortunately, we visited outside of their season, so we missed learning as much about this site as we could have. Camp Nelson, however, is an important site related to the Civil War and the fight for African American freedom in Kentucky, which had a complicated relationship with the Union.

It is then an hour drive from Camp Nelson to the International Museum of the Horse, which would be my number one suggestion for a place to visit in Lexington, KY. The museum is open 9-5p every day EXCEPT Mondays and Tuesdays, when it is closed. This is easily a half day experience at least, so make sure to plan for this when timing out your day.

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

I talk more about this museum in my Exploring the History of Kentucky post, but you have the opportunity to learn about the history of horses in Kentucky in an indoor museum. There is also an outdoor section of the museum where you can visit with real horses. I think this museum should be on everyone’s Kentucky itinerary; horses are a major part of Kentucky culture and they are also amazingly cool animals.

Stay this night in Lexington.

Day 6: Red River Gorge

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

There are days worth of activities in the Red River Gorge area for folks who like hiking and camping. But in this Kentucky itinerary, I will suggest two activities for a single day. It is an hour drive from Lexington to Red River Gorge.

First, I would suggest visiting the Natural Bridge State Resort. Here, you can do a variety of things including plenty of hiking, or riding a cable car up to the natural bridge there. We hiked up to arch from the river and I cover the details of the trail that we took in my Hiking in Kentucky post.

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

Second, I would suggest taking the 715 loop. You can just do this drive and stop to see some breathtaking views along the way. There are deep gorges, beautiful rivers and natural arches, and a very cool tunnel that the road passes through. When we visited this area, we took the driving tour, and coupled it with an easy hike to a suspension bridge. That Hiking in Kentucky post covers that trail in more detail.

Along with hikes and beautiful views, there are lots of little outdoor communities in this area with food and cool shops. I’d suggest spending the night in this area in a town like Campton, or in one of the more remote hotels. There are also campsites in this area if that is something you like doing.

Alternatively, you could use part of your day to drive back to where you will be flying out of. It is 4 hours to Nashville and 2 hours to Louisville.

Day 7: Start Heading Home

Start your journey home on this final day of the Kentucky itinerary, whether that is by car, plane, or both. After your one week in Kentucky, I hope you will think about coming back to learn more and explore more in this fascinating state.

Want to save this for later? Consider pinning it!

A Traveler’s Guide to Exploring Kentucky History

Everyone who visits or lives in Kentucky should take some time to experience the state’s history. This state had prehistoric cave explorers, and modern-day boxing prodigies. It was the birthplace for one of the United States most beloved presidents, and is home to one of the most famous horse-riding events in North America, the Kentucky Derby. No matter your interests, there is a little bit of Kentucky history for everyone. This short Traveler’s guide will give you a taste for some spots that I adored when I visited in 2022. None of these places will disappoint, and each one will give you a little something different when it comes to the story of the state.

kentucky history

The Muhammad Ali Center

kentucky history

(c) ABR 2022

One of the cool things about traveling with friends is that you end up visiting places that you might not otherwise see. For me, the Muhammad Ali Center was one of those places. I am not a huge museum go-er, and usually when I visit one, I either pick a historic museum for the area, or a natural history museum. I’m also not at all big into sports, or famous people for that matter.

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A Traveler’s Guide to Caves in Kentucky

The caves in Kentucky are some of the most spectacular in the whole world, believe it or not. And with short, road-side tours as well as long, National park- scale explorations, there are options for all levels and interests. Caves have shaped the history, economy, and ecology of Kentucky, and thus they are a must for any traveler to the state who is comfortable with their depths.

Sobre los Digests de Español Pequeño

En esta blog, trato incluir secciones cortos en Español. Lo siento para mi gramática muy horrible!

Pero, deseo que este blog es un inspiración para tus viajes. Las cuevas de Kentucky son muy especiales y hermosas. En todo el mundo, estas cuevas son algunas mas únicas.

Why You’ve Got to See the Caves in Kentucky

kentucky caves

Mammoth Caves (c) ABR 2022

If you are a hiker, kayker, or just general nature-nut, the caves in Kentucky should be on your bucketlist. These exceptional underground worlds shaped the history and economy of the state of Kentucky that we know today. They teach us about the geologic nature of the land, and harbor strange and unique creatures.

I have been to caves all over the world. As of 2022, this includes caves in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Arkansas, Belgium, Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Haiti. All of them have captured my imagination, and all of them are beautiful. But none of them was as awe-inspiring as Mammoth Caves. I have never been in such a large cave system before (the longest in the world with over 400 miles mapped). And it felt massive. The tour that we went on walked for almost 2 hours, up and down stairs, and through long passage ways. And this was just one of several tour options that explore completely different parts of the cave, never crossing paths.

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kentucky hiking trails

A Traveler’s Guide: Finding Kentucky Hiking Trails When You Only Have a Few Days

If you are looking for hikes across rolling green hills, and through lands of stone archways and underground rivers, Kentucky hiking trails are what you are looking for. This guide is not even scratching the surface of the adventures on trail that you can have in Kentucky. But if you only have a few days, these are some great options across from across the state and at varying levels of difficulty.

Digests de Español para los senderos de Kentucky: En este blog, trato usar mi Español en pequeño “digest” sobre cada sendero. Lo siento para mi gramática!

What is the best hiking in Kentucky?

kentucky hiking trails

(c) ABR 2022

As a West-coast folk who grew up exploring the wilds of Arizona, I never thought about Kentucky as a hiking destination. Even after I learned about its exceptional caving scene, I honestly still didn’t realize that this state had some really great hiking options. So, obviously, I am not an expert in Kentucky hiking trails. I was just a visitor. But I will outline some of the things that I was looking for on the trail in this beautiful state.

So, what makes for the best hiking in Kentucky in my opinion?

(1) The trail showcases the unique natural elements of the state. For Kentucky, this includes exceptional stone formations, rivers running to and from cave systems, and verdant rolling hills.

(2) Water features! Kentucky is the land of caves which means that it is also a land of water. Being from the desert, I think water along the trail is always an additional benefit for the experience of the hike. Sometimes it does add an additional challenge as well. But for the trails included here waters makes the trail interesting with dam crossings, and rope bridges!

(3) High quality trails which cater to all kinds of explorers, and which are connected to vibrant and welcoming gateway communities.

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Phoenix-Metro Restaurant Short Reviews: Vol. 1

The Phoenix-metro area is a treasure trove of food nowadays. There is something for everyone, whether you are a picky or adventurous eater. In this first volume of short reviews for Phoenix-metro’s restaurants, I highlight some places with amazing atmospheres, fresh desserts, and culinary delights from across the world. If you have to prioritize, here are my top three, and otherwise, check out the full reviews below.

My Top Picks

#1: Wren and Wolf

This upscale eatery has an amazing atmosphere that completely entranced me. I had a full meal here with cocktails, entree, and dessert. I loved everything that I got. This is the perfect place to go for a unique date or celebratory dinner.

phoenix restaurants

#2: Sweet Republic

Sweet Republic is a long-time favorite of mine. They have amazing, fresh ice creams and a variety of ways to enjoy their main attraction including fresh marshmallows, shakes, and light waffle cones. If you are looking for a cool escape in the summer, this is where it is at.

#3: Otro Café

There is a lot of amazing Mexican food in Arizona. I have so many favorite places and haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what is out there. But Otro Café is one of my favorites. They have their own style to some extent, but everything here is high quality and so delicious. Whether you are looking for brunch or lunch/dinner, they have amazing offerings in what I would consider to be an Arizona-style of Mexican cuisine.

Big Earl’s Greasy Eats

phoenix restaurants

Big Earl’s Greasy Eats is located in the northern Phoenix town of Cave Creek, and it is near a ton of amazing hiking. So, I find that this is a great spot for tasty, post-hiking meals of tasty burgers and other American foods. If you are going to go all out when you visit, pick one of their special burgers or fries, and get a shake to go with it. Big Earl’s is one of my favorite burger places in town, because they are in an exceptional location and their food doesn’t disappoint.

phoenix restaurants

In terms of atmosphere, this little counter service spot is quintessential Americana. They have repurposed an old gas station to serve their needs and kept all the elements of the station that make this spot a fun place to gather and enjoy. Most of the seating is outside, so I would suggest trying to enjoy this spot in the cooler times of the year, or for their breakfast selections.

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Best of Phoenix in a Day with Papago Park

If you had a single day in Phoenix, there is one place I end up telling everyone to go- Papago Park. The massive park on the southeastern side of the city is right in the nexus of Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale. It’s near Old Town Scottsdale, Mill Ave, and loads of restaurants on Indian School Road. Within the park itself is two major Phoenix attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden. And on top of all that, the park has gentle hiking trails that circle otherworldly buttes, fishing ponds, and a historic tomb. It is also next to Tovrea Castle. On a nice day, everything within the park is also accessible on foot. So, if you need to see the best of Phoenix in a day, Papago Park is my suggestion as your go-to. Join me now in learning more about why this place is so amazing and special.

Best of Phoenix in a Day 

When I was determining what part of the city would be ideal for seeing the best of Phoenix in a day, there were a few things on my mind. First, I wanted the location to have natural things that you couldn’t see elsewhere. The hiking trails that circle the buttes fit that bill. I wanted the location to have some cool ways to support conservation and give you access to major city attractions. Both Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo offer guests these options! Finally, I wanted somewhere with some historic flavor. Papago Park is home to Hunt’s Tomb and is right next door to Tovrea Castle. So, seriously, you’ve got a little bit of everything here.

Although, admittedly, most everything to do in this area is outdoors. So, during the summer, this would not be an ideal day. Just something to keep in mind when planning your trip

Papago Park in General

City of Phoenix Map

Before you head down to read about the individual elements of the park, there are a few helpful things to know about its layout and what some of the surrounding areas are called (because otherwise, you might get confused).

First, both Phoenix and Tempe have their own Papago Parks. They are very different from one another, although both have buttes. I have another guide to the Tempe side so you can check that out if you would like to visit. The Phoenix part of the park is on either side of Galvin Parkway, between Van Buren and McDowell.

The west side of the park has the most impressive hiking trails (imo). The east side has (from north to south) Desert Botanical Garden, park amenities including hiking and fishing, Hunt’s Tomb, and the Phoenix Zoo. Desert Botanical Garden has a northern parking lot, off of the round about. And the Phoenix Zoo parking and ponds/Hole-in-the-Rock trail can be accessed to the east of the light. 

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What Is There to Do In Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona?

There are several national park units in Arizona. And I bet you can name at least one… *cough* the Grand Canyon *cough.* And there are also a variety of Native American sites in Arizona that are both famous and quite popular with visitors and locals alike. Montezuma’s Castle comes right to my mind, when I think about this. Less people have heard of one of my favorite Arizona national park units – Walnut Canyon National Monument. This smaller, less crowded park has exceptional natural surroundings, is home to a fascinating and ingenious ruins of an ancient indigenous culture, and it is readily accessible from Flagstaff. So, what is there to do in Walnut Canyon? Come with us to find out!

What Is There To Do in Walnut Canyon National Monument? 

what is there to do in walnut canyon

Walnut Canyon (c) ABR 2019

There is something for both my history and nature lovers in Walnut Canyon (perfect).

For my history buffs, the National Monument has a beautiful museum where you can learn about the ancient, indigenous peoples that created the buildings that we now get to explore in the park. Even for those of you that aren’t traveling for the history, don’t miss the museum. The installations will add a lot of context to what you will see on the trail. Linked with the information in the visitor center, the primary trail takes visitors up and close to the ruins of the park. There you will find even more information about the people that integrated their lives with this exceptional place. There are many steps leading down to the trail, however, so the trail may not be accessible to all.

For the hikers and nature lovers out there, there are a variety of trails for anyone wondering what is there to do in Walnut Canyon. The must-do trail is the main path that leads out from the visitor center, to the ruins. But if those trails are too crowded for your taste (or closed) when you arrive, there are also rim trails with beautiful views. The natural canyon is very unique in its form. The grey stone that make up its ways is striated and dappled in twisting patterns that look like overlapping waves. All of this is crowned by the evergreen trees of the higher elevation plateau. Hiking Walnut Canyon is a great activity for anyone looking to explore the whole breadth of the park.

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What You Need to Know If You Want to Hike Camelback Mountain in Arizona

There are two mountains in Phoenix, Arizona, USA that everyone seems to want to hike – Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. Thing is, both of these mountains are very challenging. They are dangerous in the summer. And they have a variety of lesser known trails to serve those who might not be ready for the steep inclines. My guide today is for folks who want to hike Camelback Mountain, which I consider to be the more dangerous of the two mountains. Since there are SO MANY posts encouraging you to do this hike, this guide is going to focus on safety and some considerations which may make you look for other options.

Let’s talk about: (1) Who will most enjoy hiking this iconic Phoenix mountain. (2) How to stay safe on the trail. (3) Explore the trail options, (4) and explore the special place that this beautiful peak has in all the hearts of Phoenix-natives.

When Should You Hike Camelback Mountain

hike camelback mountain

Stairs up Echo Canyon (c) ABR 2020.

When it comes to the Phoenix skyline, Camelback is about as iconic as they come. I’d argue even moreso than Piestewa. That is because the mountain has a unique shape that is created by a red sandstone bluff in the shape of a camel’s head. And to the immediate east of this bluff is a Sonoran peak that completes the illusion with the rise of the camel’s back. Besides its shape, Camelback has a unique red hue to it, and it is home to the native plant assemblage that makes Arizona like nowhere else in the world – saguaros, creosote, ocotillo, and more.

It is, inarguably, a charismatic mountain that calls to many.

But to hike Camelback Mountain can be dangerous. As popular as it is, this is NOT a hike that I would suggest for everyone. And frankly, it isn’t a hike you should feel utterly disappointed about not doing if you are visiting and you decide it isn’t a good fit for you. There are SO many amazing hikes in the Phoenix area. (Here are some guides with suggestions- (1) Pinnacle Peak Park and (2) Estrella Mountain Regional Park. But if you really want to see the mountain, you can also safely do so by checking out one of the shorter trails that explore the rocky head of the camel. See the section below on Bobby’s Rock!

Choosing the Right Time

hike camelback mountain

View from Camelback Mountain (c) ABR 2020

No matter your hiking skill, safety on Camelback Mountain is all about your timing. First, for anyone not familiar with Arizona heat – it kills on this mountain and elsewhere every year. It is not a joke. Please stay safe and respect it.

First, BRING and DRINK water on the trail!

I would not suggest hiking Camelback in the summer. Late fall, early spring, and the winter are all ideal times. Check the weather though! I would suggest avoiding any time where the temperature is above 90 degrees. For some, I would suggest even cooler temps. I personally avoid hiking trails like these when it is over 85 degrees because I don’t find it comfortable.

If you must visit in the summer and you must do this mountain, only attempt the summit in the earliest of early mornings. Start at 4:30a or 5a and bring a flashlight.

You should also avoid Camelback during inclement weather. A light rain will make it slippery and dangerous, and AZ storms can quickly turn into a lightning storms. Furthermore, hiking on wet trails can erode them, which damages the environment and can cause boulders to come loose over time.

Gauging Your Skillset

hike camelback mountain

Boulders on Echo Canyon Trail (c) ABR 2020

Besides the potentially dangerous ambient conditions, anyone thinking to hike Camelback Mountain should be aware that the trail itself can be injurious. In particular, Echo Canyon Trail is very difficult terrain. There is one section of the trail where you will be using a pipe handrail to climb up a rounded cliff. After that, you will be weaving your way up and around boulders as you continue to climb up. Cholla trail had to be closed for in-depth repair due to someone getting seriously injured by a boulder falling on them.

Doing this trail safely requires both stamina and skill. You should know that you can safely boulder and have enough confidence with heights to remain steady on your feet while climbing. Sometimes, you might not know that this trail is too hard for you, until you try it. The best thing you can do, if you give Echo Canyon or Cholla Trail a try and you find yourself feeling exhausted, or lightheaded is to rest and then turn around.

Safety on Camelback Mountain

As with any hike, staying safe and healthy should be your number one priority. And you must remember, your safety is your responsibility and yours alone. This guide is NOT guaranteeing your safety on the trail or anywhere in nature.

So, with all that said, what can you do to make sure you hike Camelback Mountain in the most enjoyable and safe way possible? First, consider…

Heat 

hike camelback mountain

(c) ABR 2020

I mentioned it above, but I will say it again, always plan your hike in Phoenix around the heat. Along with your overall health and the weather, this is one of the most important elements of safety on Camelback Mountain. Signage at the trail will tell you not to hike when it is over 100 degrees F, but I start to feel sick and dehydrated at 90+ degrees F. Pick the cooler seasons, and if it is a hotter day, go in the morning.

Also, BRING and DRINK water!!!

For reference, the City of Phoenix’s “Take a Hike, Do It Right” launched after several heat related deaths: https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/phoenix-warns-hikers-to-prepare-for-heat-after-recent-tragedies-7554143

In 2021, a woman visiting from Boston was led up the mountain by a local man without water and in the heat of a summer day, and she unfortunately lost her life due to this: https://www.12news.com/article/news/local/valley/family-of-woman-who-died-on-camelback-mountain-demands-more-answers/75-a749e864-881b-4b5c-a16c-1d06badb7174

Please, let your memories here be fond and hike Camelback Mountain safely.

Fall Injuries

hike camelback mountain

What goes up must come down (c) ABR 2020

Another danger on the mountain is related to the boulders. You will want to make sure that you have good, grippy hiking shoes for the trails. You will be climbing up and around boulders for much of Echo Canyon and parts of Cholla as well. Falling from one of these can result in serious injury. Good shoes, a careful pace, and listening to your body can all help you stay safe.

The boulders themselves can also be dangerous. Cholla Trail had to be closed for major repairs when a visitor got trapped beneath a boulder after simply moving out of the way for other hikers: https://www.theweathernetwork.com/ca/news/article/hiker-rescued-after-300-pound-boulder-crushes-his-leg-during-mountain-trek-camelback-arizona-phoenix

Short Trail Guides

Now that you’ve considered all the potential dangers of the trail, I will say, I think to hike Camelback Mountain is a worthy goal for visitors and locals alike. (Although it is far from my favorite hike in Phoenix-metro). And for the most part, people do stay safe on the trail. Thousands of people hike it annually. With the above in mind and a commitment to yourself, consider your options on the mountain and pick the one that might be best for you.

Echo Canyon Trail

Echo Canyon Trail, if you want to summit Camelback, is my suggestion if you are driving yourself and not taking a taxi/Uber. Primarily, this is because there is a nice parking lot here and bathrooms as well. That being said, the Echo Canyon Trail is very challenging.

This trail is 2.5 miles out and back and includes 1,420 feet of elevation gain.

Upwards Climb
hike camelback mountain

View of the first increase in steepness on Echo Canyon (c) ABR 2020

From the trailhead, you will take a fairly average, desert trail up past the head of the camel. You will follow a few switchbacks through creosote-ladened Sonoran Desert, and then follow the trail around a bend that is sandwiched between a fence and the stone of the mountain.

Once you come around the bend, you will see the first of the challenges on Echo Canyon Trail – the stone cliff with its poles and divets. Here, navigating among people moving up faster than you and people climbing down, you will slowly scale the rounded, stone cliff. Don’t mistakenly think that this is the hardest trail section that you will face.

After the stony climb, you will follow the trail over the rough shoulder of the mountain and then down into a large chute lined from top to bottom by boulders. Now, you will climb up and up and up through the boulders. There is almost no regular trail in this section, but you will be hemmed in on either side by rock walls, so the odds of getting lost if you are paying attention to the signs and crowds isn’t too high.

Finally, you will come up to a false summit, and follow the trail up to the left in a final push to the top. You will have finished when you reach the metal pole at the top, and join the celebrant folks on the crown of the mountain.

Climbing Down
hike camelback mountain

The Summit (c) ABR 2020

The way down is the way that you came. To hike Camelback Mountain is as challenging down as it is up, though. You will need to carefully navigate all those boulders and the crowds with gravity pulling you downwards. Take your time and be polite to other hikers, whether they need to pass you or you are passing them.

Cholla Trail (Closed for Repair)

Remember when I said that a man got stuck beneath a boulder while hiking this trail? Well, that resulted in Cholla Trail being closed for repairs as it needed to be improved for safety reasons.

Now, the opening has been delayed due to wealthy people in the area not liking the public accessing the trail near their homes. (Public land is not public land if regular people can’t readily and easily access it).

Alternative Trail – Bobby’s Rock

hike camelback mountain

View of Bobby’s Rock Trail (c) ABR 2020

You don’t need to do Echo Canyon or Cholla in order to hike Camelback Mountain. If you really want to experience this famous area, but you think that the trail itself is too difficult, there is a lovely, short trail called Bobby’s Rock. This is accessible from the Echo Canyon Trailhead and is a 0.18 mile loop. The trail is a bit rough, but it offers some really up-close-and-personal views of the stone camel’s head. You can see swifts and other birds nesting on and hunting along the stone cliffs. You can get some great views of Paradise Valley from here as well. And you can even people watch from the picnic benches along the way.

I personally love coming here on a cloudy day to catch some dramatic photos of the mountain side. I love this shorter trail and think it is widely underappreciated.

Camelback Mountain and Conservation in Phoenix, Arizona

hike camelback mountain

City of Phoenix with the shadow of Camelback (c) ABR 2020

When you hike Camelback Mountain, remember that this isn’t just a challenging and alluring mountain for hikers and visitors, it is a piece of Arizona conservation history. In the 1960s, local folks began to worry as people began building their houses higher and higher on the once wild mountain. They saw a potential future in which the beautiful heights of Camelback were owned and developed, marring the mountain forever. In the 1970s, with the leadership of Maxine Lakin and other legendary women, concerned citizens formed the Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council. This council advocated for the protection of the mountain and assisted the City of Phoenix in eventually acquiring the upper reaches of Camelback so that it could be protected for all into the future.

While there were some mountain preserves at the time (historic North Mountain and what is now Piestewa Peak), but not nearly what we have now. These women of the community helped instill a new vision in the City of Phoenix and its people, one with open desert spaces that served everyone and protected the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert.

Conservation Today

hike camelback mountain

(c) ABR 2020

Now, when you explore the many wild places still to be found in Phoenix-metro, you can thank the inspirational Camelback Mountain and the women who fought to save it.

The fight isn’t over, however. Phoenix is the fastest growing city in the United States. Both its people and the nature here is at risk from uninspired development that cuts off desert preserves in the city from the surrounding desert. This chokes their plants and animals off from needed resources and making it harder for local people to access nature spaces. You can support efforts to protect the desert of Phoenix-metro through donated your time, money, or social media space to the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance or their partner organizations.

Learn More About Arizona

Whether you decide to give Camelback a try, there are so many wonderful things to do in the Phoenix-metro area. We have a guide on our home city that is growing almost every month. Check it out for more inspiration on hikes, food, museums, and more!

If you will be venturing out of Phoenix and into the rest of the state, we also have posts on hikes and towns across Arizona in our Guide to the State.

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