Category: Arizona Travel (Page 1 of 9)

Short Hikes in the White Tank Mountains of Phoenix, Arizona

Nestled on the western border of the Phoenix-metro area, just before the city gives way to the desert (for now), are the majestic White Tank Mountains. Protected by both Maricopa County and the White Tank Mountains Conservancy, these mountains offer an unrivaled opportunity to explore nature.

short hikes in the white tank mountains

(c) ABR 2019

Many of the trails here are 5+ miles long or more, and allow hikers access to wilderness-type conditions. However, there are wonderful, short hikes in the White Tank Mountains that are perfect for people short on time, just getting into hiking, and/or looking to explore with their families. All of the trails that I am going to include here have relatively little elevation gain. They are short in length. And they offer perfect opportunities to experience the beautiful Sonoran Desert of the White Tank Mountains without dedicating half a day to an excursion.

Why You Should Visit the White Tank Mountains Preserve?

short hikes in the white tank mountains

Heading down from the Waterfall Trail (c) ABR 2019

Whether you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area, or you are planning a trip to Arizona, you might be wondering – what are the White Tank Mountains? And why would I take the time and resources to visit them?

This range of Sonoran Desert Mountains are located on the western (growing) edge of the Phoenix-Metro area in Buckeye, AZ. They stretch from the north to the south. For much of the last decade, they have marked the boundary between the city and the open desert. For as long as I lived in Phoenix, the White Tank Mountains were a wild place. And before 2022, to reach them, you had to drive to the edge of the city and then take surface roads through farmlands. Once you reached the mountains, you were and still are transported to a more vibrant, biodiverse desert. They were the home of the Sonoran Desert of the past, before Phoenix had grown so large. Today, the mountains are about to be surrounded by city, but they can still teleport you away from the urban area.

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Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix, Arizona

There are loads of family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix. These are smaller parks, with amenities for kids, trails for exploring together, and a little less crowding than some of the other parks in the city. That all being said, these aren’t all technically in Phoenix-proper. Rather, they are in the greater metro-area, to the north. This is a great area for family-friendly hikes because northern Phoenix metro has unique parks that mix desert-goodness with playgrounds, scavenger hunts, and small parcels of uniquely preserved oases.

Give this guide a look to see what park is the best fit for you and your family. Or, if you are like me, try to see them all throughout the year.

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

Desert Awareness Park

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

The Desert Awareness Park is one of my top picks for family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix (even though technically it is in Cave Creek, not Phoenix). That’s because it has a good handful of flat, easy trails that showcase the nature plants of the Sonoran Desert. So, it is a great place for the whole family to learn more about the ecosystem that the city is nestled within.

It also has some nice playground facilities, lots of ramadas for picnicking, and a desert heritage center. Additionally, there is a very cute environmental education scavenger hunt that you can do with your kids. That means that you could easily spend a couple hours here, exploring the nature trail, letting the kids play, and learning about the desert.

For those hikers out there though, this probably won’t top out your bucketlist. But it might just be a good fit for you if you are introducing some really young folks to the desert.

Desert Awareness Park Specs

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

Looking out at the wash at the Desert Awareness Park (c) ABR 2019

Official website:

Manager: Town of Cave Creek

Size: 26 acre park

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: Yes

4WD Needed: No

Food Nearby

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

If you check out the Desert Awareness Park and you are looking for a little caffeine pick-me-up, be sure to check out Black Mountain Coffee Shop. They are an old, local shop that are in a very cute part of town, with a very nice atmosphere and some good food!

George “Doc” Cavalliere Park

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Of the family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix (in this case, Scottsdale), I think this is a great spot for mixed groups with both young and a little bit older kids. The GDC park has a big, shaded playground that is perfect for kids. But its nature trail, while short, is a little more wild than the Desert Awareness Park. There is some more elevation gain and a little more possible touchpoints for some dangerous plants like cholla.

That being said, there is a very cool art installation here – Jeff Zischke’s Sonoran Seed Pods. There are large, medal sculptures that are scattered around the nature trail. And they are designed to evoke the marvelous seeds of the Sonoran Desert. These are very fun to photograph. I think they might be of some interest to older kids who might appreciate the scavenger hunt/cool art.

George “Doc” Cavalliere Park Specs

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Official website:

Manager: City of Scottsdale

Size: 34 acre park

Hiking Trail: 1 mile loop

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: Yes

4WD Needed: No

Address: 27775 N Alma School Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85262

Reach 11

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Reach 11 is a bit of an odd ball when it comes to City of Phoenix parks. First, it has a weird name. Not that I think all the parks in Phoenix have inspired names. (I mean, South Mountain is the mountain south of town…) But it doesn’t fit the general naming conventions of the rest of the park system. A little bit of research says that Reach 11 is named for the Central Arizona Project canal that it is located nearby. Specifically, the park is near the 11th section (or reach) of the canal.

Besides that, Reach 11 lacks the hills and mountains that characterize the rest of the desert parks in Phoenix. It is basically flat all around. And while I actually think this is really important from an ecological perspective, it does not make for an interesting hike.

BUT, it is still one of the family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix. It’s flatness means that this is a great area to introduce your kids, your partner (or yourself) to hiking, mountain biking, or even horseback riding. If you want to get used to the desert and explore some of the plants that call the Sonoran Desert home – this place is a great intro.

Reach 11 Specs

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Official website:

Manager: City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation

Size: 1,500 acre park

Trails: 18 miles of trails

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: None

4WD Needed: No

Other Small Desert Parks in the North Phoenix Area

Jewel of the Creek Preserve

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2020

The Jewel of the Creek Preserve is another part of the Desert Foothills Land Trust system. The name is apt, I think it is the crowning jewel of the land trust’s lands. And it is right next door to one of the most spectacular county parks – Spur Cross Ranch.

The trails in this preserve mostly follow the creek, and it is a great place to enjoy the verdant green of a Sonoran Desert riparian area (or near-water ecosystem). The milage here isn’t particularly long. In fact, there is only one, short lollipop hike that is totally in the preserve. But you can access Spur Cross trails from within the Jewel of the Creek if you are looking for a longer hike.

*Remember, for all family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix that have running water – you need to be extra careful with your kids. Even shallow water can be dangerous for kids, and you need to also be cautious of flash flooding when the weather is iffy.

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2020

This park was obtained by the DFLT from the Arizona State Land Department. AZ State Land is notorious among those hoping to preserve the state’s environment for being extremely hard and expensive to get land from. One reason for this is that they are constitutionally mandated to sell their land to the highest bidder – with that money partially going to support AZ schools. Generally, this is a good thing, but it makes it impossible for conservation uses to compete with developers. In the case of Jewel of the Creek, DFLT made it happen, and this is a huge accomplishment. When you come to this small preserve, be sure to take a moment to think about the effort that went into protecting this amazing place.

Official Website

Manager: Desert Foothills Land Trust

Size: 26 acre park

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: None

4WD Needed: No; although a dirt road is used to access


The New River Nature Reserve

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

The New River Nature Reserve is a unique recreational area, in that it is cared for by a land trust. In 1886, this land was the headquarters of the Flying Y Ranch, and it was deeded to the Desert Foothills Land Trust in 1994 by Steve Bragg. The land was important to protect in the long-term because it has historical significance. It also includes desert wetlands which are important to birds and many other animals.

In terms of family friendly desert parks in north Phoenix, this really isn’t one. Parking for this reserve is along a dirt road that is actively used by local people to access their homes. This means that there isn’t a lot of room for lots of people. And you will be in close proximity to folks that generally are looking for some peace and quiet. There also really isn’t a lot of hiking here, at least from my experience. You basically walk down a road in this area. The wetlands are ecologically important, but they aren’t the most beautiful thing in the world.

This spot probably isn’t the #1 among the family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix, but I will always be grateful for the protection of these little places.

Family Friendly Desert Parks in North Phoenix

(c) ABR 2019

Official Website

Manager: Desert Foothills Land Trust

Size: 20 acre park

Entrance fee: None

Toilet facilities: None

4WD Needed: No; although a dirt road is used to access (Old Stage Coach Road in New River)


Even though I mark these as family friendly desert parks in North Phoenix, it is still important to keep safety in mind. This guide is not a guarantee that you and your family will be safe exploring any of these parks.

For kids in particular, I think there are some extra things to keep in mind.

  • Never let them out of your sight near water – tragedy can be quick to strike with water. Even shallow streams can be dangerous.
  • Arizona is also home to dangerous animals like rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyotes, and more. The desert is there home. And we all need to learn to respect them by keeping our distance. Make sure your kids know to stay away from animals.
  • The Sonoran Desert is also home to lots of dangerous plants. Make sure to prep your kids to keep their distance from cacti – particularly cholla. And do bring a comb and tweezers just in case someone gets a cholla pod in their skin.

This is not an exhaustive list. But I can almost guarantee that you will run into cholla and other cacti on the trail. So, these are some definite good things to help get your kids ready for some adventures on the trail.

Exploring Phoenix

If you are looking for more ideas of places to explore in Phoenix, Arizona, check out some of our other guides. I lived in Phoenix for more than 30 years, so I know the city well.

Want to save this guide for later? Consider saving it on Pinterest.

Mt. Elden Summit Trail: Challenging Hikes in Flagstaff, AZ

If you are looking for challenging hikes in Flagstaff, AZ, Mt. Elden should be on your list. At 9,301 feet (2,835 m) elevation at its peak, and with 2,312 feet (705 m) elevation gain from the main trailhead, this might not be the tallest mountain in Flagstaff, or the longest trek. But Mt. Elden Summit Trail will push all but the most athletic hiker to huffing and puffing. That being said, the struggle is worth it. This mountain offers exceptional views of the surrounding terrain, and the summit trail will guide you through a variety of ecotypes as you travel up in elevation. Furthermore, since it isn’t as long as trying to summit Mt. Humphreys, Mt. Elden is a great training hike. And as one of the Arizona 20-20 summits, you can take in the sights, challenge yourself, and tick off a bucketlist item all at once.

mt elden summit trail

Mt. Elden Summit Trail: Is It Right for You? 

So, how do you know if the Mt. Elden Summit Trail is right for you?

You are looking for a challenge

If you want to challenge yourself physically (and emotionally), this trail might be for you. Now, I wouldn’t say that this is the hardest trail in the world. But for most of us normal people, it will be pushing the limits. That being said, there is something very satisfying about reaching the top. And something even more satisfying when you can back to your car.

mt elden summit trail

(c) ABR 2021

You have some experience and fitness for hiking

Mt. Elden is not Mt. Humphrey’s, but that doesn’t mean that this trail will be fun or doable for beginners. This is among one of the more challenging hikes in Flagstaff, AZ. It is very very steep and not easy to navigate or pass at all times. That means that I think this trail would be very uncomfortable for most beginner hikers. It is a big physical challenge, and for those not used to narrow trails, it could be scary as well. Due to the steepness of this mountain, getting off trail is also dangerous, because you could become trapped on a cliff or fall. Overall, if you are looking for a hike to ease yourself or a friend into hiking, I would look elsewhere.

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Easier Training Hikes in Phoenix, AZ: North Mountain and Shaw Butte

Phoenix has some extremely popular hikes right within city limits. You have probably heard of them – Piestewa Peak and Camelback Peak. But these famous hikes aren’t for everyone. They are very steep and very crowded, and for new hikers, these hikes can really turn you off. I’ve witnessed people really struggling on these trails and getting discouraged that they can’t do them. But hiking is like any other sport, you train to do it. You train to go further, to go on more difficult trails, and even just to keep up your skill levels and fitness. With all that in mind, whether you are a first-time hiker or someone who is just looking to add some variety to their training hikes, I’ve got a couple great options for you here. These are two peaks in the same section of the Phoenix Mountain parks – North Mountain and Shaw Butte.

There are loads of good hikes in this area, and you can adjust the length of your hike to match and track your progress. There is also a mix of paved trails and dirt trails, so for people who are really new to hiking, you can tailor your journey to your needs and comfort level.

These are also great trails to visit if you just haven’t been to them before, so let’s check out these great training hikes in Phoenix, AZ!

Training Hikes in Phoenix, AZ

training hikes in phoenix

(c) ABR 2022

One of the things that has really helped me in my hiking journey is (1) training hikes, and (2) a variety of trails that I can train on. Throughout my life, my fitness level has gone up and down and so has my hiking fitness. So, sometimes, I have to start from the beginning in terms of distance and steepness. Having some good trails in my back pocket makes it much easier to get back out there and build my strength back up. When I am keeping up my fitness, these trails help too. They make it easy to get out during the week or a lazy weekend and just get some miles in.

In particular, I think having trails that you are really familiar with and which represent varying levels of challenge can help you get out and do hikes that are harder or easier depending on your needs that day. I also find that familiar hikes are just easier to get out on when you are feeling down or tired.

With that in mind, Shaw Butte and North Mountain were two of my go-to training hikes in Phoenix, AZ when I lived there. North Mountain is a shorter hike with a nicely paved trail. While the trail up Shaw Butte is a little rougher and longer. There are also loops of 4 and 6 miles that can be done, and several flat trails that you can enjoy in the park.

In short, almost no matter what you are looking for, you can find it in this part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

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Barnhardt Trail: Hiking the Beeline Highway Part 2

The Barnhardt Trail, located between Phoenix and Pay on the Beeline Highway of Arizona, is one of my all-time favorite trails. It traverses one of the state’s most beautiful mountains, and showcases a waterfall. It’s also perfectly placed for a relatively short drive into the wilderness. This isn’t a particularly quiet trail, but its distance from the city also means that it isn’t horribly crowded. It is also easily combined with a visit to Payson, Arizona for a perfect day away from Phoenix. Whether you are an Arizona local or a hiker visiting the state, the Barnhardt Trail is a trail not to be missed (unless its unsafe!). Continue reading to plan your trip to this beautiful trail.

barnhardt trail

Why Barnhardt Trail is One of My Favorite Trails in Arizona

When I first visited the Barnhardt Trail, I was blown away. It was a special time, and without being able to visit the trail regularly, I am not sure if this was just a hiccup in terms of the general conditions of the route. However, when I visited that first spring, the snow melt created waterfalls up and down the entire trail. And the beautiful red stone of the Mazatzal Mountains were accented by the crystalline white of snow that had yet to melt. The higher you hike, the greener the trail becomes as well.

barnhardt trail

(c) ABR 2020

Any time of year, one of the coolest things about this particular trek is that you will be climbing up from the drier, lower elevation, up into the forests of the mountain. This is one of the most accessible “sky island” experiences that I have had the opportunity to experience. I wouldn’t say that this trail is easy, by any means, but the elevation gain is more steady and gradual than many other trails that take you from the base of mountains as impressive as these, to the top.

This is really just one of the most beautiful trails that I have been on in Arizona. And it blows me away no matter what season I visit in.

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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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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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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…


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:

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:

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:

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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