Hiking Phoenix: A Guide to Shadow Mountain and Lookout Mountain


Compared to every other part of the City of Phoenix mountain preserve system Lookout Mountain and Shadow Mountain are both exceedingly small. They won’t be on the top of anyone’s Arizona bucketlist. But don’t let that fool you, if you are looking for a shorter, but challenging hike, both have something to offer. These are also great options for anyone in North Central Phoenix who is looking to avoid at least some of the crowds else where in the city.

Lookout Mountain has it’s primary trailhead at 15800 N. 16th Street, but Shadow Mountain’s only access is through the neighborhoods; there is no parking lot that I know of for this small section of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Shadow Mountain

I grew up about a two minutes walk from the main section of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve; that place shaped my childhood, and was the stage for my earliest hiking experiences. In a lot of ways, it also spoiled me in terms of city hiking, because when I got my first glimpse of Shadow Mountain, I was really underwhelmed. The main section of the preserve is large enough to hide Phoenix in at least one direction. While hiking through trails at lower elevations, you don’t feel like you’re in the city at all. Shadow Mountain, however, is a tiny island in an urban sea, and it hardly seemed to be worth exploring.

Shadow Mountain

The steep summit trail on Shadow Mountain (c) ABR

Needless to say, my initial impressions of this place were easily proven wrong. Shadow Mountain, and its partner, Lookout Mountain, are quieter places to hike in comparison to some of the more popular trails near Piestewa Peak in the main part of the preserve. In particular, Shadow Mountain seems to be primarily used by neighborhood people, and is thus a peaceful place to spend an early morning or afternoon.

Trails on Shadow Mountain

Shadow Mountain has two named trails- #310 Big Loop and #312 Small Loop, however, these trails aren’t as clearly marked as many of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve trails are, and, in fact, even after being a regular visitor to the mountain, I wasn’t even sure that there were labeled trails there.

One strategy for exploring this area would be to just do your best to follow the topo map above or the GPS maps of AllTrails. Even with these, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up off these supposed, “main” trails. In my experience on Shadow Mountain, the best way to explore is to just set out on one of the trails and decide if you want to loop around the mountain or summit. If you want to summit, select the trails that go up. If you want to circle, stay as level as you can. This is such a small mountain park that you will be hard pressed to really get lost. There are neighborhoods in all directions, and MapMyHike or AllTrails can help you get back to your car if you really don’t have a good sense of direction.

Shadow Mountain Summit

All that being said, I would advise again under-estimating the challenge that Shadow Mountain presents. While you will be hard pressed to really hike more than a couple miles on these trails, the summit trail is extremely steep and rocky. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest that anyone but people with some hiking experience and pretty sure feet try to make it to the top of this little peak. I’ve been to the top countless times, and even being familiar with the terrain, I almost twist my ankle nearly every time. It’s probably not the safest option, but if you do go up, make sure that you have good shoes on, and don’t be afraid to do a little scrambling with the help of your hands. That being said, remember that the rocks are sharp and unforgiving.

Quick Breakdown

Access/Parking: 2601 E. Acoma Dr. / 13800 N. 28th St.
Hours: 5 am – 11 pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Difficulty Levels: Moderate/Difficult
Bathrooms: None
Management Organization: The City of Phoenix

Lookout Mountain

lookout mountain

Lookout Mountain (c) ABR

Overall, Lookout Mountain is a bit more of a friendly place for a hike. This little mountain has a great summit trail and a circumference trail that I think would make for the perfect family outing. It’s a little more busy than Shadow Mountain, but Lookout also has two parking/trailheads which helps take the frustration out of hiking here. One of the trailheads is even in a park, which means that there is a bathroom available during the park’s operating hours. That’s a big plus for alot of us!

Lookout Mountain also has two clearly marked trails, #308 Circumference Trail and #150 Lookout Summit Trail, unlike Shadow Mountain. The summit trail is the more popular of the two, most likely due to the workout value of the incline, but the circumference trail has a lot to offer in both views and some interestingly authentic looking graffiti (I took it to be petroglyphs on my first hike through, but I haven’t been able to find any proof to support that theory).

Trail 308- The Circumference Trail

Trail 308 is a 2.6 mile loop trail that you can access from either of the parking lots at Lookout Mountain. It is also the easier of the two trails in this part of the preserve system. Although it is longer, there is limited elevation gain during this walk (there are a few ups and downs, however).

Overall, I think the Circumference Trail is a great track to take with friends who are less enthusiastic about hiking, or with kids. There are also a few nice spots for picnics along the way which make it even more appealing. The only challenge is that there are many unmarked trails that have not (and may never) healed on the mountain, so it is easy to end up off 308. Even if you get into that situation, you can just keep working your way around the mountain in order to get back to your car without going off trail. There are enough clear tracks on Lookout for you to get around without blazing any new trails (unless in an emergency, never go off trail).

I would suggest accessing this trail from Lookout Mountain Park at 1898 E. Evans Drive.

Trail 150- Lookout Mountain Summit Trail

The Lookout Mountain Summit Trail is a short 0.6 miles (or 1.2 miles round trip). This makes it a great little workout trail for anyone who wants to get in a little elevation gain without the time commitment or necessary endurance of the larger mountains in the area. This trail is also far better maintained and less steep than Shadow Mountain. That being said, it is a fairly popular trail, which means that it can be busy and the wear and tear is often apparent.

The best place to access Trail 150 is from the 15600 N. 16th St. trailhead.

Quick Breakdown

Access/Parking: 1898 E. Evans Dr.  (Lookout Mountain Park ) / 15600 N. 16th St.
Hours: 5 am – 11 pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Difficulty Levels: Easy/Moderate/Difficult
Bathrooms: Available at Lookout Mt. Park
Management Organization: The City of Phoenix

lookout mountain

(c) ABR

Safety In the Desert

Every year people die in our desert parks. It’s not snakes, or cacti, or any other of the many things people are afraid of in the desert that gets people into trouble. Generally, visitors get into trouble when they aren’t prepared, and when they don’t listen to locals warning them not to go out. So, here are some tips for staying safe.

(1) Take responsibility for your own safety

Don’t go out with the expectation that “that won’t happen to me.” Prepare for excessive heat in the summer, dangerous lightening storms in the monsoon season, and always let a couple friends know where you are planning on going. You must keep yourself safe and make decisions about what you can handle and how long you should stay out on the trail.

(2) Always bring water.

Phoenix is in the middle of a very hot desert, and even in the winter, the air is extremely dry. Always pre-hydrate before going out on the trail, and ALWAYS bring water with you. Avoid continuing further from your end point when you are half-way out of water.

(3) Dress for the (Desert) Outdoors

Trails in Phoenix may not be like those at home. Most of the ground is very rocky, and otherwise the soil is dusty or packed down. Go with sturdy shoes. Breathable hiking pants are also advisable to protect you from some of our more aggressive cacti (chollas are notorious for getting attached to shoes and ankles- you can safely remove the pods with a plastic comb, bring one along if you have it). Good hiking shoes are a must for Arizona hiking- no matter the length of the hike.


(4) DO NOT brave the heat.

The heat in Phoenix is no joke… despite sometimes being a literal joke. “At least it’s a dry heat” is only a benefit to your general comfort, however, and is mostly a bitter effort for locals suffering through the summer to feel just a little better. The truth is the Phoenix heat kills. If you are here in the summer, or even the late spring and/or early fall, do not hike mid-day. In fact, in the summer, don’t start a hike past 8a. Hit the pool or a museum instead.

(6) Leave no Trace

This isn’t safety related, but it’s a major (and necessary) courtesy to local people and nature. Bring all of your trash to trash cans at the trailhead and if these are full, pack it out. Never ever leave trash of any kind on the mountain. Never graffiti the rock or carve into them. Don’t walk off trail! In general, just be a conscientious visitor.

Looking for Other Things to Do in Phoenix and Arizona

If you are researching activities in Phoenix, be sure to check out our guide to our home city. We are always adding more information about attractions, hiking, and restaurants here!

For the greater state, we also have a continually growing amount of information on our home. See our Guide to Arizona.

lookout mountain


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  1. We love a good hike and Trail 308 sounds perfect for us and our kids. I wasn’t aware of Shadow and Lookout Mountain. Thanks for sharing this and will be Pinning for future reference.

  2. Emese

    Great trails, that only locals really know about; hopefully, it gets cool enough to get out there again. Thanks for writing this up and sharing.

  3. I really like quieter hiking trails so these sound lovely. I have never been hiking in the desert though…I feel like I would only *reeeeeally* love it early in the morning or in winter as I might not cope well in that heat!

  4. I love a good hiking guide, thanks so much for sharing your insight on this trail. I really loved he tip about bringing a plastic comb, I would have never thought of that. It looks like a scorcher of a hike so I’d made sure to load up on the water.

    • waitingforrain28

      That’s one I picked up as a guide. It’s the perfect way to deal with cholla, which can be sort of scary if you aren’t used to them!

  5. I’ve been living in the Phoenix area for 2 years and haven’t heard of these 2 spots! I will definitely be checking them out once the heat dissipates!

    • waitingforrain28

      They are so small, I am not surprised! Both of them are the perfect place for a short walk.

  6. This sounds like SUCH a fantastic hike! I love hidden gems like this within urban spaces. It’s so important to be able to get a solid dose of nature!

    • waitingforrain28

      I completely agree and Phoenix is a surprisingly perfect place for urban nature!

  7. Hiking is so rewarding when there are views like that! Good tip about not starting out on a hike in the heat of summer past 8am! It’s amazing how hot it gets so early!!

    • waitingforrain28

      Every year we have people dying in the heat. It is really horrible. So, anything I can do to help prevent that.

  8. My sister-in-law lives in Pheonix and she goes hiking around there all the time. She’s always posting gorgeous pictures of her adventures and it always looks like fun. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and the locations. Maybe when we visit we can hit some of these spots up!

  9. Sara James

    I never been in Pheonix, but we were planning to go. I found your tips useful especially the fact to pre hydrate before going there and bring water. I know that ir probably sound obvious but it’s better to be prepared 🙂

    • waitingforrain28

      You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know those things! I hope that you guys have a wonderful time when you come!

  10. There are so many great things to keep in mind! We are planning a hiking trip next year in Colorado – around some dunes and canyon areas. Your post brings several things to mind that we will need to use during that trip!

  11. I have relatives living in Arizona and he says that Phoenix is one of the best tourist spots in Arizona and I’m so surprised when I see your photo it so amazing view 🙂

    • waitingforrain28

      Phoenix is our biggest city! So people definitely stop by, but you have to know where to look to find the best places to visit.

  12. I have hiked lookout mountain and it is beyond gorgeous. I can’t agree more about making sure to start early in the summer, it gets HOT up there. People not used to heat don’t understand how bad it can get.. it’s dangerous!

  13. The trails looks awesome! very peaceful quiet and scenic. I’d love to go there one day

  14. Jen

    I absolutely love Arizona but haven’t explored Phoenix yet, I need to fix that ASAP!

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