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.
- 1 Shadow Mountain
- 2 Lookout Mountain
- 3 Safety In the Desert
- 4 Looking for Other Things to Do in Phoenix and Arizona
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.
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.
Access/Parking: 2601 E. Acoma Dr. / 13800 N. 28th St.
Hours: 5 am – 11 pm
Entrance Fee: Free
Difficulty Levels: Moderate/Difficult
Management Organization: The City of Phoenix
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.
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
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
For the greater state, we also have a continually growing amount of information on our home. See our Guide to Arizona.