Tag: Scottsdale

An Arizonan’s Guide to the Pinnacle Peak Hike

Why Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

The Pinnacle Peak hike is an insular island of mountain goodness tucked away on the northern edge of Scottsdale. The star of this hiking show is Pinnacle Peak itself, which will immediately dominate your view when you pull up and park. It isn’t particularly tall, comparatively, but this little peak is characterized by some really neat boulders and the rocky spire itself is definitely picture-worthy. Pinnacle Peak Park is a great place to take the family for a short trek to see the peak and some wonderful views of the McDowell Mountains. For regular hikers, it is also a good exercise trail and you will immediately see that it has more of a work out culture than a hiking one.

You can also go rock climbing at Pinnacle Peak, but I have never been, so I would suggest checking out the park website for more info.

Trail Statistics

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Length: 3.5 miles round trip (1.75 in one direction)

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult due to the incline, particularly in the final section of the trail

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft

Cost: Free

Parking at the trailhead? Yes

Toilets at the trailhead? Yes

 How to Get There

pinnacle peak hike

Almost no matter where you are coming from in the Phoenix-area, you will need to head north to reach Pinnacle Peak Park. You can take the 101 to either the Pima or Scottsdale exit. Then follow either of those roads north. You will then take Happy Valley Rd to the east until you hit Alma School Rd which you will take north. Finally, follow signs to the parking area.

Infrastructure at Pinnacle Peak

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak hike calls Scottsdale, one of the richest parts of the city, home, and it shows. The trailhead has a very nice building where you can go to the bathroom and get information about the trail. There are maps available and staff/volunteers to talk to. Along the trail you will also note that there is very good signage for different landmarks. This is really nice for the photographers among us. There are also emergency markers along the trail. And there are volunteers that hike it every so often to keep an eye on things.

Rules for the Trail

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Pinnacle Peak Park has some special rules that you will need to know before you head over there. In addition to the average rules and manners to keep in mind, they have some restrictions on hiking times and photography.

This park has strict hours and you will not be allowed to hike when the park is closed. The hours change with the season, so reference the following link to see when the park will be open on your hiking dates.

Commercial activities are not allowed in the park, and that includes photography that will be directly used for commercial purposes. As I mentioned previously, volunteers do monitor the trail, so if you are planning on setting up an Instagram shoot, make sure that you are allowed at the information station. If not, you will likely get caught.

Trail Culture

The Pinnacle Peak hike has a trail culture that is becoming more and more common in Phoenix. Specifically, it is dominated by people who are either visitors or people working out. For old-school hikers, this means that you shouldn’t expect to see Leave No Trace or hiking etiquette. There also tends to be a lot of people on the trail and most won’t greet you like in less exercised-focused trails.

Journey Across Pinnacle Peak Park

Inwards and Upwards
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

The Pinnacle Peak Trail starts at a beautiful trailhead with all the amenities, bathrooms, maps, helpful volunteers, and water fountains. From there, you will pass through the metal gate that is closed off-hours, and begin winding your way up towards the peak itself. After making you huff a bit, the trail will give you a bit of a break as it takes you around the mountain. The path will turn away from the trailhead and climb up to the rock spire for which the park is named. It then snakes out across the boulder-covered mountain to the west.

pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

A bit more elevation gain and you will be up high enough to get some great pictures of the spire. There will also be views of Scottsdale and Phoenix stretching off in all directions. For some, this will be the place to turn around. But if you want to complete the trail, you will keep walking as the path dips down into the saddle between the spire and the rest of the mountains in Pinnacle Peak Park.

You will then climb upwards again, before running into some signs that warn you about the difficulty of the rest of the trail. From here, should you decide to continue on, you will follow a steep decent back into the neighborhood. The hard part is that this trail is not a loop, so everything you just went down, you will need to get back up.

Inwards and Upwards… Again
pinnacle peak hike

(c) ABR 2018

Make your way back up the steep section of the trail. You will get a bit of a rest as you trek across the flatter parts of the path that come directly after. But your trek home won’t finish climbing uphill until you pass the spire again. Overall, all the elevation gain and loss makes this an impactful workout for its relatively short length. And the spire, Pinnacle Peak, makes it a unique place for visitors.

Need More Arizona Inspiration?

For more information and inspiration on all things Arizona, be sure to check out our guide to our home state. I guarantee there will be places on there that you hadn’t thought about before.

pinnacle peak hike

pinnacle peak hike

The Phoenix-Area


I’m a relatively rare person in Phoenix: someone who was born and raised here, and hasn’t run off to somewhere less dry and scorching hot. I spent a few years in Tucson, but other than that, I have spent my entire life in Phoenix, and I have never lived any where outside of Arizona. That being said, I have had an interesting relationship with my home, and there have been times when I have found Phoenix to be a boring, shallow city… especially considering that it has a population that warrants some big city excitement. Lately, I have been rediscovering some of the wonderful things that this city has to offer, and that’s what I am going to focus on here.

One my favorite things about Phoenix are the mountain preserves, and there are efforts within the city government as well as groups such as the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy to use these large areas of preserved desert for a more sustainable city. As it stands now, the Phoenix-area sports some of the largest urban preserves in the country. They serve as habitat islands for desert species, and wonderful places to hike and experience the desert. I will devote individual blog entries to different sections of the preserve, so those can be referenced for details on these areas, but here is a link to the Phoenix Park Department’s Mountain Preserve website: Phoenix Mountain Preserves

Phoenix is also home to a wonderful zoo and botanical garden which I have enjoyed almost yearly since I was young. These are two separate parks, but they are located a mere two minute drive from one another, and they are both nestled in the beautiful and unique landscape of Papago Park.(c) AB Raschke The Desert Botanical Gardens is home to lovely, informative desert plant exhibits, and seasonally they also host a butterfly garden. What is fairly distinct about this particular park, and is something that I have really enjoyed over the years, is the Garden’s “Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail.” This section of the garden showcases several of Arizona’s native cultures and has some interactive areas for kids to explore and learn more about the historical lives of the desert people. The Phoenix Zoo is an equally fun spot to visit, and perhaps more kid oriented than the gardens. In its entirety, the zoo is well kept, the exhibits are nice, and the atmosphere is well done. There are also some distinct exhibits that make the park special- including a monkey village (the easiest way to imagine this if you haven’t been to something similar is a monkey aviary), and AZ animals exhibit which is also set up like an aviary, and houses one of my all time favorite animals, burrowing owls! There are plenty of other reasons to visit either of these parks, but I don’t have the space here to mention them all.
The Desert Botanical Gardens
The Phoenix Zoo

In terms of general areas to check out while in the area, Old Town Scottsdale, Mill Avenue in Tempe, and downtown Phoenix all have their own charm. Phoenix’s downtown will be disappointing if you expect it to be anything like the downtown areas of other large cities. There isn’t a ton of shopping to be done, and even good food isn’t readily apparent without some searching. However, downtown is home to a couple big sports arenas, theaters, and museums (including the Sciene Museum, which is great for kids). It is also the site of events such as the annual Matsuri festival, and the Phoenix Comicon.(c) AB Raschke The Phoenix light rail (which I highly suggest for travelers, although it’s pretty small compared to many other urban rail systems) runs right through downtown, and also connects to Mill Ave on Tempe. Mill is close to Phoenix’s university, Arizona State, and it is great spot for bar crawling. Mill also has some pretty good places to eat, and connects to the Tempe Town Lake which has a nice shoreline park, as well as boats for rent. This is as close as you’ll come to finding a “college town” in the Phoenix-area. In contrast, Old Town Scottsdale is in one of the city’s richer areas, and it shows. The shopping here is similar to that of Sedona as it focuses on pricey art and southwestern souvenirs. A high end mall (Fashion Square) is also in this part of town. I mostly like Old Town Scottsdale for its food, and it makes for a nice stroll on spring or fall days, and there is even a pretty nice public garden there.
Downtown Phoenix
Mill Ave
Old Town Scottsdale

(c) AB Raschke

Now, one of the things that has always bothered me about Phoenix is it’s apparent lack of interesting restaurants, so I wanted to take some time to list a few of my favorite places:
Cherryblossom (Japanese/Italian)
Curry Corner (Pakastani)
The Dubliner (Irish)
Green (Vegetarian)
Indian Garden (Indian)
Khyber Halal (Afghani)
La Grande Orange Grocery (American)
Sala Thai (Thai)
Stax Burger Bistro (American)
Sushi Station (Japanese)
Uncle Sams (American)

In terms of living and visiting Phoenix, the weather is a big concern. Winters are traditionally mild, but recent years have seen them getting colder. A couple years ago, in fact, it got so cold in Tucson that pipes were bursting all over the city- including at University of Arizona’s massive new chemistry building. If you compare it to states that see real winter, it’s nothing, but it may be a bit colder than expected. Summers in Phoenix are what really get people, and it can be pretty brutal. A high of 120 degrees isn’t uncommon, and while it is very dry, the heat is still dangerous. (c) AB RaschkeFor a person that loves the outdoors, summer can be something of a problem in Phoenix, since it keeps most sane people indoors for most of the day, and those of us that want to hike in the city have to be out on the trail by 430a. Best option for summer hiking is to travel up to Sedona or Flagstaff for the day. Due to its weather, Phoenix is a seasonal home for lots of “snow birds,” and that can also change some of the dynamics of the city, especially on the roads. Due to the weather, winter is the typical time to visit, but for people considering a trip to Phoenix, the summer is actually a pretty great time to come. Yes, it is hot out and you won’t want to spend the day at the zoo in the blistering heat, but hotel prices tend to be pretty low in the summer, and chilling at a nice resort surrounded by beautiful desert is never a bad thing.

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