Saturday, February 14, 2015

Camelback Mountain an Urban Hike…


Sharon’s next to the last Mayo appointment was scheduled early one morning at the Mayo facility in North Phoenix. After her appointment it was still early in the day and with temperatures reaching into the 80’s over the last week I thought this might be a good time to do an urban hike I had briefly read about at Camelback Mountain.

Camelback Mountain is the one of the iconic mountains that defines Phoenix, the nation's fifth largest metroplex. I had read that this was a rather short hike but had a lot of elevation gain so getting an early start would help us beat the heat of the day. Also due to this trail’s popularity scoring a parking spot can be tricky especially on weekends but luckily our trip was on a weekday.

We made our way to the Echo Canyon Recreation Area at Camelback Mountain where the trailhead begins and even though we had arrived about 10:00 am the parking lot was almost full. We lathered up with sunscreen and packed our water before walking over to the informational plaquards near the restrooms.

Camelback Mountain is in close proximity to all of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona. All along its foothills the city emerges as there are many luxury homes and resorts complete with their requisite golf courses. Yet here in the middle of Phoenix is this great venue for urban hiking.

Reading the plaquards we learned that Camelback Mountain is at an elevation of 2,704 feet. We also learned that the Echo Canyon Trail (our hike) would be 2.4 miles round trip with the trail described as an extremely strenuous hike of 1.2 miles to the summit. We didn’t care much for the words "extremely strenuous" but  since this trail does ascend 1,280 ft, over that 1.2 mile hike… we knew there had to be some serious climbing!

Not to be deterred we set out for the trail. The trail started out ascending through some spectacular red sandstone formations and after 1/4 a mile we came to a small rise where some more information plaques described what we could see on the horizon. This overlook marked the beginning of the harder part of the trail as the next 3/8 of a mile became a constant climb up railroad ties serving as a stairway over a rocky (yet slippery) trail.

Next we came to the first real steep section which had a hand rail to assist in climbing this very steep and slippery section of the trail. Once we climbed this part we felt that we might have gotten ourselves onto a pretty mean trail. Then we walked on a rocky trail a bit further where we encountered another less intense section of steep trail with a hand rail.

The remaining Echo Canyon trail consisted of lots of loose rock as well as large rocks that required scrambling over in order to find a route up. The reward, though, were the incredible views of the metroplex below. The steep terrain and rock scrambling taxed our legs significantly. Fortunately we found several good places to stop for water and a chance to rest the weary legs. There really was not much hiking over the last half of the trail as we were basically ascending a constant rock scramble until we summited. 

The summit offered 360 views of Phoenix so we stopped and rested while looking down the mountainside to the urban sprawl below us. There was a low brown cloud blanketing the urban sprawl since winter is the time that many valley towns and cities have a layer of pollution hanging low due to inversions in the area.

After hydrating and resting a bit we started our rock scramble back down the mountain being very careful with our steps going down as gravity was as much our enemy in descent as it was our friend. The steeper parts of trail had an additional hazard as we descended in the form of small particles of very slippery, pulverized granite distracting us from enjoying much of the view down. Slipping and sliding and scrambling our way down we eventually made our way back to he parking lot several hours later. Our legs were a fatigued with that feeling of legs like Jell-O which we knew would take a while to subside after this grueling hike.


This hike is not for the faint of heart and is definitely a tough workout. However we rated  this as a great hike because of  the combination of a great workout along with beautiful views. I read later that the Cholla Trail coming in on the other side of Camelback Mountain is a bit longer but a whole lot less crowded. Had I done more research we probably would have taken that trail to the summit instead. Nevertheless I can count this as another fun mountain climb to be scratched off the old bucket list…


  1. What a wonderful hike and the views= awesome!

  2. Looks like a great climb and workout, as you said. Hiking poles sound like a must going down this trail. Thanks for the tips! We'll be headed that way around the beginning of March.

  3. I think we would have done this hike a few years ago, but Paul's artificial hip and knee just won't allow him to do too much rock scrambling.

  4. Looks like you really earned your views. I'd say hiking poles would be helpful too. With all the cars in the lot were there a lot of people on the trail? Next time you can do Cholla.

  5. Good for you guys! This trail has been on my list since 2006 when we were there our very first time but just didn't have the time to do it and we won't be doing it this time either as we won't be in that area. The views are gorgeous so glad you did the hike!

  6. Boy oh boy, that is some serious elevation gain and loss! I'd probably do it but my knees would be complaining the next day!