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Ultimate Urban Hiking Experience: Camelback Mountain, Phoenix AZ
Camelback Mountain is a famous landmark in Phoenix, AZ. It is also a very popular hiking spot for local residents and out-of-town visitors. The steep and notoriously difficult trails leading to the summit stay busy all year round. Hikers, climbers, outdoor enthusiasts, and thrill seekers from all over the world (about 300,000 of them each year) flock here to experience the extreme physical challenge of hiking this mountain. It is named Camelback Mountain because it resembles a resting camel with a large hump on its back.
With the summit at 2,704 feet above sea level, this massive natural wonder - made of ancient sandstone and granite - has the highest peak in the entire Phoenix Valley region. Reaching the summit, exhausted hikers are rewarded with the breathtaking (literally!) 360o birds-eye view of the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale below, as well as the stunning vista of mountains and valleys on the horizon.
It’s hard to believe that Camelback Mountain is actually an urban city park! Located in Echo Canyon Recreation Area, it’s practically surrounded by densely populated residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, and only a short distance from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Easy access and convenient location within a major metropolitan area are the main reasons why Camelback Mountain hiking trails are so popular and busy all the time!
Camelback Mountain has an interesting history. It is also home to a variety of fascinating desert wildlife including rattle snakes, lizards, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, and turkey vultures. Typical desert plants like cactus and mesquite grow all over the mountain. Killer bees are also found here, building their nest in crevices along the rock walls. Unfortunately, there have been a few incidents of hikers being attacked by swarms of these aggressive bees. Official warning signs are posted along the trails to alert hikers of known beehive locations.
To conquer this mountain, you have to hike on one of the two designated trails that lead to the summit: Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail. They are both rated difficult due to the strenuous hike through steep and uneven rocky terrain (you will have to climb on hands and knees over big boulders!), with plenty of dizzying drops on either side of the trails!
- Echo Canyon Trail (about 1.2 miles each way, 1,280 feet elevation gain) starts at the northern end of Echo Canyon Recreation Area. This trail is the most popular one because of its spectacular view of the red rock formations and sheer vertical canyon walls. Note: As of January 2013, this trail has been closed for improvement projects and will re-open later this fall.
- Cholla Trail begins at the southwestern end of Echo Canyon Recreation Area. It’s a little longer (about 1.6 miles each way, 1,200 feet elevation gain) but less steep than Echo Canyon Trail. It’s also less busy and has great views of the luxury resorts and golf courses at the base of the mountain.
Have you ever hiked Camelback Mountain trails?
- Trail map is available at City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation website.
- The challenging hike to the summit takes about 1.5 to 2 hours each way, depends on your physical conditions and abilities.
- Wear sturdy shoes, bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water!
- Bring cell phone in case of emergency and also don’t forget your camera!
- Stay on the trail and yield to other hikers who would like to pass you. Believe it or not, there are many athletic & fit locals who use the trail for their daily workout - jogging and hopping over rocks up & down the mountain!
- Take breaks and rest along the way, stay within your physical limitations.
- It can get quite crowded (adrenaline pumping frenzy mop!) on the summit, as everyone wants to snap pictures and competes for the best shot. Just be aware of those precarious cliff ledges!
- The best time to hike is in early morning (cooler temperature) or late afternoon (sun goes behind the rock cliff so there’s more shade).
- On late afternoon hike, if you want to stay on the summit and catch the sunset, you will need a good flashlight for the hike down in the dark.
About This Article
Despite his great fear of heights, the author successfully completed the Camelback Mountain hike in December 2012. Big thanks to his friend Taka (who lives in Phoenix) who encouraged and helped him all along this unforgettable hike!
All photos were taken by the author with a SamsungPL120 DualView 14.2MP Digital Camera.
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Copyright © 2012 Viet Doan (punacoast)
© 2013 Viet Doan