Camelback Mountain is one of the most beautiful sights in the Phoenix area. What’s more: you can snag a view from the top too! Hiking the mountain is easily one of the best things to do in Phoenix for those who are able. It’s rated one of the best urban hikes in the country.
There are two different trails to choose from, although Cholla Trail is temporarily closed for maintenance at the time of posting. Here is what you need to know before you head up to the top.
The Echo Canyon trail runs 1.23 miles to the summit and reaches 2,704 ft (for a total elevation gain of 1,300 ft). Of the two trails, this one has better amenities. (Okay, any amenities.) There is a parking lot, bathrooms, and water fountains. But, in my opinion, it is significantly harder. Namely, it’s much steeper. You’ll be climbing boulders for approximately 4 different portions of varying lengths. There are handrails to help with two sections but, despite that, it can be difficult if it gets too crowded.
It took us about 3 hours, including a break to enjoy the top. But, it is well worth the trek. Not only is it a stunning view of the area, but it felt so good to accomplish the feat. And, going down is much easier.
That said, watch your footing on the way down. We came across a cozy rattlesnake in some dried grass who was none too happy for the (unintentional) intruders nearby. If that happens, move to the other side of the trail and let other hikers know.
Cholla Trail– Currently closed (Summer 2021)
Unlike the Echo Cayon trail, this one begins in a subdivision and does not have a parking lot or facilities nearby. (Do not park in the subdivision!) Instead, you’ll have to walk from street parking on Invergordon Road and make sure to bring plenty of water with you. This can be frustrating since parking fills up quickly and is already a ways from the start of the trail. Once you enter the subdivision (there are plenty of signs at the entrance) look for the trail entrance along the lefthand side.
You’ll be rewarded with a slightly easier trail. I say that somewhat sarcastically because, don’t get me wrong, it’s still rated extremely difficult. The trail is 1.5 miles one way to the mountain summit and takes approximately 2.5 hours total. You’ll spend most of the trail climbing uneven steps. But, you’ll encounter boulders in the last third of the trail, towards the top of the summit. It’s imperative to be ready for this portion. Unlike Echo Canyon, these are larger, without handrails to guide you. Wear shoes with a very sturdy grip.
Note: This trail is currently closed, but check before you go in the near future.
Know before you go
Regardless of which trail you select, it amazed me how many people we saw who were ill-equipped to making this trek. First of all, temperatures peaked at ~118 degrees both days we hiked Camelback. Needless to say, it’s crucial to get there early and beat the heat (especially if you’re there in the summer.) We started our trek at around 6 am when it was around ~85 degrees. You can get there earlier but be advised that the parking lot and street parking can fill up quickly. Try to go on a weekday if at all possible.
Next, and just as important, is to make sure you bring enough water. (I did say ~118 degrees!) Let me say that louder for the people in the back. Please. Bring. Water. I saw some people with one small water bottle, and one family (starting out at 10 am no less) with nothing. There are no water sources on either trail. And, the majority of rescues that occur on Camelback Mountain are due to heat-related illnesses. Each person should have at least 32 ounces. And, the rule of thumb is to turn around once you hit the halfway point of your water. I try to bring both water and Gatorade since electrolytes hydrate quickly, and alternate between the two. I’ve also brought a snack just in case I need to get a boost of energy and sodium– but have never had to open any. (In addition to plenty of drinks and a snack, I will fill my backpack with a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, band-aids, and my phone.)
Finally, know your limits. Echo Canyon, in particular, has a few locations that make it easy to stop and take a break without getting in the way of others. There are also some shaded areas if you go as the sun is rising. I am not the fastest to the top – but I will get there!
And of course, don’t forget to have fun!