A popular and strenuous hike to top of the 2,704 foot high Camelback Mountain, in the heart of Phoenix.
Take an Uber to the Echo Canyon park as the parking lot is generally full and there is no area to wait. Don’t park in the surrounding neighborhoods; police actively ticket. Helicopter rescues occur weekly on this mountain, so stay on the trail, and turn around if it’s getting too tough for you. There are rock cliff overhangs in parts where it is easy to bang your head if you are not looking. Bees are common – hive locations are posted at entrance. The short trek to the saddle is easier than the rest of the trail and ok for children and elderly.
Sonoran Desert wildlife and plants are on abundant display. Look out for Harris squirrels, lizards, road runners and other small wildlife. Enjoy the ocotillo, palo verde trees, saguaros and barrel cactus. Occasional wildflowers including lupins in the Spring. 360 views of the entire valley are available at the peak. The peak of the mountain and most of the hump is made of red colored granite, similar to the colors found in Sedona, while near the base more sedimentary rocks are found.
There’s an interesting short trail in the direction of Bobby’s Rock as you start the hike to Echo Canyon summit. Rest and reflect in the eternal xxx pagoda and explore a tall shallow cave. Don’t bother following the trail to Bobby’s Rock – it peters out to nothing.
One of the most popular and highly trafficked hills in Arizona with hundreds of thousands of ascents per year, Camelback Mountain towers up out of a relatively flat valley and straddles the border between Phoenix to the south and Paradise Valley to the north. Viewed from a distance, the Echo Canyon side looks like the head, while the summit is the top of the hump. The trail has been marked with 36 numbered posts which, while not equidistant, provide a rough sense of progress.
The bottom part of the Echo Canyon trail has been smoothed and now offers a fairly easy descent up to the Saddle, which offers nice views of Paradise Valley to the north. Off to the far east you can see Four Peaks on a clear day.
After the Saddle the hike gets more strenuous, and you will quickly hit stairs which follow the cliff wall, followed immediately by two sections with handrails. After the rails comes a steep boulder strewn scramble which puts you on the south side of the mountain gives nice views of south and central Phoenix. The remaining climb to the top consists of three longer sections with steep climbs.
Take breaks and definitely drink water if doing this hike during the hotter months – there’s hardly any shade. Most people return on the same trail from the top, but if you plan to go over to the Cholla side, book an Uber to take you back or prepare to walk 3.5 miles around the mountain to return to your car.
Camelback Mountain formed about 25 million years ago and consists mostly of granite and sandstone. The area was considered sacred by the Hohokam Indians, who lived there until the 1400s and performed ceremonies in Echo Canyon. In 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes granted one million acres including Camelback Mountain to the Pima and Maricopa Indians, but residents in Phoenix fought back and six months later forced him to reduce the reservation size, keeping the mountain as part of the nascent city of Phoenix.
In the 1950s homes were built around the base, and by 1956 the county tried to prevent construction above 1600 ft. The law wasn’t enforceable, and construction continued. In the 1960s, after his failed presidential run, Barry Goldwater led efforts to raise money to buy out private owners and protect over 350 acres around the summit. Unfortunately, the early deal didn’t include trail access, and in 1970 the City of Phoenix bought 91 additional acres in the Echo Canyon section to guarantee preservation. The Echo Canyon park opened in 1973.
The mountain has two large resorts on either side, the famous Phoenician to the south and the Sanctuary on the north.
Driggs, Gary. Camelback: Sacred Mountain of Phoenix. Arizona Historical Society. 1998
Driggs, Gary. Camelback Mountain. Arcadia Publishing. 2008.