CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN HIKE via CHOLLA TRAIL
The mountain itself is comprised of granite at the top (2,707ft), red sandstone throughout the bottom, and gorgeous panoramic views of the metropolitan Phoenix area almost as soon as the hike begins. Searching for a view of the desert valley from a different vantage point, over 400,000 hikers made the trek last year alone, making this one of the most popular hikes in the city. This hike is a magnet for both every tourist and local with hiking, climbing, or running itch so it’s best to get there as early as possible. Camelback Mountain is accessible year-round from sunrise to sunset and offers a chance to get away from the busy buzzing of the city below if you don’t have much time to spare.
Summiting Camelback Mountain is possible through two different routes (both marked extremely difficult) via Cholla Trail or Echo Canyon. Cholla Trail is considered the more scenic route of the two, while the Echo Canyon Route tends to be more of a vertical climb. Both trailheads are located within luxury housing neighborhoods with limited parking and can become quite congested as the morning progresses. That being said, the only park in designated areas otherwise you’re an easy target for tow trucks (and they do check the area regularly!).
Although Camelback Mountain is located next to many resorts, spa’s, and rentals that advertise hiking out your back door, this hike is anything but relaxing. Phoenix mountains are no strangers to fatalities and injuries with over 275 mountain rescues in 2017, many of those requiring 10-15 man teams and helicopters to save the victims; the majority of those injuries occurred from broken ankles, dehydration, and falls. Don’t become a statistic! Wear proper hiking shoes, bring lots of water (at least 2 Liters !) and stay on the trail. Camelback Mountain requires quite a bit of hand over hand scrambling with around 10 spots that require pulling yourself up and over 2ft boulders (or sliding back down on your keister) in order to summit/descend the mountain. If you’re not prepared to use your upper body and take large steps, it might be best to consider one of the many other hikes across the valley of the sun.
For anyone ready to take on the Camelback Mountain Hike via Cholla Trail this guide should steer you clear of any questions you might have and lead you to the summit.
CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN – CHOLLA TRAIL DETAILS
Distance ~3 miles (4.8 km) Round Trip (+ 0.5 Miles From the Parking Area)
Terrain Gravel, Dirt, Rock Stairs (Well Maintained and Heavily Trafficked)
Style Up and Back
Difficulty Extremely Difficult (You’ll Definitely Feel the Burn) w/ Scrambling Required
Hike Time (Total) 2-3 Hours Roundtrip on Weekdays and Early Morning Weekends.
3+ Hours On Weekends If Starting After 9 A.M.
Route The Trail is Well Marked and Heavily Trafficked
Features Panoramic Views, Granite Boulders near the Top
Total Ascent 1,420 feet (433m)
Highest Elevation 2,704 feet (824m)
Tips Take Your Time, Get There Early (Avoid the Heat), and Bring Lots of Water
Park at 5049 N Invergordon Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253 on the West side of Invergordon Rd. next to the golf course. By 530AM on weekdays there tend to be over 15 cars there (year-round and much more on weekends) so be sure and start your hike early to get a parking spot to worry free.
From there follow the sidewalk North to E. Cholla Ln (the opposite direction the picture is looking) and head West toward the mountain. You’ll know your heading in the right direction by all the signs that read “no stopping, no standing, no waiting, no drop-offs, no parking.” I had to laugh (to help from crying) when I considered how full of themselves the homeowners must be to get the city to put up a sign next to a hiking trail that says, “no standing” (as if we can all fly or hover instead). Unfortunately, the tow truck driver scouring the neighborhood didn’t have my sense of humor as he found his first victim of the day.
Once you near the end of E. Cholla Ln the trailhead begins. You’ll be bombarded by lots of signs and warnings before continuing up the extremely trafficked trail marked with “C” for Cholla.
Keep following these blue blaze C marked posts up the mountain until you reach the final ascent and most vertical portions of the trial (trail conditions for the lower portion shown below).
After this point, the smooth trail turns to granite boulders and the signs turn to spray painted blue dots marking the route to the top (shown below). Follow the blue dots for the easiest path upward to the summit.
After a bit of scrambling, you’ll be at the top and can celebrate a job well done by resting your legs, having a snack, and enjoying the view.
From here you can turn around go back down the way you came, or for those who want to punish their legs, take the alternate Echo Canyon trail down and back up to the summit, before going back down the Cholla Trail to your parked vehicle (that means you will have hiked over the Mountain and then back over again).
THINGS TO BRING
Be sure to bring a buddy if the crowds are light or you are hiking early in the morning, if you get in a tight spot or roll an ankle, a shoulder to lean on can make all the difference in the world. There’s no shade along either of the routes up Camelback Mountain so be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and lots of water! It gets extremely hot because the trail is completely exposed so be sure to take an extra liter or bottle of water in addition to what you’d expect to drink. Good hiking shoes are a must, the rocks are slick and sharp. Regular athletic shoes are often too soft and slick and will leave you wishing for better support and hard edges to protect your feet. Hiking Poles are not necessary but can be used to get a leg up climbing the stairs and steep grades. As always, bringing a medical pouch, and something to snack on is always a good idea! Just remember, Phoenix is known to reach 120 degrees in the summer and stays near 100 degrees from April to October, so be smart about venturing out into the heat regardless of the time of year. Every time someone experiences heat exhaustion on the mountain they put first responders’ lives in danger because the first responders then have to go out in the same conditions with tons more gear (stretchers and medical gear) to carry that person down. Don’t be a statistic, don’t endanger others!
ABOUT THE PARK AND TRAILS
Hours of Operation:
Camelback Mountain is open year-round from Sunrise to Sunset. That being said, if you will be arriving after 5PM and are hiking the Echo Canyon route, consider planning your hike for another day, because the park may close during your hike, and the Rangers will definitely find you for being there past sunset.
Fees & Permits :
There is no fee to enter the park! Parking is Free to both residents and non-residents; spots are located on the roadside and are first come first serve. There are several areas where parallel parking is permitted, however, parking is not permitted along with the majority of roadways near the trailhead. Vehicles parked in violation of posted signs will be towed at the owner’s expense and fined by the city so beware. Use the address listed under “Directions” and you won’t have any issues.
Dogs are not allowed on any trails on Camelback Mountain.
There is no potable water or restroom facilities at Cholla Trailhead or anywhere on the trail, so bring extra and take care of your business before stepping off.
Trail/Park Website City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation
Trail Map Cholla Trail (Or there is a topographical picture in the article above)
Trailhead Address 6131 E Cholla Ln, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
Park Phone 602-495-5458
ADDITIONAL TIPS, REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS, AND INFORMATION WHEN HIKING CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN
- Don’t expect a full-blown nature experience. You’re still in the city so expect heavy traffic and be courteous (hikers going uphill have the right of way).
- Camelback Mountain is home to venomous snakes, lizards, and a variety of critters so be cautious on trails and don’t forget that even though you are close to the city, you still need to be alert.
- Be sure to leave early and beat the crowds and the heat. Camelback gets really crowded and extremely hot so the earlier you arrive the better your experience will be.
- Be sure to visually inspect the surface and test your footing before committing to any climb. Many of the surfaces are slick and warn down so wear good shoes and don’t take any risks near the edges.
- For an epic breakfast, be the first one up and pack your food in a thermos to keep it hot.
- Check the weather before any hike! Things change fast, don’t get caught on top of a mountain while it’s lightning or storming! (Phoenix is also home to haboobs, look it up if you don’t know what this is!)