Hiking Camelback Mountain, Arizona
“Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world.”
– David McCullough Jr.
Whenever I travel anywhere, I always try to find the best views of the city/landscape. Sometimes this includes enjoying rooftop bars on hotels or taking an elevator to the top of a famous skyscraper, but my favourite views are usually the ones I hike to. I love pushing my body to new limits and embracing a well-deserved view where I am surrounded by one of the most beautiful things in this world — nature. There is just something so rewarding and so overwhelmingly peaceful about the entire experience.
While I’ve had the luxury of witnessing some pretty incredible places, with some pretty spectacular views, Arizona has to be one of my favourite destinations in North America for such experiences. And, while Arizona has many amazing hikes and adventures to discuss, this blog post is going to focus on one particular hike: Camelback Mountain.
My goal for this post is to provide you insight on what this hike has to offer, as well as what you can expect, and some tips to be better prepared.
Location: Echo Canyon Recreation Area, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Elevation: 2,704 feet
Difficulty level: Hard
Camelback Mountain is located right in Phoenix, Arizona. The best part about this? It’s extremely accessible. Located roughly 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix, you will find this hiking destination nestled in the Echo Canyon Recreation Area between Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Paradise Valley.
There are two trails you can hike at Camelback Mountain; the Echo Canyon Trail (approx. 1.23 miles/2km to summit) and the Cholla Trail (approx. 1.42 miles/2.3km to summit). You can find the trailhead of each at the following locations:
Echo Canyon Trailhead: 4925 E McDonald Drive, Phoenix, AZ
Cholla Trailhead: 6131 E Cholla Lane, Paradise Valley, AZ
It should be noted that while both hikes are categorized as “hard”, the Echo Canyon Trail is steeper, while the Cholla Trail is longer. When considering which trail is best for you, please take into consideration the recent weather (rain may have impacted aspects of the trail), and your level of fitness. The Echo Canyon Trail will require you to climb at several different points throughout the hike.
While there is parking available, it is very limited — It can be found at the Echo Canyon Trailhead and is only available from sunrise until sunset. This all being said, due to Camelback Mountain’s proximity to the downtown core, I would recommend just taking an Uber or a Lyft and avoiding the hassle altogether.
It’s also worth noting that the only washroom available is also located at the Echo Canyon Trailhead.
First things first,
Know your limits…
While hiking Camelback Mountain is an extremely popular thing to do in the Phoenix area (for locals and visitors alike), it is not for the faint of heart. All it takes is a quick google search to see the astounding amount of rescues that take place on the trails each year. One of the biggest criticisms of the hike is that it is not as clearly labelled as it should be, and many hikers are not as prepared for the level of intensity as they should be.
During my time at Camelback, my friend and I hiked the Echo Canyon Trail and enjoyed it very much. It was a great full-body workout (between the slope of the hike, the climbing, and bodily maneuvering on both the ascent and descent), and offered plenty of amazing places to rest and enjoy along the way. However, on our way up, we were witnesses to a helicopter rescue. It appeared that a man had slipped and badly injured his ankle. The firefighters seemed pretty routine about the whole thing and said it happened quite frequently. The two most common reasons for rescues appear to be slips/falls, and heat exhaustion/fainting.
On that note, do yourself a favour and make sure you have out-of-country health insurance before arriving (if you’re visiting from outside the USA). Without it, such an incident could put you back more than $30,000 USD, the confirmed price of the aforementioned helicopter ride alone!
Keep your eyes open…
There are so many beautiful places to stop and enjoy along the hike. The views are epic and the geography is captivating. Yet, while you should definitely explore some of the giant red rock formations that form miniature caves, and make for pretty cool picnic setups, you should not wander off the trails and into other areas of the mountain. Camelback is home to many critters and flora, some friendlier than others. While most animals will hide during the day, keep your eyes open for lizards, roadrunners, hawks, and, yes, rattlesnakes. Flora which you can expect to see along the way include the Saguaro cactus, Ocotillo, Palo Verde, Cholla — AKA “Jumping Cholla” (keep clear of these ones), Barrel Cactus, and the Creosote Bush.
Be considerate of the time of day you plan to hike Camelback Mountain. Depending on the time of year, Phoenix will be incredibly hot and will make hiking quite unbearable midday. Instead, plan to head out for your hike earlier in the morning, around 6 am. Further to this, be sure to not just check the weather forecast for the day you plan to hike, but the days leading up to it too. Prior rainfall can loosen rocks, creating tougher terrain or a lack of stability in some of the climbing areas.
One should also plan to bring snacks and plenty of water for the trek. Keep in mind, this is the desert and you will likely require even more water than you might usually need for a similar excursion elsewhere. Remember the point made above: many rescues occur on the trails due to things like heat exhaustion. You can expect the hike to take anywhere from 2-3 hours, but this can depend on your level of fitness and the amount of time you plan to rest, take pictures, etc.
If you are an inexperienced hiker or are wary of guiding yourself through the trails, you can schedule a guided hike/tour here. Remember, always put safety first.
Camelback Mountain is an incredible way to spend a portion of your time in this beautiful state. The journey is adventurous, the landscape is other-worldly, and the views are completely worth it — offering 360-degree views of the entire city/valley and surrounding mountains! Oh yeah, and the photo opportunities aren’t too crummy either 😉.
As an avid outdoors person and lover of hiking, I would 100% recommend venturing to Camelback Mountain if you ever find yourself in the Phoenix area.
Till next time, stay safe and happy wandering!