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When you think of Phoenix, Arizona, you might not immediately picture towering mountain peaks. It’s more likely you’ll envision the Sonoran desert with the famous saguaros and prickly pear cacti.
But located just minutes from downtown is the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, home to Piestewa Peak and Camelback Mountain.
Let’s take a closer look at Phoenix’s highest peak — Camelback Mountain — and provide some insight into just how difficult it can be to reach the summit. Let’s go!
Where Is Camelback Mountain?
Phoenix is a popular destination for snowbirds due to its beautiful sunshine all year. Because of the climate, it’s also a great place for outdoor recreation.
Located 20 minutes outside Phoenix, Camelback Mountain rises 2,700 feet above sea level and offers spectacular views of the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas.
Echo Canyon Park, where Camelback Mountain sits, lies halfway between Scottsdale and the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. The only way to reach the top of the mountain is via one of the two hiking trails. The trailheads have limited parking, so arrive early.
How Did Camelback Mountain Get Its Name?
Camelback Mountain certainly has a unique name. The two rock formations appear to form the shape of a kneeling camel. One rock formation makes the head, while the other looks like the hump.
This 2,700-foot mountain is the highest peak in Phoenix, and the two trails leading to the summit have steep inclines. They’re not for the novice hiker.
Things to Do at Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain isn’t a park with a playground, fishing hole, campsites, cabins, and other amenities. It’s pretty much a wilderness outside one of the large cities in the country.
If you want to visit Camelback Mountain, you can hike one of two trails and watch for wildlife sightings. But leave your pups at home; they can’t come on the trails.
Hike the Echo Canyon Trail
One of the trails at Camelback Mountain is the Echo Canyon Trail. It’s the most difficult of the two, but both are strenuous hikes. This 2.5-mile out-and-back trail gains over 1,400 feet in elevation. It has steep inclines, and the last half mile is rock scrambling to the top.
You’ll have very little shade along the Echo Canyon Trail, so avoid hiking it during the day in the summer. If you take on the challenge, the 360-degree views at the top make the climb well worth it.
Hike the Cholla Trail
The second hiking trail up Camelback Mountain is the Cholla Trail. It’s still rated as difficult and strenuous, but if you want to choose the easier option of the two, this is it.
This 3-mile out-and-back trail gains about 1,280 feet in elevation. Like the Echo Canyon Trail, it has steep inclines and rock scrambling to reach the top. It’s worth it, but a strenuous climb. This trailhead is on the east side of the mountain.
Go Wildlife Watching
Phoenix may be the fifth-most populous city in the country and the only state capital with more than a million residents, but it doesn’t lack wildlife. In this desert climate, you’ll find certain animals like the desert tortoise, Chuckwalla lizard, cottontail rabbits, and rattlesnakes.
Be on the lookout for these desert animals as you hike. Always pay attention to where you put your hands when rock scrambling, as snakes like to hide between rocks to escape the desert heat.
While you hike, you’ll also likely see various plant species, from cacti like the saguaro, cholla, and prickly pear to native trees like the mesquite and palo verde. Don’t ever pick the cacti or remove any plant life. Take pictures but leave them for others to enjoy.
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Is Hiking Camelback Mountain Dangerous?
The trails up Camelback Mountain are difficult, but they aren’t any more dangerous than other strenuous trails. Proceed with caution as you scramble to the top. At one point in the Echo Canyon Trail, you’ll need the aid of a handrail to climb around a cliff.
And, like many other hikes on rocky mountains, you have a risk of falling rocks. As mentioned earlier, if you’re a novice hiker, these trails aren’t for you. Know your limits.
However, the most dangerous part of hiking up Camelback Mountain is the desert heat. You don’t want to hike the mountain in the summer if you can help it.
Visit during cooler times of the year when you don’t need to hit the trailhead at 5 a.m. Bring plenty of water because you’ll need it as you traverse this rugged desert terrain.
Tips for Hiking Camelback Mountain
The number one tip for almost any hiking trail is to bring lots of water. However, you’ll want to bring more than normal for these two trails. Phoenix closes the trails from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on days with excessive heat warnings.
Like water, you’ll also want to pack snacks. These two trails require a lot of stamina. You’ll want to refuel when you reach the summit. Take a while to enjoy the views, rest, and replenish your energy before you start the hike back down.
Consider wearing hiking gloves and wear proper footwear for the rough terrain. You’ll encounter lots of boulders to climb over.
Since you’ll probably use your hands for leverage, you might want to wear hiking gloves to protect them from scrapes and give you a good grip as you maneuver over the rocks.
Finally, you always want to bring a few things on a hike like a compass, map, whistle, first-aid kit, water, snacks, etc. But on this particular hike, you may slip a couple of times, scrape your knee, cut your hand, or have some other small injury. So pack a first-aid kit.
When you get to the top, grab the first-aid kit, clean yourself up, apply a few bandaids, and ensure you’re ready to head back down the mountain. Going down is just as difficult as climbing up.
Is Camelback Mountain Always Open?
Camelback Mountain is open year-round. It’s not like a peak in Colorado that may be closed for the winter. The weather in Phoenix allows the two trails to remain open all year.
However, as mentioned earlier, the city will close the trails on days with excessive heat warnings. They’re looking out for your safety, so don’t ignore the closures.
Keep in Mind: Before you hit the trail, make sure you have these Delicious Hiking Snacks packed!
Does It Cost to Visit Camelback Mountain?
Camelback Mountain is free! You can hit the trailheads anytime between sunrise and sunset without paying for parking or paying an entrance fee.
But the Echo Canyon and Cholla trailheads have limited parking. Arrive early to get a parking spot and avoid the afternoon heat.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Camelback Mountain?
If you’re visiting Phoenix from May to September, you’ll want to hike Camelback Mountain early in the morning right at sunrise, or later in the afternoon around sunset. If you visit during other seasons, you can more safely hike at any point of the day. April is especially nice.
However, watch the weather no matter what time you go. You don’t want to hike Camelback Mountain in the rain or after heavy rainfall due to all of the rocks and steep inclines. The trails will be slippery and unsafe during these conditions.
Is Exploring Camelback Mountain Worth It?
Camelback Mountain is a beautiful rugged wilderness. However, hiking the mountain isn’t for the faint of heart or inexperienced hikers. These two trails are serious and difficult.
If you can’t hike the trails, consider other ways to view the mountain, like booking a hot air balloon ride or staying at The Phoenician or Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. The views are still spectacular.
But if you feel adventurous and confident in your hiking abilities and make it to the summit, you won’t be disappointed in the views. Camelback Mountain is iconic. The views will leave you speechless.
Would you consider hiking up Camelback Mountain the next time you’re in the Phoenix area?