. Hiking Camelback Mountain on the Cholla trail : Budget Travel Adventures

Hiking Camelback Mountain on the Cholla trail

Hiking Camelback Mountain panoramic views summit

Hiking Camelback Mountain – rewarding views from a tough hike

The weather was warm  and mild on this winter Arizona day.  I awoke later than expected after a great game at the Fiesta Bowl and a fun night in Scottsdale.  Now I was ready to take on the best hiking destination in Phoenix – Camelback Mountain.

I’ve hiked some of the best hiking trails in Tahoe so I was excited about hiking Camelback Mountain.  With a summit at 2700 feet, locals and tourists tackle this popular trail every day for the exercise and the views.

However, the hike up Camelback Mountain was more difficult than I expected.

Hiking Camelback Mountain – Echo Canyon or Cholla trail?

There wasn’t a better place to be on a mild, sunny day than on the trail to Camelback Mountain.

For Arizona, sunshine and 60 degree temperatures are perfect for hiking Camelback Mountain.  Now I needed to decide which trail I would hike.

After reading this review of the Echo Canyon and Cholla trails, I evaluated the pros and cons of each trail.

Echo Canyon is a little shorter at 1.2 miles each way.  However, this ascent was supposed to be a little more difficult with the thighs and hamstrings burning within 30 seconds of the hike.  While this trail challenges even the fittest hikers, it’s also the most popular Camelback trail with some rewarding views on the climb.

Cholla Trail was a bit longer at 1.5 miles to the top and a little less scenic on the way.  While the climb is steep, it’s much more gradual at the beginning than Echo Canyon.  During the last part of the hike, you’ll need to climb some granite to make it to the top.

Going against my nature, I chose the more popular trail at Echo Canyon because I wanted to feel the burn hiking Camelback Mountain.  Unfortunately the popularity of this hike, even on a Friday, meant the parking lot was full.

So I drove to the other side of Camelback, parked on Invergordon Road, and walked the half mile up the hill to the Cholla trail.

Hiking Camelback Mountain – the Cholla Trail

As I began the hike, I met a local hiker and asked him what he thought of the trail.  Mike had done this trail many times and used to run to the top and back down in 40 minutes.

For the challenge, he preferred the Echo Canyon trail.  However, both trails were physical tests of endurance but the rewards were worth it.   Today, this was the most crowded he had ever seen the Echo Canyon trail.  So like me, the Cholla trail it was.

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail

A slow ascent up the Cholla Trail

Small piles of rocks that switch backed up the side of the mountain welcomed me on the first 20 minutes of the hike.  While the views weren’t great, my heart pounded as my body enjoyed the physical strains of the climb.

As I made my way higher, small rocks became a steep dirt trail. The views got a little better as a golf course and valley came into view.

Hiking Camelback Mountain golf course valley Cholla trail

Views of the valley below before the difficult part of the Cholla trail begins

My heart beat faster, my face was flushed, and my breathing became heavier as the trail became more difficult.  As I made it to what seemed like the top, I was rewarded with better views.

Now the difficult part began.

A difficult ascent to the top of Camelback Mountain

I paused to catch my breath, drink some water, and take a photo as I enjoyed the views.  Even on a mild winter day in Phoenix, hiking Camelback Mountain was more difficult than I expected.

I had made it 2/3 of the way but the last part looked daunting.  While I love to challenge and push myself when hiking, the peak of Camelback Mountain would be tough.

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail Jeremy Branham

A photo before the difficult climb to the top

I wasn’t even close to the top.

Tired but determined, I began the steep and rocky climb.  Near the top, I used my hands and feet to pull myself up and find solid footing on the narrow trail.  Looking over the edge, I could see the rocks and cacti below.

Rock climbing it wasn’t but injuries and falls can occur.  I was cautious, breathing hard, and nervous but kept moving.

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail

A difficult hike

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail

Near to the top, but a tough climb

After a grueling 30 minute hike (maybe more), I reached the top.  I was rewarded with panoramic views of red dust, green parks and grasses, and Arizona mountains.  Staring at the ridges rising to meet the skyline, my mind wondered what grand canyons and peaks lie beyond.

Snapshots and smiles of satisfaction surrounded me.  At the top, people posed for photos and shared their stories.  I met two hikers from Colorado and a couple of Kansas State students here for the game. We paused to catch our breath, share a few stories, and enjoy the amazing scenery.

Hiking Camelback Mountain summit Cholla Trail Jeremy Branham

The views from the top

Hiking Camelback Mountain panoramic view

A panoramic view from the top of Camelback Mountain

Hiking Camelback mountain summit view

Another amazing views from the summit

After spending an hour at the top of Camelback Mountain, I made my way back down to the bottom.  What seemed like a long, treacherous hike scaling over rocks and pounding the trails, the climb back down was daunting but much easier and quicker.

Isn’t that the way those uphill climbs in life seem to be?

As I made my way to the bottom, I reflected on my hike up Camelback Mountain.

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla trail

On the way down

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail descent

The views on the hike back down the trail

This is one of the most difficult hikes I have done.  However, perseverance, hard work, sweat, encouragement, and shared satisfaction made getting to the top so much more rewarding.

Next time, I’ll try another challenge on the Echo Canyon trail.  However, I enjoyed my grueling hike, rewarding views, and a travel life lesson learned from a mountain top in Phoenix.

Tips for hiking Camelback Mountain

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail entrance sunset

Beginning of the Cholla Trail head at sunset

While hiking Camelback mountain is a popular outdoor activity for both locals and tourists, there are some travel tips and warnings you should follow.

This trail is difficult and is rated as a strenuous hike.  Small children should be extremely careful when hiking this trail as it can be dangerous.  Whether you are on Echo Canyon or Cholla, injuries have occurred on the narrow, rocky trails as many people have been rescued from the mountain.

During the summer, temperatures can get VERY hot in Phoenix.  While you shouldn’t hike in the mid afternoon sun, use precautions when hiking Camelback Mountain all year round.  Heat exhaustion is the cause of many mountain rescues.

If you are hiking Camelback Mountain, use these tips to stay safe.

Hike with a partner or friend and always let someone else know where you are hiking too.

Wear sunscreen.  Even on a mild winter day, the Arizona sun can be powerful.

Bring lots of water – Many people can get dehydrated and thirsty hiking Camelback.

Don’t hike in hot temperatures – the Arizona heat and Camelback can be a dangerous combination.

Know your limits.  If the climb seems too difficult, don’t be afraid to turn back.  It’s not worth risking injury or death.

Beware of bees.  Bees are common along the trails and bee attacks can be an issue on the mountain.  Know what to do if you are attacked by bees.

Wear loose fitting clothes and a hat.  Protect your arms and face when hiking during the summer heat.

Wear proper hiking shoes

The cost of hiking Camelback Mountains is free.  Currently the Echo Canyon trail is closed from late January 2013 until Fall 2013.  Get more information on hiking Camelback Mountain including trail information, parking, and more at the City of Phoenix Parks and Trails.

If you enjoyed hiking Camelback Mountain, read more of my hiking reviews and trails including my Yosemite in Winter travel photography series as well as my hiking guide for northern California.

Have you hiked Camelback Mountain?  What’s been the most challenging trail or travel adventure you’ve had to overcome?

 Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla trail

Hiking Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail summit

A final view from the summit

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  1. I have had this hike on our list for a while now. It looks like a nice one but it will be at least another year before we are in that area again.

    • It’s not a long hike at all. You can easily do it in a day. I didn’t even start until 1 pm and had plenty of time. However, it’s a tough hike (or maybe I was just out of hiking shape in winter). This hike is much tougher in the summer sun. So if you go then, bring plenty of water and take precautions.

  2. Andrea says:

    Those views are incredible! Definitely worth the effort

    • It was a good hike and a great workout. A bit more difficult than I expected but the views were rewarding. I would love to do it again and try the Echo Canyon trail. Unfortunately, that one is closed for the next few months.

      If this was tough in winter, you can imagine how brutal this hike would be in the desert sun during summer.

  3. Thanks for the pictures and description. Now I do not have to hike it. Not that I was planing on it :) because I am not a good hiker.

    People have to be rescued off Camelback all the time. Especially in the summer. You would be surprised how many people try to hike it in flip flops.

    • Camelback was tougher than I expected. Yes, I did read a lot about people being rescued off of there. I think most of that was during the summer when the heat is incredibly intense. I can only imagine what it’s like hiking that in the summer.

      Glad I did this so you don’t have to do it now :)

  4. Glenn Barker says:

    Great photos! We lived in Tucson for a while before moving to Ohio, and reading your blog post really made me miss days hiking in Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Foothills. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Glenn. That must have been quite a change from Tucson to Ohio. I was in Ohio in September last year and Phoenix in January. Definitely two different winter experiences for sure!

      I’ve been to Arizona and few times now but haven’t made it to Tucson. What places do you recommend there? Are Sabino Canyon and Catalina Foothills the best places to hike?

      • Glenn Barker says:

        Sabino Canyon is a wonderful place with a variety of trails depending on the amount of time you have to spend, your ability, etc. The Saguaro National Park in Tucson is another very cool place to check out. The national park is actually divided into two sections with each having its own character. I really like Saguaro National Park – West.

        If you have the time and want to see something a little unexpected while in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, take a few hours’ drive up to Mt. Lemon. It is truly a long and winding road to the top of the 9,100-foot-tall mountain peak with several different interesting hiking trails along the way. When you go, I look forward to lots of great photos!

        • Thanks for the tips Glenn. Saguaro National Park sounds like a place I would love. As for Mt Lemon, I didn’t realize there was that much elevation in southern Arizona. I really appreciate the suggestions. Now I need to get to Tucson!

  5. Erik says:

    I’m sure the views were worth it, but I agree, hiking in the desert is something that requires caution and preparation. It can be dangerous, even in the off-season, if people aren’t smart about it.

    You were and you have awesome pictures and a great experience to prove it!!!

    • After hiking Camelback in very comfortable temperatures, I couldn’t imagine doing it in the heat of summer. Yes, it can be very dangerous. That’s why there are lots of rescues there every year. That’s why I wanted to include the tips in here. People need to be prepared when hiking Camelback. It’s a popular trail with great views but people need to know the risks and be prepared.

      Glad you liked the hike and photos Erik. It was a beautiful day!

  6. Jenna says:

    FUN! I love the contrast between the nature and the city below. Glad you made it to the top without any problems even though it was hard.

    • THanks Jenna. It was a tough hike but amazing views. This area is so unique with the mountains, desert, and so many cities around the Phoenix area (Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale, etc). I don’t do a lot of big city mountain hikes with views like this as I typically do nature and outdoor hikes.

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