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