Are you planning on hiking Camelback Mountain? Here’s what you should know before attempting to hike this challenging rocky peak in downtown Phoenix, Arizona.
Did you know there’s a rocky mountain peak that rises up in the middle of downtown Phoenix, Arizona?
Actually, there’s more than one.
Phoenix is a gorgeous city with craggy mountain views whichever way you turn.
But the peak we hiked in downtown Phoenix is Camelback Mountain. Or as the park ranger at the trailhead put it, “the hardest hike in Phoenix.”
Camelback Mountain is a challenging, gorgeous hike that will reward you with hard-earned, sweeping views of downtown Phoenix.
After you hike Camelback, make sure to check out my other favorite hiking spots in Arizona. The Siphon Draw Trail, Hieroglyphic Trail, and Silly Mountain are all near Phoenix, and Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon are both within a few hours’ drive.
How Hard is the Hike Up Camelback Mountain?
This is an extremely strenuous hike.
There are actually two trails up the mountain (one on each side), and both are quite a workout.
The Echo Canyon Trail is 1.2-miles long (one-way) with a 1,423-foot elevation change. The Cholla Trail is a slightly longer 1.3-mile trail (one-way), but with slightly less elevation change of 1,161-feet.
Don’t be fooled by the relatively short trail distance: these trails are both challenging. Both include significant amounts of rock scrambling.
Which Trail Up Camelback Is Easier?
Neither are easy.
The Cholla Trail has less rock scrambling and less elevation-gain than the Echo Canyon Trail, but the Cholla Trail is also less clearly marked, and the rock scrambling on Cholla includes more exposed ledges.
I do not recommend either trail if you’re afraid of heights.
Which Trail Up Camelback Is Better?
If you’re up for the challenge, I recommend doing both trails!
Start at the Echo Canyon Trailhead, go all the way to the top of Camelback Mountain, and hike down the Cholla Trail.
You will not end up at the same location, but you can take an Uber back to your car. At the Cholla Trailhead, walk to the ridesharing meetup point (turn right and walk down the hill to the stop-light on North Invergordon Drive), and meet your Uber driver.
When we did the trail, it cost us about $7.50 (plus a tip!) to get a ride back to the other trailhead.
Getting There: Where Can I Park?
If you start at the Echo Canyon Trailhead, you can park in the parking lot.
This is an extra-popular trail, so get there early for a parking spot. Or circle the lot a few times and wait for someone to leave.
There is no parking or rideshare pickup at the Cholla Trailhead. Instead, park on North Invergordon Drive on the east side of Camelback Mountain.
What Time of Year Should I Hike Camelback Mountain?
This trail should be hiked in winter–because Phoenix doesn’t really have a winter, but boy does it have summer.
Hike Camelback Mountain from November to March, or basically whenever it’s not a million-bazillion degrees outside.
This trail is under a heat advisory from April to October. There is no shade. There are no water sources.
Camelback Mountain is in the southern Arizona desert, so in the summer heat you’ll also need to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and (disconcertingly) killer bees. Hike this trail in the winter when the snakes and bees are less active.
What Time of Day Should I Hike Camelback Mountain?
This trail is open from sunrise to sunset.
And apparently the rangers will ticket cars left in the lot at the exact time when the sun sets, so make sure you’re back at your car in time!
If you choose to hike this trail when it’s hot outside, make sure to start early and carry lots of water.
Camelback Mountain from the Echo Canyon Trail to the Summit
This trailguide will start at the Echo Canyon Trailhead to the summit and back down the Cholla Trail, but you can use it to inform your hike whichever route you take.
Start at the Echo Canyon Trailhead.
You’ll probably see a park ranger by the trailhead sign. You can see the ranger in the bright red hat in the photo below.
The day we hiked, the park ranger was very friendly and chatted with hikers as they started to make sure they knew what they were getting into.
He warned us that our trekking poles would be useless on the upward rock scramble section of the trail.
Start walking down the trail. It looks deceptively easy at the beginning.
You’ll quickly come to the Bobbi Rock Loop trail, a short and easy trail that you can do in addition (or instead of) the main trail if you want to.
We skipped it.
Keep going, and you’ll see the mountain looming closer and closer.
The path will also become more rocky.
After 3/8-of-a-mile, you’ll reach the Echo Saddle overlook.
Up to this point, the trail has been moderately difficult and you’ve gained 240 feet in elevation.
The trail gets exceptionally more difficult from this point on. The remaining 3/4-mile rises 1,024 feet in elevation and is rated extremely strenuous.
Use this point to evaluate your hike. If you’re already struggling, this is a good turn-around point.
If you decide to press onward, be prepared for rock scrambling.
Lots and lots of rock scrambling.
The trail rises steeply, with a chain-link fence blocking off the steep drop-offs.
When you pass the 1/2-mile marker, keep going. You’re still over a half-mile from the top.
The second half of the trail consists of large boulders.
Scramble over them and keep heading up.
Along the way, you’ll see lots of brown trail signs marking the way.
The Echo Canyon Trail is very clearly marked, and is also extremely popular. If you ever lose your way just ask (or follow) the other hikers.
If you need to stop and eat a snack, go for it. Drink lots of water.
And always step carefully, watching for loose rocks along the path.
When you see the 7/8-mile marker, you’re getting closer!
And finally, after hiking on Camelback Mountain for just over a mile, you’ll reach the summit.
Take some time to rest, eat a snack, drink water, and enjoy the views of Phoenix.
As you sit and enjoy the views from the summit, take a moment to look at the Cholla Trail from above.
In the photo below, you can see the Cholla Trail snaking its way across the green mountain in the background. If your eyes are sharp, you might even notice the hikers on the trail.
The Cholla Trail (in my opinion) is an easier descent than the Echo Canyon Trail because it’s less steep and has much less rock scrambling.
But the upper section of Cholla isn’t as clearly marked as the Echo Canyon Trail, and the trail itself might make you more nervous. Especially if you’re afraid of heights.
If you choose to skip the Cholla Trail, go back down the way you came. If you choose to hike down on the Cholla Trail, make sure you’ve got a way to get back to the Echo Canyon Trailhead (hello Uber!).
Hiking the Cholla Trail from the Summit of Camelback Mountain Down
Follow the brown sign that says Cholla Trail, and from this point on you’ll be following blue trail blazes.
Step very carefully on this section of the trail.
The Cholla Trail is always wide enough to stand comfortably (you’re never on a ledge), but definitely take time to make sure you understand where you should be walking.
Once you begin your descent, take time to turn around and view the summit of Camelback from below.
In my opinion, you get a much prettier view of Camelback Mountain from the Cholla Trail than you did from the Echo Canyon Trail.
And in case you didn’t take the summer heat advisory warning seriously before, check this out.
The Cholla Trail has a permanent rescue in progress sign, along with a helicopter landing area for rescues.
If that freaks you out, know that on a cool day, this trail is difficult but not ridiculous. I wasn’t even sore the day after we hiked it.
I cannot imagine hiking this trail in the summer heat.
If you happen to hike Camelback Mountain from the Cholla Trailhead up, stop when you reach the rescue in progress sign and assess your hike. You’ll have a clear view of the rock scrambling ahead, and at this point you can decide if you’re up for it.
If you’re hiking from the summit down, the rest of the trail will be much easier. From this point on, the trail is moderately difficult.
And of course, just like in Saguaro National Park, I had to take my mandatory posing-like-a-cactus photo.
Continue hiking down, down, down until you reach the trailhead.
Make sure to stop occasionally and enjoy the views.
When you reach the trailhead, walk to the sidewalk, turn right, and head downhill towards your car or rideshare pickup.
Did you hike this trail? Let me know how it went!