Spring Break in Arizona? Keep hiking!


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Whether you’re a baseball aficionado and want to see some spring training baseball, or just looking to get away from the cold weather for a little while, you may be like thousands of other Coloradans and travel to the Phoenix area during spring break. It’s easy to forget about exercising while soaking up the sun, watching baseball, enjoying a meal at Oreganos, a popular local Italian restaurant chain, or downing a few Kilt Lifter beers from Tempe-based Four Peaks Brewery, but don't forget to hike!

The Phoenix metro area has a lot of options for hiking; Some are easy, many are difficult, and most are extremely popular. If you’re a Manitou Incline fan, there’s even something for you.

Camelback Mountain is not only the one of the most recognizable natural features in the Phoenix skyline, it's also a very popular place for a quick hike. Locals and visitors flock to Camelback — it's somewhat a rite of passage for many. Located on the border of Phoenix and Paradise Valley, a small exclusive enclave wedged in between Phoenix and Scottsdale, the mountain has two trails covering 1200' in elevation gain to its summit. The Echo Canyon Trail, a 1.3-mile trail starting on the northwest side of the mountain, starts off fairly benign, but after a short distance it becomes very steep as it works its way up the narrow canyon that gives it its name. The trail is rough, and you’ll find yourself rock-hopping as you make your way up — and later, down — the trail until you find yourself at the summit.

One of the more challenging parts of the Echo Canyon Trail. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • One of the more challenging parts of the Echo Canyon Trail.

The Cholla Trail
, with its trailhead on the southeastern side of the mountain, is a bit longer at approximately 1.5-miles, but is no less a strenuous hike. The trail follows a steep winding path up the east side of the mountain until it reaches a small saddle. From there the trail requires some scrambling as it goes over and around large boulders until it reaches the summit. The small and sometimes crowded summit has fantastic views of the surrounding area.

A panoramic view of the surrounding area from Camelback Mountain. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • A panoramic view of the surrounding area from Camelback Mountain.

Due to the popularity of Camelback Mountain, and also extremely limited parking, consider getting there very early — before sunrise if possible. But don’t let this dissuade you from hiking the mountain. There's trolley service in place from Wednesday to Sunday during the month of March with stops at both trailheads. For more information go here.

Piestewa Peak as seen from Camelback Mountain. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Piestewa Peak as seen from Camelback Mountain.

Piestewa Peak
, another prominent peak in the Phoenix skyline and fairly close to Camelback Mountain, is another must-do hike while on spring break. The peak was re-named in 2008 after Lori Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Indian tribe in Arizona and the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the United States military.

The trail to the summit is not as difficult as the trails on Camelback Mountain, but there's still 1200’ of elevation gain in 1.2 miles that make it a strenuous hike. The views are just as outstanding as those from Camelback Mountain, and Piestewa Peak is part of the Phoenix Mountains recreation area which includes a large network of trails, many of them much easier than the summit trail. These trails make this recreation area a good family destination, especially when some family members may want to hike to the peak and others want to do something easier. Go here for more information.

The North Mountain/Shaw Butte Park, offers a wide array of hiking destinations — I've found the Shaw Butte hike to be very rewarding. It’s a more moderate hike than Camelback or Piestewa and still offers great views and a bit of history. The approach from the north side is a long, fairly steep incline with a more gradual winding trail on the south side. The hike back to the parking lot is on fairly level ground, allowing some recovery before getting back to your car. There are many other trails in the park, and many are rated as “easy” by the Phoenix Parks Department. Find more information here

A note about Phoenix in March: While here in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region it’s still firmly winter but it’s much warmer in Phoenix. I’ve experienced temperatures in the 90’s there in March, and the hot sunny, dry days can take a toll on you quickly. Remember to dress appropriately and bring along a lot of water. Rattlesnakes are a constant threat — and one of the main reasons you don’t see the local hikers venturing off trail. 

Happy (spring break) trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 24 years. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.


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