I am happy to share that in had an incredible time exploring the unique Phoenix area with my niece Alex. It was early March of 2017 and our first trip together. We had such a blast doing such things as the OdySea Aquarium, and the Open Air Market, that we planned another trip together next year, lol. Sadly that hasn’t worked out, but hopefully, we can again soon. Anyway, while in the Phoenix area we were able to visit beautiful South Mountain Park. Apparently, it is the largest municipal park in the United States and is one of the largest urban parks in North America. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.
We could see why it is a Point of Pride, as it is a stunning park. Originally known as the Salt River Mountains, South Mountain Park was formed in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge sold its initial 13,000 acres to the city of Phoenix for $17,000. Crazy to think how much that would be today.
The park’s lookout point rises over 1000 feet above the desert floor. Beyond the roads leading to ramadas and the summit, the park features 58 miles of trails for cycling, hiking, and horseback riding. Much of the original park infrastructure was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s. The landmark Mystery Castle is located within its foothills, but we didn’t see it. However, we did see many people on bikes and a few horses. It was very peaceful. Granted it was on a Thursday afternoon, but it was beautiful and peaceful.
We were both shocked at how many different types of cacti there were, and how tall some of them were. It was crazy. We tried to do some research, but there were so many. The only ones I knew off the top of my head were the Saguaro, which seemed to be most abundant, and the Prickly Pear. There weren’t as many of those, but they were cool to see.
South Mountain Park is also notable for its chuckwalla population. With an average of 65 chuckwallas per hectare, South Mountain has the highest density of chuckwallas that has ever been reported. Further, male chuckwallas at South Mountain exhibit a “carrot tail” phenotype, which is unique to this population. Sadly we didn’t see any of these, but I would have loved to have seen one. Maybe we will get lucky next time.
When we got to the top, we had an amazing view of the valley below and downtown Phoenix in the distance. There were a few people up there taking pictures, and we all commented on how beautiful the desert is, but how deadly it can be too. It was a warm day, but I wouldst have been happy to be up there when it was 100+ degrees. Below is a map of the park and some of its trails.
However, our trip in early March was a perfect time to explore this incredible mountain area. It is only a few minutes from Phoenix and a great place to park at one of the dedicated parking areas and take a little walk or park at one of the trailheads and take a full day hike. Here is a link to their website with more info and hours. Enjoy, be safe, and bring lots of water no matter what time of year you visit. Below is a list of some of the main trails.
South Mountain Park Trails:
Alta Trail – Amongst the least traveled paths in the park, the 4.5 mile Alta Trail climbs to the top of the Ma Ha Tuak Range that makes up the northwest part of the South Mountains and follows all along the top of the ridge.
Bajada Trail – The 2-mile Bajada Trail runs close to the San Juan Road near a sizeable dry wash, encountering a variety of desert plants while staying fairly level.
Beverly Canyon Trail – From a large parking area at the end of S 46th St, this path ascends gradually up a valley and joins the Pima Canyon Road after 1.5 miles.
Desert Classic Trail – On the south side of the park, this lesser-used path links the Pima Canyon and Desert Foothills Parkway entrances, staying fairly level as it winds past the edge of the mountains, over many dry washes. The total length is 9 miles.
Geronimo Trail – For 1.6 miles this trail climbs the bouldery hills on the north side of the mountains, between Dobbins Road (the far east end) and Buena Vista lookout.
Holbert Trail – The Holbert route takes hikers 800 feet up into the hills, beginning near the park entrance and reaching Telegraph Pass Road near Buena Vista viewpoint after 2.5 miles.
Javelina Canyon Trail – This is one of several routes that link with the National Trail, starting at the northeast corner of the park along 46th St and climbing along with a dry wash for 1.7 miles to the intersection, at the end of the dirt portion of Pima Canyon Road.
Kiwanis Trail – At one mile Kiwanis is the shortest of the paths that climb the north mountain slopes; it links Telegraph Pass Road with a side road close to the park entrance.
Mormon Trail – A 1.1-mile route that climbs about 1,000 feet from the 24th St entrance to a junction with the National Trail at the edge of Hidden Valley, the Mormon Trail forms part of a testing 6-mile loop together with the Geronimo Trail.
Telegraph Pass Trail -Short (1.5 miles) and partly paved but fairly steep, the Telegraph Pass Trail runs between the southern park entrance just off Desert Foothills Parkway and a mountain pass along the park road to Dobbins Lookout.
Here is a list of where some of the trailheads start. Couldn’t find all of them, but it is quite a few of them anyway.
Park Main Entrance: 10409 S Central Ave
19th Ave Trailhead: 10500 S 19th Ave
Mormon Trailhead: 8610 S 24th St
Beverly Canyon Trailhead: 8800 S 46th St
Pima Canyon Trailhead: 9904 S 48th St
Telegraph Pass Trailhead: 14251 S Desert Foothills Pkwy
Trailhead Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Gated entrances will close at 7, but trails remain open until 11 p.m. Safe hiking.
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