Ten Alternate Trails to Hike While Camelback Echo Canyon is Closed

I’ve see a few tweets that will surely piss off a Phoenix Hiker or two.

According to azcentral.com, the Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback Mountain may not be open until January 2014, a solid 2 months later that the originally scheduled November date. I’ve seen other tweets say that Valley hikers might be waiting even longer due to delays in the trail renovations, parking lot expansion, and bathroom construction.

These tweets don’t piss off this Phoenix hiker, however. Because I have options. In fact, I have 81 of them which I will share with you in late November when my book is released.

In the meantime, though there’s no replacing the Echo Canyon Trail, here are quick summaries of ten alternate trails that offer some of the same features of that valley favorite.

Camelback Cholla Trail at your service.

Camelback Cholla Trail at your service.

Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain

3.6 miles, 1,300 ft. elevation gain

Did you know there’s a trail on the other side of the mountain? With constant climbing, heavy scrambling, and views from the very same summit reached via the Echo Canyon Trail, the Cholla Trail will surely satisfy your need for climbing Camelback Mountain. The similarities to Echo Canyon don’t end there…the parking is a nightmare. With no proper parking lot, hikers must park parallel along Invergordon Street then walk to the trailhead.

Piestewa Peak Summit Trail in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

2.4 miles, 1,200 ft. elevation gain

This one’s a no-brainer. Wildly popular, the Piestewa Peak Summit trail demands hard-core huff n’ puff all the way up. And up. With barely any reprieve from the climbing, Echo lovers will feel that scathing lung burning they crave. No scrambling efforts required here except for the parking. It’s crowded at the trailhead but there are other parking lots within walking distance.

Holbert Trail at South Mountain

3.6 miles, 950 ft. elevation gain

Like making it to the top? This trail will take you to the highest point accessible in all of South Mountain park at Dobbins Lookout, 2,330 feet. This one’s a more subtle burn but offers plenty of sweat-filled climbing as you make your way to the stone-stacked structure which marks your endpoint. The big difference here is that reaching the top means running into non-hikers who opted for the mountain drive, accessible by car. But with views of the entire city, you’ll barely notice.

Black Mountain in Cave Creek

2.2 miles, 1,275 ft elevation gain

It’s really no secret that Black Mountain is Cave Creek’s Camelback Mountain. It’s a hefty grunt all the way up this rocky trail with zippo switchbacks to ease the pain. Make it to the top and you’ll be treated to views that rival Camelback’s. It may be a drive but it’s right off the main drag in Cave Creek so treat yourself to a burger and beer afterward.

My husband. Sweaty and sexy on the Sunrise Trail.

My husband. Sweaty and sexy on the Sunrise Trail.

Sunrise Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve (aka McDowell Mountains)

3.7 miles, 1,100 ft elevation gain

To put it simply, this is a stellar hike. The trail and trail head are brand new, beautifully maintained, and in a nice area of North Scottsdale. Reaching Sunrise Peak guarantees clear views of your beloved Camelback as well as the Phoenix Mountains, the Supersitions, Four Peaks…you can even see the Fountain Hills fountain’s massive projectile of vertical water if you time it right.

Tom’s Thumb Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve (aka McDowell Mountains)

4.1 miles, 1,325 ft elevation gain

Okay, so when you’re on Camelback and you’re looking north, you’re looking at the McDowell Mountains. Have you ever noticed the single, rocky protrusion that looks like a teeny little thumb? That’s Tom’s Thumb. And after you sweat your way up this challenging trail, it won’t be teeny. In fact, it’s so huge, you can barely wrap your head around its massiveness.

Pinnacle Peak Trail

2.9 miles, 1,000 ft elevation gain

This trail offers the same Scottsdale fanciness that the Echo Canyon Trail boasts. Nice area of town, beautiful trail, and tons of opportunity to stare into rich peoples’ backyards. This trail is less of a summit hike and more of an up, down, up, down…turn around and do it all backwards kind of hike. You’ll love it.

Image credit: www.jfryhale.com

Start early. Pack water, gloves, food, and your courage. Climbing to the flatiron could be the best hike of your life.

Siphon Draw Trail to the Flatiron in Superstition Mountains

5.8 miles, 2,750 ft elevation gain

I am going to say this now and I’m sorry if you’re offended. This hike is way, way, waaaaayyyy better than Camelback Mountain. Six miles. Vertical climbs. Merciless crawling over boulders. And the absolute most breathtaking I-am-on-top-of-the-mother-fucking-world-right-now views. If you love Camelback, you must do this hike.

Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak

3 miles, 1,900 ft elevation gain

To the timid, this trail is downright terrifying. But if you like the steep parts on Camelback when you have to grip those bars, you’ll adore this trail. It’s one of the few in the U.S. that boasts via ferrata climbing — Italian for “iron road”. Picture this: rockface, metal cables, and you gripping the cables while hanging on for dear life as you climb your way to the summit. Chickens, you’re going to want to sit this one out.

Elden Lookout Trail in Flagstaff, AZ

5.1 miles, 2.400 ft elevation gain

Admittedly, this requires a lot more driving on your part. But if you can zip up Camelback Echo Canyon Trail, it’s time to up your game, friend. This trail is about 5 miles roundtrip with 2.400 feet in elevation gain. It’s like two Piestewa Peaks stacked on top of each other surrounded by thin, Flagstaff air. No bones about it — you’ll feel like a serious badass after you finish this one.

Want to know more about these trails? You’ll read all about them in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores late November and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.


By BenedictFrancis, Flickr Creative Commons.

Each day is a gift!

I often wonder how I managed to survive my youth.

Here’s a delightful run-down of all the things I did that could have got me killed or, at the very least, arrested.

When I was 15, a group of us explored the legendary underground tunnels of Phoenix. We sneaked into the Hyatt through a utility entrance, climbed through a wall, and shimmied down some pipes to get there. The “tunnels” are really just a bunch of depressing and abandoned offices. When we surfaced, we were in a completely different building.

Shortly after, this same group of kids decided to visit the abandoned dog tracks off the I-10 West. It was Thanksgiving night. We arrived and there were three unmarked vans (the kind without windows) parked by the structure. We could see flashlight beams coming from one of the upper levels. My friends insisted we were safe. I feared rape and torture. I ran back to the car and they followed.

Desperate for any chance to drink beer, my fellow 16-year-old pals and I spent an evening in a South Phoenix apartment drinking cans of Bud Light. The electricity had been turned off and there was no running water. As we gathered around a fire in the middle of the living room, someone came in and pulled a gun. No big deal.

Speaking of fires, my mischievous older brother got in trouble for building a small fire in our backyard when we were very young. There was a bucket filled with water nearby so my mom gave me permission to pour the water on the fire. I dumped it over the flames and then I was violently jerked away. It wasn’t water. It was paint thinner.

I drove drunk. A lot.

Lou and I didn’t pay attention to the instructions in my hiking book and went on a four-mile trek to Picacho Peak without recommended supplies or a proper meal in our stomachs. By the end, we had dangled from wires on the sheer sides of rocks. Multiple times. Luckily, we avoided falling to our deaths. Instead, we walked away with sunburns, the need for a tetanus shot, and the memory of multiple emotional breakdowns.