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Hiking Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona

A few hours of hiking Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona is a great way to spend part of Christmas day as we recently found out. Normally I’m in the kitchen cooking on Christmas but this year things were different. We were meeting my father and step-mother at the atmospheric Lons in the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley for a 4 pm Christmas dinner.

And we had nothing to do.

There were no presents to open and breakfast was finished by 10 – a very abnormal Christmas for all of us.

So we decided to hike to the top of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale. Apparently though, we weren’t the only ones not cooking that day. It felt like the whole world had descended on the mountain; it was especially noticeable as we had to park about a mile away from the trailhead.

And once at the trailhead this was the first sign that greeted us.

"Active bees in the area"

The bees have been a real problem in the past though I saw only a few on the day we hiked. Back in October 2012 a man was swarmed by bees and fell 150 feet to his death. Two others sustained 300 bee stings each – so the bees are to be taken seriously.

It’s a steep hike on the Cholla Trail for the majority of the distance – especially once you get past the helipad. And because of the huge number of people we were forced to slow down – sometimes because the people in front were quite obviously clueless about all the people they were holding up. At times it was an exercise in patience – which is not my forte.

"Views of Scottsdale part way up Camelback Mountain"

Views of Scottsdale part way up

Despite the sheer number of people …and dogs, it’s a great hike. You do feel like you get a workout and the views of Scottsdale are superb.

"Almost a traffic jam on Camelback Mountain"

At the helicopter landing – about midway up the mountain

"There are some good drop offs in places"

There are some good drop offs in places

"A few saguaro cacti make an appearance"

A few saguaro cacti make an appearance

"On the upper sections we ran into human traffic jams "

On the upper sections we ran into a human traffic jam

"You do have to pick your way up the mountain in the upper section"

You do have to pick your way up the mountain in the upper section

"View at the top of Camelback Mountain"

View at the top of Camelback Mountain

When we arrived at the summit of the mountain – after perhaps 45 minutes – we were in for a real treat – truly one of the highlights of our visit to Scottsdale. Santa and a fully decorated tree were there – handing out candy canes to the good people – and lumps of coal to the bad ones. Most guys got coal. Then Santa posed for photos. He told me he brought 700 candy canes to the summit and this was the first year he’d done it.

Santa, you made our day. It finally felt like Christmas on the summit of Camelback Mountain.

"A Christmas surprise - Santa, a decorated tree and candycanes"

A Christmas surprise – Santa, a decorated tree and candycanes

"Scottsdale laid out before us"

Scottsdale laid out before us

"One of the sections that gets jammed "

One of the sections that gets jammed

If you haven’t hiked Camelback Mountain do it. Take lots of water, wear sturdy shoes and don’t wear black unless you love the heat. Take your time as the footing can be tricky. One woman was being airlifted off the mountain when we were there because of a head injury – but still that shouldn’t stop you. Accidents happen and most can be prevented. If you are unsure of hiking on the steeper sections then hike at least as far as the helipad. You won’t regret it.

Some useful Camelback Mountain info:

  • The hike gains approximately 1200 feet over 1.6 miles if you start at the Cholla Trailhead.
  • There is a steeper trail – via Echo Canyon that is 1.2 miles long one way. But it is currently under repair and scheduled to reopen early in 2014.
  • Park on Invergordon Street – where permitted for the Cholla Trailhead.
  • There are no fees.
  • Dogs are allowed.
  • Start super early in the warm months as this would be one hot trail.

Have you hiked Camelback Mountain? Which trail do you prefer to hike?

Other posts related to Arizona you might like:

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • Who could resist such a beautiful day in the mountains in Scottsdale! What an extraordinary way to spend a Christmas Day!! Gorgeous photography too my friend!

    • @Jeff It seemed that everyday was a beautiful day in Scottsdale. I think we saw clouds once in a week! We’ve always wanted to be active on Christmas day but never have been able to until this year.

  • I took a close look at your pics to see if I could spot my niece — she hikes Camelback regularly. I didn’t know that it gets so crowded there. I usually hike a different mountain in Phoenix when I’m there since it’s close to my aunt’s house. Spectacular views from all of the peaks in that area.

  • John McAdam says:

    Man, was Santa taking a risk. Hitting on all the babes while their husbands and boyfriends looked on. And then to make it worst he hands the husbands/boyfriends a lump of coal! It was very surprising that Santa and his tree didn’t end up parasailing off the top of Camelback. What a way to meet girls though. Good work Santa! signed not really irate husband

  • Mike says:

    Oh my gosh this brings back fond memories, Leigh! My ex worked for the airlines and we spent MANY weekends/layovers in Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. Your pictures paint it spot on as beautiful as I remember it. She and I never climbed Camelback but the minute I saw your post title I was “transported” back to great times with her! Yikes on the bees, though, and I’m glad you came out unscathed :)

  • Cindy says:

    Wow! You have been spending quite a lot of time roaming the states this winter. Looks like a good time too. Where else are you headed?

    What I want to see though are shots from dinner at Lons. We celebrated our anniversary there one year, with a lovely dinner with friends on the patio.

    I’ll be in AZ in another month – are you going to have more recommendations for us?

    • @Cindy Funny how travel goes. You don’t visit an area for some time and then you’re suddenly there a lot. I have one more trip to the States in February – skiing in Alta, Utah and then that’s it for a while.
      Would have loved taking photos at Lons but my father doesn’t approve. We ate at Veneto Tarttoria – don’t but go a few restaurants down to Binks or Zinks – highly recommended by friends in Calgary and wish we’d gone. The Herb Box – down near Fashion Square is supposed to be very good. Drive the Apache Trail if you can.

      Headed to Montreal in January and have a 10 day cross country ski trip to Algonquin Park, the Gatineau, the Laurentians & Quebec City planned for late February. The summer is nuts again but not quite as nuts as next year.

  • Muza-chan says:

    Very beautiful place…

  • Prasad Np says:

    Looks like an interesting hike..I too hiked on Christmas here in India, yet to write about the same as I am traveling again.

    Those bee stories are scary, recently a friend while climbing stairs of a Pagoda in Myanmar got stung by them and took a fall, fortunately only a wrist broke and nothing serious. But I get the message.

    Safe travels and a very Happy New Year.

  • I love that you met Santa up there :) That is such an awesome and festive picture of you guys. My girlfriends and I thought about a hike to Camelback last April during a weekend getaway but didn’t get around to it. We’ll definitely have to do it next time. The views are great and looks like a lovely hike despite the traffic jam. Glad you got to spend the holidays with family in warm weather. Wishing you the very best in 2014, Leigh!

  • Laurel says:

    What a fun and unusual way to spend Christmas! The views look amazing!

    • @Laurel I think when you grow up with snow at Christmas it never really feels like Christmas without it. It’s always a treat though to have non-stop sunshine & slightly longer days in December.

  • What a change from the typical Christmas morning! I could handle spending Christmas in Arizona but I don’t think my kids or my husband would ever go for it – they all like the traditional white Christmas! Happy New Year and all the best for 2014!!

    • @Lisa I think when you grow up with snow it’s hard to enjoy the places without snow – after Christmas definitely but really I prefer to be home for the holidays. Next year we will plan to be around and then perhaps take off three days after Christmas for somewhere warmer.

  • Cacti here are higher and higher than in Italy. And… be careful of bees. A man died in Northern Italy last summer due to an allergy.

  • Kirsten @ Green Global Travel says:

    What an amazing hike! Gorgeous photos.

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