Camelback Mountain Hike in Phoenix, Arizona

You can some sense of how busy the Cholla Trail can get from this photo

The Camelback Mountain hike in Phoenix, Arizona is one of the more popular hikes in the Scottsdale, Phoenix, Paradise Valley area.

The hike is a great way to spend part of Christmas day as we found out. Normally I’m in the kitchen cooking on Christmas but the year we did the Camelback Mountain hike, 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 AM – a very abnormal Christmas for all of us.

So we decided to do the Camelback Mountain hike. 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.

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Camelback Mountain hike summary

Distance: 1.6 miles one way if you start at the Cholla Trailhead

Elevation gain: Approximately 1,540 feet.

Steeper option: Echo Canyon – 1.2 miles long one way. 

Time needed: About 1.5 – 2 hours return

Parking: Invergordon Street – where permitted for the Cholla Trailhead.

Trailhead for the Camelback Mountain hike: 5191 N Invergordon Rd, Paradise Valley

Fees: None for the Camelback Mountain hike.

Dogs: Not allowed.

Good to know: Start super early in the warm months as this would be one hot trail. Take lots of water and sturdy footwear.

Be patient: Approximately 450,000 people a year hike this mountain so it can be hard to beat the crowds.

For more information visit the Phoenix Parks website.

t's a steep hike up Camelback Mountain
It’s a steep hike up Camelback Mountain

Sign up for a guided tour of Camelback

Unsure about hiking Camelback Mountain? Sign up with Viator for a Camelback Mountain guided experience. Guides are EMT’s or wilderness first responders!

Beware of bees at the Camelback trailhead

The first sign that greeted us at the Camelback Mountain hike trailhead is the one you see below.

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.

Beware of bees on the Camelback Mountain hike
Beware of bees on the Camelback Mountain hike

Camelback Mountain hike from the Cholla Trailhead

It’s a steep hike on the Cholla Trail for the majority of the distance up Camelback Mountain – especially once you get past the helipad.

Because of the huge number of hikers 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 the Camelback Mountain hike was an exercise in patience – which is not my forte.

Views of Scottsdale part way up
Views of Scottsdale part way up

The Camelback Mountain hike is tough even though it’s popular

Despite the sheer number of people and dogs when we did it, this is one great hike. You do feel like you get a workout and the views of Scottsdale and Phoenix are superb on the Camelback Mountain hike. But don’t underestimate the difficulty.

Hikers consistently get into trouble on this hike – primarily because of the heat and ending up off trail. There are plenty of falls too – and probably the reason for the heli-pad part way up the mountain. We did see someone getting lifted off. 

Be really smart about foot placement, staying on route and taking sunscreen , a sunhat and lots of water. Get an early start to beat the heat.

Just past the helicopter landing - about midway up the mountain
Just past the helicopter landing – about midway up the mountain
Good drop-offs in places along the hike
On Camelback Mountain there are some good drop-offs
A few saguaro cacti make an appearance
A few saguaro cacti make an appearance
On the upper sections of the Camelback Mountain hike we ran into a human traffic jam
On the upper sections of the Camelback Mountain hike we ran into a human traffic jam
You do have to pick your way up the mountain in the top section
You do have to pick your way up Camelback Mountain in the top section
View at the top of Camelback Mountain
View at the top of Camelback Mountain

Surprise on the summit of Camelback Mountain

When we arrived at the summit of Camelback 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
Santa made our day
Superb views of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area from the summit of Camelback Mountain
Superb views of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area from the summit of Camelback Mountain
You can some sense of how busy the Cholla Trail can get from this photo
You can some sense of how busy the Cholla Trail can get from this photo
Camelback Mountain traffic jam
Camelback Mountain hike traffic jam

If you haven’t done the Camelback Mountain  hike, 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.

Further reading related to travel and hiking in Arizona

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The Camelback Mountain hike in Phoenix, Arizona






  1. 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.

    1. @Calogero The Saguaro cacti are really interesting plants.The first arm doesn’t usually develop until they are 75 years old. They can be live to be several hundred years old. Trust me after reactions to bees, I take their presence very seriously.

  2. @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.

    1. @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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

    1. @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.

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

    1. @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.

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