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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 Hike in Phoenix, Arizona

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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 recently found out. Normally I’m in the kitchen cooking on Christmas but the year we did this, 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.

Camelback Mountain hike – beware of bees at the trailhead

The first sign that greeted us at the 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

Hiking the Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain

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 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 a tough one 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. 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 mountain hike we ran into a human traffic jam
On the upper sections 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 the 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 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
Santa made our day
Superb views of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area from the summit
Superb views of the Phoenix-Scottsdale area from the summit
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 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 info for the Camelback hike

The hike gains approximately 1540 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. 

Park on Invergordon Street – where permitted for the Cholla Trailhead.

There are no fees to do the Camelback Mountain hike.

Dogs are no longer allowed.

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.

Further reading related to Arizona

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Camelback Mountain hike in Phoenix, Arizona

 

 

 

 

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