Peering over all of Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is one of the most scenic and popular hiking spots in the area, with views that undoubtedly make it worth its difficulty. Peaking at more than 2,700 feet in elevation in just under two and a half miles, Camelback’s summit offers spectacular views of Phoenix and Scottsdale and can be reached from the steep Echo Canyon Trail.
Even though my best friend and husband were joining me on this one during the winter, the blaring morning sun beat down on us and reminded us to stay hydrated. Trailhead signage warned to bring sun protection and to only drink half of our water supply on the way up, as the rest was needed coming down. We quickly learned that the desert is a whole different ball game when it comes to hiking, and even the sun alone can make even the most experienced climber break a sweat.
This one is considered difficult and more of a climb, with areas where long poles that ran parallel to the trail were used to pull oneself up towards the top. They were mounted in the ground to aid balance, like the ones used in ballet. At other points, folks needed to climb over giant red slabs of rock, hoisting themselves up with every limb. I thought that this hands-on element added a dimension of challenge to the hike that made it interactive despite the desert terrain. I was afraid this hike would be boring as I am used to the waterfalls, mountain tops, and wildlife in Washington, but it definitely kept me on my toes!
One element that surprised me was how busy the trail was. I knew from the get-go that it was a sought-after favorite in the area, but the full parking lot and crowded information center punctuated its popularity. I have never been on such a tourist-packed trail before, with hundreds of hikers on the mountain at once. This resulted in a tightly packed trek- almost touching the stranger in front and behind me as I climbed which was a shared annoyance between the crowd, as stumbling upon one another was not uncommon.
The last bit of the hike is the most testing, and I watched as unprepared tourists in sandals turned around one by one. This section can be deceiving, as you think you’re looking at the top of the trail when in reality, it is just the highest you can see at any given point. As I peered up towards what I thought was the top of the crumbling rock trail, heaving my way towards it, it seemed to inch away, revealing more work to do.
Finally summiting, the birds-eye views made me understand why this trail is such a hit. True, sweeping views stretched until the skyline cut them off in every direction I looked. It was interesting to me how the city lined the base of the mountain, cusping the edge with civilization. We finished this trail in about 2 hours, about the average according to AllTrails recordings by others who mustered up the courage to try it out themselves.
Something about Arizona forces you to slow down and reflect. Maybe it was the fact that our hands were literally pulling us up giant, cold slabs of red earth, but there was something about hiking Camelback Mountain that was extremely grounding, despite the crowd we moved amongst. Using our hands and being hyper-aware of the crumbling terrain forced us to be present, tuning into a primal flow that us humans don’t get to experience much anymore. Finishing the hike, we thanked the trail for our time and the connection that it strengthened between our small group, the others on the trail, and our time in the Southwest.
If you are interested in doing Camelback yourself and have any questions, feel free to email me or DM me on Instagram.