Camelback Mountain & Flatiron Peak | Phoenix Hiking Guide
When visiting Phoenix, Arizona, there is so much to do, see and explore. If you're anything like me, climbing to the top of every mountain peak is probably already high on your list. No matter where you are staying or living, you are never far from an incredible outdoor desert adventure, and there is always something new to do around every corner!
While we did not end up camping in the Phoenix area as we had planned, at the beautiful Lost Dutchman State Park, we did have a chance to make some day trips down to Phoenix from Camp Verde, and partake in a few breathtaking and challenging mountain hikes.
Camelback Mountain & Flatiron Peak
Arguably the two most challenging peaks in the Phoenix area, conquering these mountains is no easy task - but it can be done! I'm no hiking pro, by any means, in fact I've never even gone for an overnight backpacking/hiking trip before. But I love to get outdoors in nature and consider myself a hiking enthusiast. I love finding new mountain tops to climb and new views to take in. We have completed probably around 100 hikes in just a year of full-time RVing and they have varied from just a mile or two to around 10 or so miles. We prefer day hikes and those that fit our fitness level. Without a doubt, these two hikes are more strenuous in nature, and some of the hardest we have ever done, but I will break things down for you so you can better understand what you're getting yourself into should you choose to explore them!
Camelback Mountain | Camelback Mountain Recreational Area (Scottsdale)
Camelback Mountain, with a total elevation of 2,704 feet, is a super excellent hike or climb in Phoenix. It is a popular tourist activity, fairly quick to complete, and located in the middle of the Phoenix Valley with great views!
Distance: 2.4 miles via Echo Canyon or 2.8 miles via Cholla Trail
Two trails to pick from: Echo Canyon Trail or Cholla Trail
(*Echo Canyon is steeper and Cholla Trail is longer*)
Elevation gain: 1,423 feet via Echo Canyon Trail or 1,250 via Cholla Trail
Route type: Out and back
Park entrance fee: Free, if you can find a spot
Restrooms: Available at trail-head for Echo Canyon, but they are not available at Cholla Trail
Time estimate: 2 hours for an intermediate hiker. Definitely expect longer if you are not experienced with steep climbs and rock scrambling.
What to bring: Plenty of water per person, I would recommend at least a gallon. It can be very hot to climb in the Arizona sun and there is not much shade offered. Professional hiking shoes are not necessary but recommended to have a no slip grip. I completed this hike in "regular" sneakers. Make sure to bring snacks to refuel your body and eat at the top of the peak once you complete the climb!
What to expect: The Echo Canyon trail is rated as difficult and it is very steep in nature with loose and slippery rocks throughout most of the trail. There are also spots where it is required to hang on to a metal hand bar that is positioned on the trail to get through the climb. The top of the mountain can get crowded and there is not a ton of room, so be sure to watch the edges and take a look before sitting on rocks to pause and rest. There are plenty of great photo opportunities of the surrounding areas!
*While descending back down the mountain please be cautious of your step as the rocks are loose and slippery and it is steep in many places.*
The Cholla Trail also states that it is very steep and may not be best for those afraid of heights. The trail still has loose rock and still involves minor rock scrambling. However parking for this trail may be less of a challenge than Echo Canyon, and you may have a chance of encountering wildlife here as well!
Camelback Mountain is one of the most popular hiking and rock climbing destinations in Phoenix, so it is normal to expect crowds and limited parking availability. You may need to park further away and either walk or Uber to the trailhead. We were lucky enough to snag a parking spot in the lot on the day we completed the hike, but it was just luck in timing.
Flatiron Peak | Superstition Mountain Wilderness, Lost Dutchman State Park (Apache Junction)
The top of the Superstition Mountains - Flatiron, is a remarkable peak and massive rock formation that resembles an upside down clothing iron. This hike offers some of the most spectacular views of the Phoenix area, but it is no easy walk in the park to get to the top.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Trail: Siphon Draw
Elevation gain: 2,641 feet
Route type: Out and back
Park entrance fee: $7.00 per vehicle on weekdays, $10.00 per vehicle on weekends.
Restrooms: Available throughout the state park near the trail heads
Time estimate: 5-6 hours for an intermediate hiker. Expect longer if you are not experienced in rock scrambling or climbing up steep cliffs without much trail guidance. As you get towards the top of the peak it can be hard to follow the trail or pose a safety risk to know where the best route is.
What to bring: At least a gallon of water per person, this trail requires a lot of endurance and can be really hot to complete in the Arizona sun. Professional hiking boots are not necessary but are recommended. I did complete the trail in "regular" sneakers. It is best to have a shoe that grips well as the rocks can be slippery. I would also suggest bringing snacks and things to refuel your body during this challenging hike. *Please do not litter your trash on the trail.*
What to expect: The first few miles is relatively uneventful, but you can still feel the incline as you gradually make your way towards the Superstition Mountains. As you get closer the peak of Flatiron starts to become visible to you around the bend. Until you reach the mountains you are very exposed in the sun with only small shrubbery around you, so you will want to have protection from the sun. As you enter the mountains the trail starts to become more rocky and less visible and in some places you may have to make your own trail. We completed this hike in the springtime and the mountains were full of yellow wildflowers absolutely beaming with life. But please watch your step as the rocks are oftentimes loose and will give way as you are hiking through them. Around halfway through the hike it becomes significantly steeper as it reaches a false peak, before dipping low into a canyon and then bringing you to the last strong climb to the top.
I would say this is one of the hardest hikes I've ever completed in my life, if not the hardest. There were several times throughout the hike I was unsure I was going to be able to make it to the peak because I was so exhausted, my legs were so wobbly, and the trail was so steep and hard to find. We kept pushing on and had a lot of encouragement from other hikers around us that kept us going, and we were lucky enough to have cloud cover on a rather warm day. A lot of areas of the hike involved sliding on ones bottom to get down and a lot of the hike was dirty and stressed my arms as I had to pull myself up steep cliffs.
But once we got to the peak it was all worth it. You can look down and see the exact trail you took all the way up, and you can even spot the parking lot you started at. It is incredibly rewarding to reach the peak and take in the Superstition Mountain views all around you!
*It is extremely important to take your time coming back down the mountain as it can be just as difficult or more difficult to descend down the steep cliffs and slippery, loose rocks. It is important to keep your center of gravity low so you do not fall forward and tumble down the mountain.*
There are so many hiking trails to experience in the Phoenix area, but if you are looking for the real tough challenge and grand adventure, than these are the two mountain peaks for you. The views from both trails are like nothing else, especially to be in a somewhat "city" area and see the mix of the mountaintops and the city blocks around you.
Please note: Both of these hikes are very steep in elevation gain and require a lot of rock scrambling on steep cliffs. If you are afraid of heights or if it is raining I would not suggest completely the hikes.