2.5 miles out & back
8 out of 10
2.5 miles out & back
8 out of 10
The family and I (Grandparents, wife, kids, and myself) gave Camelback Mountain hike an attempt in July of 2021. Despite hiking in July, the temperatures peaked in the high 80s that day. However, only Reed and I made it to the summit as this hike is tough regardless of what the weather is.
With 2-22-22 being my birthday, I thought I would give it another attempt to see how quickly I could accomplish the task, while also being mindful of trying to write about the experience. On this attempt, the temperatures were much cooler, and given that fact, the trail was VERY busy.
Camelback Mountain is an iconic mountain for the city of Phoenix, and even hold’s high regard throughout the state of Arizona. It is easily Phoenix’s most popular hiking trail, boasting nearly half a million hikers each year. The Echo Canyon trail is open from sunrise to sunset.
The mountain gets its name from its shape, as you can make out the shape of a head, a large hump, and a smaller (back) hump of a camel from a distance.
Driving to the Trailhead
There are two trailheads that lead to the summit of Camelback Mountain: The Echo Canyon and Cholla Trail. The Cholla Trail has been closed for a couple of years (at the time of this post), but is set to reopen in the Summer of 2022.
From the West Valley, I made the drive to the trailhead in just under an hour. From the downtown area in Phoenix, you would drive north about 20 minutes to the trailhead.
The business district and shops around the neighborhood get a little more developed each time I take this hike, which isn’t all bad, because you’ll be looking for a good place to eat when you’ve completed the hike. I have no affiliation with Flower Child in Paradise Valley, but I can’t recommend this place enough after the Challenge of Echo Canyon. I specifically recommend the Chicken Enchiladas.
Coming from the downtown Phoenix area, I took North 44th Street which became East McDonald street, and turned right at the light (before it turns into Tatum). I turned right again at the round-a-bout which feeds you into the two official parking lots of Echo Canyon Trailhead (the first is an overflow lot).
If you arrive during peak hours (anytime other than at sunrise), these lots will be full. There are signs for street parking and I’ve even read you can park at the nearby Omni hotel (Free for the first two hours and $5 for up to 4 hours – valid as of the time of this post), though I’ve never parked there.
Though likely out of the way a little for the Echo Canyon trail, don’t park on Cholla Lane. You’ll almost certainly get towed. If you don’t mind circling the lot a couple of times, you’ll almost certainly find a spot as there are just as many people leaving as there are people entering.
Entry up to Echo Canyon Trailhead
Being one of the nation’s most popular hikes, the entryway and rest area near the trailhead is very informative and educational with signage.
The park, staffed by Phoenix’s Park and Recreation rangers, has bathrooms, water fountains, and has a great shaded rest area with tables and benches. There are also amazing views here to prepare you for the adventure you’re about to take.
The signage here indicates no dogs and details the difficulty level: Double Black Diamond Extremely Difficult. There’s also two large informative signs providing tips for water intake and temperature guidance. During the extreme heat of Arizona’s summer, the trails are closed from 11a-5p.
On the Trail – Camelback Mountain Hike
As with most trails in the Valley of the Sun, there are varying reports of how long this hike is in terms of distance. My Whoop Strap (Shameless plug for a Whoop Strap) measured 1.2 miles up and down, totaling almost 2.5 miles round trip (which matches the signage at the trailhead).
As you enter the trail, you’ll veer right and downhill for a short distance. Enjoy this downhill portion of the trail, the rest of your trip to the summit will be a steep uphill climb.
The first steep section of the trail eventually leads to a small trail marker labeled as “Echo Canyon – Stay on Trail” and has an arrow pointing with a #3 on it. Through the rest of the hike look for these signs to the top. There are 37 total signs to look forward to.
As you make it up the first incline the path winds around to a large beautiful red rock that offers an alternate trail, a small looped trail named: Bobby’s Rock Loop (I don’t think I had anything to do with this).
Bobby’s Rock Loop is a phenomenal alternative to climbing to the summit if you’re not up for a strenuous hike or if you have very young children with you. There are tons of photo opportunities, including a shaded gazebo styled fixture. You can still have a great time exploring the nature around the mountain on this trail.
Beyond Bobby’s Rock Loop trail you’ll enter the first real test. These stairs are great preparation for the rest of the trail. You’ll see wooden 6×6 post steps anchored down by rebar. The steps aren’t perfectly staggered by distance, so be sure to watch your step as you climb. Also, some of the rebar is out of place and out of alignment so watch your shins and ankle for scrapes.
There’s a chain length fence to your left the entire time you’re on the steps, so feel free to use the fence as a rest spot if needed (assuming there’s space) and look at the beautiful homes beneath you. This portion of the trail can get a little narrow depending on the traffic of the trail at the time.
The Steep Rocky Climb with Handrails
In my opinion, this rocky section with the handrail is the hardest part of the entire trail. I probably “overdid it” a little by hustling up this section, the first time I climbed Camelback this trip, and ended up bent over exhausted by the time I managed to get to the top of this section.
The handrails definitely make this section of the hike easier. Good shoes with solid grip will also make this section of the hike easier. It is possible to go straight up the rock without using the handrail, which is what I usually like to do. You can use the wall for leverage if needed.
Hikers coming down this section of the trail also tend to use the handrail, so be extra careful and courteous to everyone on the trail. You’ll also find people using the chain length fence as leverage going up and down this section.
I’ve climbed Camelback Mountain three times now, as of this post, and this section always reminds me how tough the overall climb is. The psychologically tough part about this section is that once you’ve completed it, you’re almost ½ a mile into the trail.
I’ve seen a lot of people turn around, I’ve seen kids crying, and I’ve seen slips and falls. My recommendation for this section is to be cautiously confident, be courteous of your fellow hikers and take your time. Rest as often as you need to and you’ll conquer this section.
I’m a really big fan of the movie The Princess Bride with Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. As I describe the hike to the top of Camelback Mountain, I’m reminded of the three phases of the Fire Swamp: the flame spurt (or the Steps), the lightning sand (the smooth steep rock), and the R.O.U.S.’s. (Rodents of Unusual Size). The boulders are definitely the R.O.U.S.’s of this trail and they definitely exist.
The boulders actually come in 3 ½ phases of their own. There are a couple of false summits to be aware of as you’re hiking Camelback. The distance of each section varies, but the second section of boulders seems like it will never end.
As you complete each of these groupings, it’s possible to think that you’ve made it – only to be quickly reminded that you haven’t.
Phase 1 of the boulders is quite short, but it gives you a great overview of what’s to come. You should see a ⅝ mile marker as you begin your climb. This area of the trail tends to get a little crowded because the regulars know what they’re in for, plus there are great areas here to take photos.
As best you can, stay in the middle of all of the boulder trails. Veering off course to the left or right will take you off trail. Going off trail to the right can create awkward recovery angles that could be dangerous.
As you enter Phase 2 of the boulders you should notice the mouth of the trail is quite wide. This portion of the trail seems like it will never end because of how long it is. If the sun is out, it doesn’t matter what the temperature is here, you will always feel hotter than you are. Remember to drink your water and take your time. Once you complete this section of the hike, you should be able to take in some great views of Phoenix.
Phase 3 is again very short, relative to the last section, and starts to veer the left. From the head of this section, you’ll think that the hike is complete once you make it to the top here. However, as Lee Corso always says: “Not so fast my friend!” The end of this section brings you to Trail Marker #33. It’s here, though, that you can see the peak of the mountain.
Phase 3 ½ as I call it, is a little different than the last three sections in that there are less boulders. The terrain is a little more mixed. There are sections here where, again, you’ll want shoes with a solid amount of grip. This is the section of the hike where friendships are made. You’ll chat with the folks coming down and have good laughs about how close you are.
Camelback Mountain Summit
From the last section of the boulders you can take a few different routes to the summit. I tend to take the furthest right path. It seems that this path is generally less crowded.
Depending on the season, time of day, and weather, the number of people at the summit will vary. On this most recent trip, there were probably 75 people at the peak. While certainly crowded, there’s still space to relax, sit down, and take some amazing photos. Northwest of Camelback, you’ll have a great photo opportunity of Piestewa Peak. If you’re feeling up to it, read our guide on Piestewa Peak via the Summit trail and let us know which one you think is more difficult.
The peak of Camelback Mountain allows for incredible 360-degree views of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. Feel free to help someone out and take a picture of them as they take a picture of you. You’ll make a friend and you’ll be glad you have the picture.
There’s also a great marker at the summit, marker 37, which indicates you’ve made it. You’ll definitely want to capture a photograph of marker 37 to prove to your friends you made it.
Stay for as long as you need, but eventually you’ll make your way down exactly the way you came up.
Down hiking the Echo Canyon trail
I don’t often post much about downhiking out and back trails, however, there are few things you might have missed that are cool to check out.
As you finish the long section of boulders there’s signage that indicates keeping you on trail (to the left). There is, however, a hidden cave by going right. The cave is beautiful and something you might want to take advantage of on a hot day. On my most recent visit, there was a gentleman jamming out that I said “Hello” to.
Descending down the mountain I slipped on more than one occasion. Take every step carefully down all of the boulder sections. Be even more careful as you take the steep rock (down this time). Use the handrail as feel free to use both sides of the trail.
The Camelback Mountain hike is one of Phoenix’s treasures as far as urban hikes go. There’s such a great feeling of accomplishment that you’ll get by completing this hike. Feeling rather energetic I actually completed this hike twice (back to back). I recommend this at least once in your lifetime if you’re feeling up to it. Of course, make sure you are properly hydrated and have plenty of food, though, before setting that goal.
Remember to check the Official Phoenix Parks and Recreation page to make sure the trails are open. The city of Phoenix will often close the trails if temperatures get too hot. Additionally, there are, sadly, a lot of rescue attempts in the summer. The trails are sometimes closed without notice as rescue trails seek to rescue those in need.
Similar to Piestewa Peak, you don’t have to complete this hike in order to have fun. In the fall and winter months, the trail is beautiful and is really enjoyable. We hope our review helps you with any questions that you might have. More than anything we hope that you get outdoors and…
Go Hike Arizona!