9 out of 10
9 out of 10
A few months ago, we hiked Camelback Mountain in Phoenix. As we told our friends about our accomplishment, almost in unison they said, “Now you need to do the Flatiron Hike!”
Having been told about the greatness of this climb for so long, I decided it was finally time to make the trip. From our home in the West Valley (Surprise, AZ), it took me an hour and 17 minutes to get to the trail, right at 70 miles. This hike was well worth the drive.
Driving to the Trailhead
If you are coming in from Phoenix, you’ll be able to see the mountain (while driving) once you get into Mesa. As you get within about 5 miles, it looks like you’re going to drive right into it. This mountain has such a defining shape.
The complete drive to the Superstition Mountain, which takes you into the Lost Dutchman State Park, is paved, unlike the drive to the Fremont Saddle, also in the Superstition Mountain range, which consisted of about 6 miles of unpaved roads.
Right before you make it into the park, you’ll drive by the Goldfield Ghost Town. The Ghost Town was extremely busy as I drove by. I wasn’t previously aware of the Ghost Town before driving up to the park, but I can’t wait to make it back out this direction with the family.
Entry into the Lost Dutchman State Park
The road signage is very detailed to guide you into the Lost Dutchman State Park. As you drive up to the gate a very helpful team of volunteers will collect $10 and answer any questions you might have.
The short drive to the trailhead takes you through several parking areas. I made this hike in February on a Saturday at 12:30p and there were plenty of open parking spots available. There are trash cans, bathrooms, and even water fill up stations near the trailhead. There was also a covered picnic table area which was very well kept on my visit.
The trailhead signage begins just west of the picnic tables. Dogs are allowed on this hike (all the way to the summit), but must remain on leashes. There were several people that were carrying their dogs in backpacks, like this one from REI.
On the Flatiron Hike – Siphon Draw Trail
The total length of the hike from the car to the summit, back to the car was 5.8 miles in an out and back-formation. 2.9 miles to the summit and 2.9 miles back to the parking lot.
The first, almost, half-mile of the hike is probably more of a “pre” hike. You’ll walk through camping areas and an RV parking area as you eventually make it to the gate. Along the way, you’ll see animal signage, some notes about the Superstition Mountains, a bridge with remarks from a local Boy Scout troop, and directions to stay on Siphon Draw Trail.
Eventually you’ll make it to a cattle crossing/gate and into the Tonto National Forest, where the hike starts to pick up. At the .8 mile mark of the hike, you will notice a slight incline. All of the terrain here is small to large gravel. There are smooth (non-rock) areas on each side of the trail that serve as an easier path.
As you continue up the trail to the 1.2 mile mark, the large rock/mountain to your left really feels like it’s towering over you.
Since starting this blog, I’ve read hundreds of articles and reviews to learn more about hiking our local trails. I’ve run across the name Flatiron Jim several times and at the 1.4 mile mark Jim was on his way down the mountain. He wore a maroon t-shirt that read: “Flatiron Jim: 90 and Still Kickin’.”
Preparing for the Ascension of the hike
Also at the 1.4 mile mark of the hike, the steepness really starts to kick in. Each step becomes more like climbing stairs.
The first mile and half of this hike is completely under the sun with no real chance of shade. There are a couple of large boulders here that will provide some shade (around the 1:30p time frame). This would be a great place to stop and catch your breath or grab a quick snack if you’re hungry.
This is Where the Hike Gets Tough
I performed this hike alone and usually when I do that I really try to push myself (athletically). The 1.8 mile mark is the beginning of the rock basin section of the trail. It’s smooth and very slippery.
I would heavily suggest shoes with grip. I’ve been using Adidas’ Five Ten TrailCross LT Shoes because they have incredible grip on rocks and even they were a little slippery on this section.
The rest of the hike, from this point on, was very challenging. There were a few places from this point onward where my heart rate maxed out. Halfway up this section of the hike, there is a waterfall that was mostly dried up. However, there was a small pool of water where it clearly ran into.
Here I found a great area to go “off-trail” for a few minutes to use the restroom. I found an area tucked to the left isolated from the general population of the trail. This area is clearly used for overnight backpackers/campers as there was a small recently used campfire that was used the night before.
Also, there are plenty of reports of snakes on the Siphon Draw Trail. I did not see a snake on the trail, but, I am guessing this is the area where they might be. There are plenty of rocks and plants where snakes could hide.
As you continue your ascension to the summit, the terrain becomes even more difficult. The size of the boulders continues to grow, so your steps get bigger and more slippery. The trail does, however, stay fairly wide. As this is a heavily trafficked hike, you’ll see plenty of people coming down the mountain as you’re going up. There is plenty of room to stand out of the way to allow fellow hikers space to crawl down.
There are two very challenging climbs within the last .2 mile of the hike. Both spots require being able to pull a significant portion of your body weight up with each step. The second wall stands at 12 feet and is daunting at first glance. I took the “right down the middle” approach and found footing that allowed me to pull myself up.
The elevation gain up the mountain is 2,681’ and most of this is within the last mile of the hike. The rate of elevation gain, too, is what makes this hike one of the hardest hikes in the Greater Phoenix area.
As you climb this last wall, you’ve almost made it to the summit. There is a clear path to the summit, which will feel like a breeze after what you’ve just accomplished.
The views from the summit are breathtaking. Since Flatiron is a larger summit, one of the largest that I’ve experienced, there is plenty of space to explore without feeling crowded. There are plenty of picture opportunities. I was able to trade taking pictures with a lovely couple. I also ran into a couple of guys who each had their dogs with them. There were less than 20 people at the peak with me.
This hike took me 1 hour and 55 minutes to summit and I was moving pretty quickly. I’ve seen reports that this hike takes an average of 4 hours to complete which seems pretty quick. If the entire family had made this hike with me, I could easily see it going into 5-6 hours.
I enjoyed the summit for about 25 minutes, replenished with plenty of water and a couple Honey Stinger Vanilla Waffles, and began my descent back down the mountain. You can see the Goldfield Ghost Town and hear the horned instrument that’s played from there every 30 minutes or so.
Descending down the mountain
Once you’ve got your fill of amazing views out over the city and the adventuring you can do at the saddle, you’ll head back down the same way you came up.
The 12-foot wall that you just climbed is a quick reminder that you need to be very careful going down. Be mindful of each step that you take. Some of the larger rocks are not as stable as they look. I definitely stepped on a couple of rocks that moved when I put all of my weight on them.
There’s no doubt that it’s easier to come down than to go up (at least for me), but going down works out a different muscle in the leg that will leave you completely exhausted by the time you get to the car. My thighs were sore for 4 days after this hike.
The trip down took me much less time than going up. I finished the downhike in about an hour and 20 minutes – and felt really good other than muscle soreness from the constant climb of going up.
Hiking Flatiron was easily the most challenging hike I’ve ever completed outside of the Grand Canyon. The last mile and a quarter of this hike consisted of quick elevation gains and a couple of really difficult walls that require climbing. I would rate this hike as a 9 of 10 in difficulty. The boulder climbing on this hike is very reminiscent of the last stretch of Camelback Mountain.
Having said that, I had a blast and I can’t wait to do it again with friends and family. My true love (besides my beautiful wife of course) has always been baseball. For whatever reason, I carried a baseball with me throughout the entirety of the hike. I really enjoyed carrying the baseball and I think I’ll do it from here on out. So if you see a guy carrying a baseball, it’s likely me. Feel free to say hello!
Go Hike Arizona!