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The 101 on Hiking Camelback Mountain

The 101 on Hiking Camelback Mountain

When it comes to hiking spots, Phoenix has no shortage of it. Apart from being surrounded by mountains, the city’s sunny weather makes it a prime destination for hiking enthusiasts and beginners.

But if there’s one popular hiking spot in the valley, it would be Camelback Mountain. It’s a mere 20-minute drive from downtown and is located inside the Echo Canyon Recreation Area.

Its name is as unique as the way that the mountain looks. There are two huge rock formations that resemble the head and back of a kneeling camel; hence, the name Camelback Mountain.

In 1968, the summit became a protected park area. And, it gives successful hikers a scenic view of the bustling metropolis – and an even more stunning one right when the sun dips behind the valley.

Interested in taking on the mountain? Read on as we lay down the 101 and everything you need to know in this comprehensive guide.

What’s it like to hike Camelback Mountain?

Camelback Mountain isn’t an easy hike. There are two main trails – the Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail – both of which are categorized as extremely difficult because of exposed rocks, strenuous climbs, and hand-over-hand climbing in some sections.

TrailTrail LengthAverage Completion TimeRatingHiking Hours
Echo Canyon Trail

E McDonald Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Monday to Sunday, 6AM–6PM
4 km2 hours 15 minutesDifficultMonday to Sunday, 6AM–6PM
Cholla Trail

5150 N Invergordon Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253

Monday to Sunday, 6AM–6PM
4.8 km2 hours 20 minutesDifficultMonday to Sunday, 6AM–6PM

The mountain is also known to be Phoenix’s highest peak at about 2,704 feet above sea level. The incline is quite steep, gaining 1,300 feet in just 1.2 miles.

Still, the challenge is what hikers come here for. In fact, over 750,000 people climb the mountain every year despite the Arizona heat.

On days when the temperature is hotter than usual, hikers are warned to stay hydrated and rest under shade when they can. This is because there are often rescue operations happening here for people who get in trouble with the heat.

Dogs also are strictly not allowed on these trails, so you might want to leave your pooch at home or at a dog boarding place.

How to Hike the Echo Canyon Trail

The Echo Canyon Trail is known to be slightly more challenging than its sister trail. It usually takes an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete.

Even though it’s relatively just a short hiking distance (4 km), it’s a steep climb with lots of sharp rocks that will require hikers to push themselves to their limits.

The trail opens up to a wide dirt path and a rapid incline up a few switchbacks that will have you catching your breath right away. At this point, the rocks are porous (which makes grabbing them relatively harder) and some have moss on them.

After about half a mile, you’ll reach a series of wooden stairs. This is where you’ll truly feel how steep the mountain is so use the metal railings to anchor you to the ground and safely assist you on your way up.

You’ll then come across rows of metal poles. Our tip is to hang on to the leftmost ones, as there are more foot notches on the rocks of this side.

The foot notches make climbing a little bit easier. But if you really want to challenge yourself, feel free to move to the smoother side of the rocks.

How to Hike the Echo Canyon Trail

Image Source: Carltonaut’s Travel Tips

Once you reach the top of this steep section, the hard part is over. We’re kidding, of course – it’s only about to get tougher.

At this point, you’ll need to scramble up the rocks towards the top. We suggest that you wear hiking gloves to help you get a better grip.

The boulders here will vary in size. It’s a good opportunity for you to use your resourcefulness – you can either follow the trail guide, or look for other ways that you can climb over the rocks,

Again, prioritize your safety. This is an accident-prone area, so make sure to double- and even triple-check the sturdiness of the rocks you’ll be grabbing onto.

After a mile, you’ll arrive at the final accent to the summit. You can breathe easy now and revel in the feeling of you making it to the top.

Enjoy the 360-degree view of the entire city and the rolling mountains. We promise, it’s one that you’ll want to come back to every now and then!

360-degree view Echo Canyon Trail

Image Source: Shannon B. via

How to Hike the Cholla Trail

The Cholla Trail is relatively easier than the Echo Canyon Trail, mainly because it’s less steep but it does take longer to conquer. 

Right off the bat, you’ll be doing some switchbacks. There are man-made stairs that will help you climb faster, if you prefer.

The path here is also wide. Expect that you’ll be hiking alongside others, as it’s the more popular trail among the two.

The width of the path will vary as you continue up, but it’s clear and pretty easy to follow. Note that you’ll be following the curve of the mountain, and it’ll give you a scenic view of the surrounding neighborhoods.

After about a half a mile, the path begins to straighten out, sort of like a beeline towards the top.

Once you reach the helipad that most rescuers use when landing choppers, the trail becomes much harder as it transitions to sharp rocks and uneven surfaces. You’ll need to do some rock scrambling now.

How to Hike the Cholla Trail

Image Source: Arizona Hikers Guide

After making it through this section, you’ll start hiking directly along ridge-lines of the mountain towards the top. Try not to worry too much if you’re afraid of heights, as the path is wide and there’s really not a lot of danger in falling.

Most hikers recommended collecting yourself prior to scrambling up this point. Breathe easy, take a sip of water, and don’t panic at the height.

The first obstacle is right after the helipad. You’ll need to climb over a large, slanted piece of rock.

Over at the right hand side, there are a few notches in the rock that you can grab on. Gradually hoist yourself up and make sure that you have a solid stance at the top of the rock.

Continue moving up and follow the trail signs or spray-painted blue dots. These are your markers so don’t lose sight of them.

You’ll need to pass through a few narrow areas. The trail then leads to a narrow scramble where only a single hiker can pass at a time.

Cholla Trail Summit

Image Source: Arcadia News

After these sections, the hard part is over. You can now take your time enjoying the casual climb to the summit. 

Congratulations! You’ve made it to (literally) the top of Phoenix. Take a few selfies and give yourself a pat on the back for a hike well done.

Can a beginner hike Camelback Mountain?

Because of how difficult the trails are, it’s generally not recommended for beginners to hike. But, you won’t require any special climbing equipment, so technically, beginners can hike Camelback Mountain if they want to.

Just make sure to read up and get as much info on the mountain as you can. We also recommend not going alone; instead, find a more experienced hiker to accompany you.

Come prepared both mentally and physically. A lot of hikers start training as early as a week before a strenuous climb. 

You can practice stretching everyday, going on runs, or even do a few light weights. This will help condition your body on the challenging hike you’re about to take.

Our Tried-and-Tested Tips for Hiking Camelback Mountain

1. Choose the right season. 

As we mentioned earlier, a lot of rescue operations happen on this mountain for hikers who experience dehydration and heat stroke. It’s important to exercise caution, especially when you’re a beginner or not that experienced yet.

We suggest hiking Camelback during late fall, winter, or early spring seasons. Phoenix’s coldest months are usually December to March, and you may even come across wildflowers blooming during the latter month.

However, note that these are also considered to be the mountain’s peak season. You may notice an influx of hikers at this time, so start climbing early if you’re not too fond of crowds.

2. Choose the right trail.

Would you like to be more challenged by steep rocks, or would you rather take on a longer trail? The Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trails provide two different experiences, so choose one that would best satisfy you.

In our perspective, it would be best to experience both. But assess your fitness level and hike the trail that you can so that you don’t overexert yourself.

3. Carry a LOT of water.

This should go without saying, but staying hydrated is key when hiking. This is especially true for any hiking spot in Arizona, as we know how harsh the sun can be sometimes.

At the Echo Canyon Trail and the Cholla Trail, there aren’t any stations where you can refill your jug. It’s best to bring more than a liter of water per person.

Even along the trails, you’ll find signs suggesting that you should turn back if you’re out of water. This is all just a precaution so you don’t get dehydrated or suffer from heatstroke.

4. Invest in good hiking shoes.

At Camelback, especially, you’ll be doing a lot of rock scrambling. It’s best to have a sturdy pair of hiking boots on for maximum grip, as well as optimum protection from sharp rocks.

A lot of people hike in sneakers, but if you do, make sure that the soles are thick enough. You wouldn’t want to injure your foot before you even get a view of the summit.

5. Be mindful of the hike down.

This is something that most people don’t give much thought to. We know you’re on a high after reaching the top of the mountain, but remember to stay cautious on your way down.

Just like how steep the ascent is, the descent is just as challenging considering how slippery the rocks are. Gravity is working with you, too, so take your time and grab onto the safety rails.

Are there rattlesnakes on Camelback Mountain?

Along your hike, don’t be surprised to encounter killer bees, cottontail rabbits, a turkey vulture, antelope squirrels, and yes, rattlesnakes. A healthy population of them, if you will.

Rattlesnakes are a common sight in most Phoenix hikes, and Camelback Mountain is no exception. You might even spot different species of them here.

Types of Rattlesnakes on Camelback Mountain

Coon-Tail Snakes

Coon-Tail Snakes

Image Source: Sabino Canyon Volunteer Naturalists

The most prominent feature of these rattlesnakes are their black and white-striped tails. It’s also the one that you’re most likely to encounter.

These snakes grow up to 5-feet long and they typically have a distinct, white-striped diamond pattern on its back. You’ll hear it rattle as a means to warn you of its proximity, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.

They’re quite slow moving, but they are feisty and won’t hesitate to bite should they feel threatened. They usually pop out as early as February after hibernating for the winter.

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Image Source: Project Noah

These types of snakes get their name from their pinkish hue. It’s a southwestern speckled kind of rattlesnake that usually blends in with the color of the rock formations near the summit of Camelback Mountain.

They’re a bit harder to spot because they usually only grow up to 2-feet long. And again, they camouflage themselves against the brown and cream granite rock features of the mountain.

You’ll usually find them on the granite outcroppings along the Cholla Trail, and on the ledges of the Echo Canyon Trail. 

The Mojave Snake and Tiger Rattlesnake

These snakes can be easily confused with the diamondback and the speckled rattlesnakes. The first one is the common Mojave rattlesnake, which also has a striped tail and a diamond pattern on its back, but it’s much greener in color.

The Mojave Snake

Image Source: Pets on Mom

It also has fewer black spottings and much wider stripes on its tail. They have quite the temper and are known to strike targets, even when unprovoked.

A lookalike of the speckled rattlesnake is the Tiger rattlesnake. The defining features are that it has a smaller head and a bigger rattle.

Tiger Rattlesnake

Image Source: Arizona via

Its body is also much more striped than speckled. You’ll notice pink, orange, and brown stripes against its natural gray hue. 

They’re also relatively small and adults grow up to just 2.5-feet. Be warned, though, that its venom is quite strong.

Sonoran gopher snake

Sonoran gopher snake

Image Source:

It may masquerade as a rattlesnake, but the Sonoran gopher snake is non-venomous. At worst, it’ll only give you a nasty gash that’s prone to infections.

It looks like a rattlesnake because of its diamondback pattern and vibrates its tail to mimic that of a rattle. They’re actually pretty helpful to the ecosystem of the mountain and of the rodents in it.

This isn’t to say that you should approach them. When you see one, move aside and along and don’t provoke it.

Can you drive up Camelback Mountain?

No. There is no direct road that’ll lead you to the summit of Camelback Mountain. However, you can park closer to the summit via the Cholla Trail entrance.

To get to the parking area of the Cholla trail, drive up to Invergordon Road in Paradise Valley. You can park right on the street and it’s completely free.

If you’ll be hiking the Echo Canyon Trail, you can try your luck at a free spot along E McDonald Drive. It’s usually full, so some people opt to park at nearby establishments.

Both trailheads are relatively easy to find. Just follow the signs along the respective streets leading up to them.

We’d also like to mention that local authorities are incredibly strict at street parking. Make sure that you’ll be back to your vehicle by the time the park closes down, otherwise you might be issued a ticket.

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