A very popular, very accessible hike up a famous Phoenix landmark.
There are two main trails to the top of Camelback Mountain. The Echo Canyon Trail is shorter but steeper- so steep, in some places, that there are actually handrails installed for your safety! The Cholla Trail is longer but not as steep.
Get to the Echo Canyon parking lot early, because there are not very many parking spaces. You may end up circling around a bit until someone else leaves. Do not park on the residential streets on the other side of McDonald Road. You will be ticketed by the police (I speak from experience.)
Water is available at the Echo Canyon trailhead, but not the Cholla trailhead.
Interesting historical footnote regarding Camelback Mountain, from the book "Suburban Sprawl: Culture, Theory and Politics", by Matthew J. Lindstrom and Hugh Bartling:
"Although Camelback was located far from the city center during the early years of Phoenix's settlement, it was often frequented by picnickers and was the site of many excursions by adventurous hikers. The mountain spaces were also used as the location for public concerts during the winter of 1926-1927. Ralph J. Murphy, son of prominent Phoenix developer W.J. Murphy, served as the vice president of the Echo Canyon Bowl Association and promoted the canyon as an ideal concert setting. I.E. Behymer, the man given credit for the idea of the Hollywood Bowl, was brought to Phoenix to help pitch the idea of the natural amphitheater. During the one winter of the bowl's existence, a wide variety of entertainers performed on the wooden platform stage before crowds of tourists and locals. The acts that winter included the 158th Infantry Band, a forty-piece orchestra, a seventy-person Mormon choir, a group of Hopi dancers, and the Phoenix Indian School Band. Lack of funds prevented the further use and development of the bowl, but the mountain continued to host other recreational activities through the years."
Published 2003, Rowman & Littlefield
A sign at the beginning of the Cholla trail says:
"Welcome to Camelback Mountain, one of the most recognized landmarks in the City of Phoenix! There are two established trailheads at Camelback Mountain- Echo Canyon Park on the west and Cholla Trail on the east. Elevation at the summit is 2,704 feet. Park land on Camelback Mountain consists of 385 acres of rugged desert mountain terrain. This offers wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic overlooks. The park is bounded by private property. Please stay on established trails. Do not Trespass.
Flora and Fauna
Camelback Mountain is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. RATTLESNAKES ARE VERY COMMON ON THE TRAILS AND THROUGHOUT THE MOUNTAIN! Use Caution! If you encounter them on or near the trail, allow them plenty of room to pass, or give yourself plenty of room to safely move around without disturbing them. Keep in mind that we are visitors in their home. This area is also home to the Chuckwalla lizard- a large, non-poisonous, potbellied lizard with loose folds of skin around its neck and shoulders. Chuckwallas are often seen basking in the sun on a rock outcrop, keeping its body temperature high. If threatened, the chuckwalla will squeeze into a rock crevice and inflate its body so predators can't pull it out. The chuckwalla is often mistaken for the poisonous Gila Monster.
Other common animals and birds on Camelback Mountain include the Harris antelope squirrel, Desert cottontail rabbit, Black-tailed jackrabbit, Kit fox, Cactus wrens, hummingbirds, Gambel quail, Gila woodpeckers, Verdins, White-winged doves, and swallows, as well as a variety of hawks and falcons.
Camelback Mountain is located in the northern part of the Sonoran Desert, a region dominated by saguaro cacti, creosote bush and palo verde trees. Average annual rainfall is less than ten inches.
Camelback Mountain is of unusual geological interest. The Camel's head consists of inclined, layered rock sediments (sandstone) of Tertiary age (70-100 million years old), carved in places in alcoves and recesses by the wind. The Camel's hump, however, is composed of massive, ancient granite (Precambrian- 1.5 billion years old), originally formed from a cooling molten mass that was buried and later (60 million years ag0) uplifted and weathered by wind and water.
Echo Canyon Park Trail
The entrance to Echo Canyon Park is on the south side of McDonald Road, just east of the Tatum Road intersection. The trailhead is right there at the parking lot.
From the 101 North freeway in Scottsdale, take the Chaparral Road exit. Head west on Chaparral Road all the way until it ends at Invergordon Road/ 64th Street (the same road, with two names). Parallel park on the side of Invergordon Road/64th Street, north of Camelback Road. Start walking north on Invergordon until you get to Cholla Lane, and then turn left. Walk west on Cholla Lane. Just before the road curves to the right, and just before you get to 61st Street, you'll see a green and white sign on the left side of the road that says "Cholla Trail". Start here. By the way, if you ride a bicycle rather than drive to the trailhead, there are places to lock your bike up.