Phoenix's South Mountain Park

Phoenix, South Mountain Park trail, image

South Mountain trails take you through large rock passageways, carved by the elements over centuries.

Road Journals Blog—Outdoor activities abound in Phoenix, but none capture the accessibility of nature quite like a springtime hike on one of the city’s many mountains. The prohibitively dry heat in summer (which draws comparisons to being roasted in a large oven) has yet to hit, and the temperatures remain relatively mild as the sun burns off the lingering morning chill. Our group, led by Scott Dunn of the local visitors’ bureau and Steve Losack of Arizona Outback Adventures, set out on a morning hike in South Mountain Park and Preserve.

An easy climb took us past the many of the Sonoran desert’s signature flora and fauna, and our seasoned guides provided mini nature and history lessons. The state’s signature saguaro jutted into the blue sky (the presence of an “arm” indicated the succulent was at least 75 years old, explained Losack) and sneaky barbed teddy bear cholla waited to hitch a ride on unsuspecting mammals. Dun demonstrated the plant’s tenacity using his own arm.

After a short hike up the trail, a quick look back to our cars indicated we had climbed much farther and higher than I’d thought. Sweeping views of Phoenix competed with Camelback mountain, named for its hump-like peaks. Just a quick 15-minute drive from downtown and a 30-minute hike up the mountain made me feel as if I was hours away from the nearest bustling metropolis.

teddy bear cholla, South Mountain Park, Phoenix, Scott Dunn, image

Scott Dunn demonstrates the gripping ability of the teddy bear cholla.

The trails were far from deserted: a couple with a small dog took a short jaunt up the mountain, quickly returning once their tiny Chihuahua tired of prancing over the rocks, and a mom sporting her child in a carrier smoked past us on the trail. After a quick scramble over a few large rocks, we bumped into a group of self-described over-the-hill hikers squeezing through Fat Man’s Pass, a tight-passageway between two rocks that required turning sideways and praying last night’s meal hadn’t added unwanted girth.

In addition to hikes of varying difficulty, the 51 miles of trails allow for horseback riding and mountain biking, and South Mountain’s 16,000 acres promise nearly endless ways to explore the wilderness without repetition. Just remember sunscreen. No matter how temperate the day is or how proud you are of avoiding the embarrassment of getting stuck in Fat Man’s Pass, nothing stings quite like underestimating the sun’s powerful rays. Well, nothing except the teddy bear cholla.

This blog post was first published in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.