Arriving to America’s fifth largest metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona, hiking is not on my vacation agenda. Escaping the endless snow of Canadian winter, the warm sun beckons me to lounge like a lizard near a sparkling swimming pool. Yet on arrival friends and strangers alike greet us with, “Oh you will be hiking Camelback I presume?”
My blank stare and no prior knowledge of camels in the Phoenix area brings on more encouragement.
“To the top of Camelback Mountain!” they explain.
“It’s one of the top things to do when you visit Phoenix. One of the best urban hikes in the world!”
Each person we encounter seems more excited than the next about climbing Camelback mountain. Yet when we invite these same folks to join us at the Camelback trailhead the excuses spurt forth like dust in a sandstorm.
“Oh thank you I’ve already done it.”
“Once is definitely enough.”
“I have to wash my hair.”
At an elevation of 2,706 feet, the camel-shaped mountain landmarks the northeast horizon of the city of Phoenix. Getting to the summit of the camel’s hump and the extraordinary 360 degree views of surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Phoenix and Paradise Valley is no leisurely stroll in the park.
From our experience the day of hiking Camelback Mountain we hope these tips will help others find their way safely to the red rock summit.
10 Tips Before Hiking Camelback – Echo Canyon Trail
Get off to the right start on Camelback Mountain
With two different Camelback Mountain hike routes, (Echo Canyon trail and Cholla trail) information can be confusing as to where the Camelback hiking begins. The Echo Canyon hiking route is the most direct route up Camelback Mountain and the most popular. You can guess that means it is the most challenging due to the steady climb.
Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon trail parking
With one of the most renowned urban hikes in Arizona, let alone the United States, you can expect parking will be a challenge. There is an upper and lower parking lot for the Echo Canyon trail and the entrance for both is at 4925 E McDonald Drive, Phoenix.
Arrive early if you want a parking spot or consider taking a taxi or ride share. Camelback hours are sunrise to sunset. We suggest arriving as close to sunrise as you can manage for both parking at the Camelback trailhead and to avoid the intense heat.
Only street parking is available for the Cholla trail on Camelback.
Stay safe hiking Camelback Mountain
Let someone know where you are going to be and when you expect to return from your Camelback hike. Take a fully charged cell phone with you should you need to call for help. If you do get lost stay where you are.
Rattlesnakes and scorpions are present on Camelback Mountain. We did not see either but advise that you watch where your feet and hands are being placed at all times.
Prepare to be very hot
Get an early start climbing Camelback Mountain. In early morning and late afternoon some of the Camelback mountain Echo trail will be in the shade. The Arizona sun is relentless once it comes around the front face of the slope. Be sure to have a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Hiking in Phoenix means taking water. Lots of water.
At the Camelback trailhead water fountains and restrooms are available. There is no water supply on Camelback mountain once you begin climbing. Bring a back pack to carry at least one litre of water per person. A large sign on the route suggests that once you have consumed half your water supply you should turn around.
Stay on the Echo Canyon Trail
There are numbered sign posts to watch for on the Echo Canyon route. However the boulder strewn climb leaves many choices as to exactly where the path may or may not go.
With the Camelback trail being so popular you can often follow other hikers but be aware they may not be certain of the trail either. Be warned hikers have died trailblazing and wandering off route. Take your time and watch for the sign posts.
Take high energy snacks
How long does it take to hike Camelback mountain? On line resources and guide books vary in opinion. We hiked to the top of Camelback Mountain in under one hour and consider ourselves relatively fit.
The climb is very steep with an elevation gain of 1264 feet over 1.2 miles. I get hungry just thinking about that hike. Pack some food to be on the safe side and being sure not to leave any garbage on Camelback Mountain.
Flipflops need not apply
A Camelback climb requires stiff-soled and sturdy shoes. Since we always travel with carry on luggage only, I arrive at the Camelback trailhead in a lightweight sneaker. As the uneven rocks, stones and gravel make impressions on my less than happy feet, I long for my hiking shoes.
Are you fit enough?
Reading some guides to hiking Camelback the difficulty level is rated moderate to extreme. The reality is that the Camelback trail is very difficult, with some moderate sections.
In many areas you will be using hands and feet to crawl up and down over boulders. Know your abilities and when to turn around. Rest as you need and don’t feel pressure to go as fast as others.
Use caution descending the Camelback mountain trail.
You may feel your lungs burning and your heart pounding from the minute you leave the Camelback mountain trailhead. However coming down, with legs rubbery from the ascent, can be the most dangerous. Take your time and be sure of your foot placement. Watch for the loose gravel that can act like marbles underfoot.
Would you climb Camelback Mountain? Click the video below to see portions of our Camelback hike in Arizona. The view at the end is worth the watch.
Can you recommend other urban hikes?