Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three favorite peak hikes in Phoenix, AZ

Where's Waldo? Find the hiker trekking Piestewa Peak within Phoenix, AZ city limits.

Although known as the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix, Arizona offers many mountain-top hikes – right within the city limits. The valley lies low, hot and flat, but mountains of schist, metamorphosed granite rise abruptly out of the city. Metropolitan Phoenix is built amidst a typical Basin and Range topography of broad valleys and parallel mountains.

The City of Phoenix has set aside preserves and parks around many of the craggy mountains and maintains trails to some of the summits. Peak hiking, although strenuous, can provide respite from the hotter valley floor and tremendous views of the city below. Here are three popular peak climbs in the Phoenix metro area.

A favorite summit hike is Piestewa Peak (2,608 ft., 795 m.) formerly called Squaw Peak. The Quartz Ridge Trail follows the ridgeline 1.7 miles to the summit of Piestewa Peak. Although rated moderate, it is a steep hike with an elevation gain of 1,190 feet in that short distance. The trail is busy with trail runners so take care to give uphill hikers the right-of-way.

North Mountain at 2,104 ft. (641 m.) is lower and northwest of Piestewa Peak. The summit can be reached by following the moderate-to-difficult North Mountain National Trail #44. The 1.6-mile loop trail begins at the Maricopa picnic area in North Mountain Park. Follow it north up an incline and set of steps. Follow the paved road to the top of the mountain. Bear left just below the towers and continue along the ridge to the junction with #44A. The trail continues south from the junction along the ridge and ends at the picnic area near the pumping station. After your hike take time to explore the North Mountain Recreation Area. Don’t miss the petroglyphs located in North Mountain Preserve.

The red profile of Camelback Mountain looks like a tired camel with its telltale sandstone hump pointed skyward and its boxy head lying on the ground. A Phoenix icon, Camelback Mountain is one of the steepest and more difficult summit hikes in the area. Take the 1.2-mile Summit Trail over sharp terrain to the mountaintop at 2,704 feet. This strenuous trail is not for beginners, and you will see seasoned hikers clinging to a vertical safety handrail along one precipitous boulder field.
The views across the Valley of the Sun and the cool breezes are plenty reward for the hiking effort on any of these three favorite summit hikes.

1.) Camelback Mountain Summit Trail 1.2 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1,264 feet
Recommended for experienced hikers.
Directions: From the corner of Camelback Road and 44th Street, take 44th Street north and follow along as it curves to the east. Take the first right turn after Tatum onto Echo Canyon Parkway. Parking is limited; park in designated spaces only.
Stacey Wittig, "Vagabonding Lulu" is an Arizona travel writer who loves to share hiking adventures and travel tips.
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2.) North Mountain National Trail
1.6 miles loop
Elevation gain: 614 feet
Moderate to difficult. 
Located in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve at 7th Street and Peoria.

3.) Piestewa Peak/ Quartz Ridge Trail
1.7 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1,190 feet
Directions: from the corner of Hwy 51 and Glendale Avenue, follow Glendale east to Squaw Peak Drive. Take a left and follow Squaw Peak Drive to the parking lot on the left.

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