When searching for things to do in Phoenix area during our fall of 2022 visit; hiking Camelback mountain kept coming up as one of the biggest. Camelback is the big mountain in the middle of Phoenix area and reaches an elevation of 2,704 feet. The views from the top are stunning, but it is not an easy feat to get reach the summit. Why I don't think you need to be an athlete to complete this hike; you will do best being in some sort of shape. The trails to the top are classified as difficult.
There are 2 trails to reach the top, the Echo Trail and the Cholla Trail. When doing the research I picked the Cholla Trail. It is a little longer than the Echo Trail, but the Echo is steeper. To reach the Cholla trail, park along Invergordon Road, near the trailhead. The street had lots of available parking, but I hear it can get full (so early arrival recommended). We did have to walk a little (maybe like .2-.3 miles) to reach the trailhead. There was a restroom and bike parking at the base of the trail; which was relatively new when we visited. There are no bathrooms on the trail and it will take you 2-3 hours on average to complete, so I recommend a pee break before embarking on your journey.
Hours prior; hydrate plenty. Take a backpack with plenty of water (I would say 40 oz at least), a light snack, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Wear hiking shoes if you can. I had my running shoes on this trip and wish I had my hiking shoes instead as they would have had more grip. Stupid I know, as we hiked so much on that trip, must have had a brain freeze! Hiking poles may come in handy as well, though we didn't have any.
The weather was pretty pleasant when climbed in November and was low to mid 60's (we arrived around 9:00 am). I would never attempt this trail when the temperatures are high; even if I were in amazing shape. I bolded this because I understand is a problem. There is no shade and heat becomes dangerous quickly. Its a common occurrence for people to need helicopter rescued in the summer months from dehydration or heat stroke attempting this hike. Some people have even died.
The length to the top is about 1.3 miles. Overall this hike up and back (with about 10 minutes hanging out on the top) took us roughly 2.5 hours. The first mile of the trail, you will climb up pretty quickly. The views along the way are gorgeous and you can stop at various points to take in the scenery and catch your breath. The trail is dirt but you step on a lot of rocks and loose gravel; so watch your footing. If you are afraid of heights, there are some parts that the trail narrows some and you are high up. I am not a fan of heights but did fine. There is still plenty of space and I just kept looking straight ahead. If heights paralyze you and cause massive anxiety, you may want to skip this hike all together.
Below is a picture I took pretty early on in the hike up to give you an idea of the terrain of the first mile of the trail.
At about the mile point you will come to a flat area that is used for the rescue helicopters to land. There is no shame in stopping here. You still did a difficult hike already, got in a great work out and its still a killer view. From this point on, its mostly big boulders and rock climbing/scaling to reach the top.
First viewing of the massive rocks to climb up and over, I thought it doesn't look far. Trust me, the distance is deceiving (it is .3 miles). I kept thinking it looks like it just over this next hill about 25-30 times before we actually reached the top. Some of the rocks you have to climb up are small and some are taller. There are paths, just take your time and find the best one for you. Be smart, don't lift one foot off the ground until you are sure the other foot is secure. I was glad a couple of times I had Steve there as I needed him to give me a push from behind, or a pull from above.
Be respectful of the other climbers and be patient to allow them to get through the trail also. You can tell locals pretty easily. They know the trail and move more quickly. There were several who passed me heading back down before I was even halfway through this part of the trail.
Two picture's below. The first one I took going down the mountain in this area where there was some trail. If you notice the rocks on the side, a lot of rocks like this were in the trail you had to navigate up and over.
Photo by Olly Levine on Unsplash below also gives you an idea of some of the rocky terrain and some parts were the trail narrow with bigger drop offs.
Once you get to the top it is a huge feeling of accomplishment. You feel like King or Queen of the world and the views are still just as awesome. Pics below.
The walk back down was easier. It was more rock sliding than scaling for the first part. I was glad I had 7/8 pants on that day and not shorts; as I may have ended up with some scrapes or bruises. While I may lead the charge uphill; going down, I trail behind. After my ankle sprain last year going downhill on some gravel type trails, I tend to take my time more.
On the way back down I finally got to see a road runner! I was so hoping to see one on this trip and was just about to think it wouldn't happen. Pic below!
Overall yes its a recommendation if the weather is good (not hot), you like to hike, are in reasonable shape, and go prepared. If we ever go back, we may have to try the other trail to the top.