“A rigorous, rewarding, and less crowded way to the top of Camelback Mountain.”
— Hunter R
Views · Wildlife
The trails on Camelback Mountain are only open from sunrise to sunset.
The Cholla Trail
is easily one of the most popular trails in Phoenix and for good reason. Its location in the center of town coupled with its fantastic views from the summit make this strenuous trail surely worth it.
While most people in the area have rund to the summit of Camelback Mountain via the Echo Canyon Summit Trail
, that's only because the Cholla Trail
is less publicized and therefore lesser known. It's certifiably the safer, more enjoyable, less crowded, and less heat-stroke inducing of the two options. Which to our mind, makes it the best way to the summit.
Need to Know
While it's less used than the Echo Canyon Trail on the other side of Camelback Mountain, you won't find it any easier to park near the trailhead. Camelback is renowned for heavy traffic and the parking lots fill early and often, so be prepared. For this run, the closest parking is located on the western side of North Invergordon Road in a signed area alongside the golf course. Parking is prohibited on East Cholla Lane, and make no mistake, the police will aggressively ticket anyone parked improperly in this area.
The combination of hordes of people, a rocky trail surface, and relentless elevation gain makes this trail a nightmare of a trail run. Head somewhere nearby (like the McDowell Sonoran Preserve or Papago Park) for better running trails.
Once you've sorted out parking, the run begins at the start of East Cholla Lane as a narrow gravel path on the uphill side of the street. The run continues on this path for a short time, passing by numerous beautiful homes before reaching the official trailhead for the Cholla Trail
and an informational kiosk. At this point, double check that your shoelaces are tight, sunscreen, water, and snacks are in your bag, and that you remembered to bring a positive mental attitude because this run will test the mental fortitude of even the most seasoned desert runner.
When you're ready to embark, follow the Cholla Trail
as it snakes its way through numerous, rocky switchbacks on its way to the summit. Along the way, be sure to take plenty of breaks and drink plenty of water!
Every year, rescue crews are sent to Camelback to retrieve runners who are dehydrated and/or suffering from sun exposure because they did not plan properly for their run, or did not exhibit good self-care while on the trail. Don't be one of those people - drink your water.
Near the summit, the trail gets incredibly rocky and can be hard to follow. Take this section slowly, and keep your eyes peeled for trail markers guiding the way.
After making it all this way and finally reaching the summit, give somebody a high-five and congratulate yourself on finishing an incredibly tough run. Top it all off by enjoying the summit's fantastic views of Phoenix and the entire Valley of the Sun. When you're ready to head back down, carefully retrace your way back to the trailhead and then to the parking area.
Flora & Fauna
Small wildlife are common in this area. Along your run, you may see cottontails, Harris antelope squirrels, lizards, and snakes. While rattlesnakes are common in this area, seeing one on trail certainly does not need to prove dire. Simply give the animal space to move generously off trail, and continue on your run.
History & Background
Originally earmarked by the federal government as a potential site for an Indian reservation, Camelback Mountain and its surrounding real estate was sold to private owners in the 1940s. In fear that developers might destroy the natural beauty of Camelback with housing and other developments, government from the local level all the way up to the federal level tried to restrict any development above 1,600 feet in elevation. Sadly, no such efforts were successful until the Preservation of Camelback Mountain Foundation, a grassroots community organization led by Barry Goldwater, was able to save the summit of Camelback Mountain via a land exchange. To this day, the running community of Phoenix has these dedicated citizens to thank for the protection and preservation of what is now one of the most recognizable features on the Phoenician desert skyline.