Skip to main content

South Mountain Park

Although South Mountain Park lies no more than a stone’s throw from downtown Phoenix, it could just as easily be a world away. Yet only a short 20-minute drive separates the city’s concrete canyons open from the park’s wide-open spaces. And when I say wide-open spaces, I mean really wide. You see, at more than 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the whole of the United States.

And what a place it is. Encompassing 3 mountain ranges and near-limitless beauty, the park offers sanctuary to locals and a moreish taste of Arizona’s splendor to tourists.

Things To Do

South Mountain Park’s extensive trail network makes it the perfect playground for outdoorsy types. In this regard, hikers are particularly spoiled for choice. Ramblers looking to make a day of it can plump to tackle the 15-mile National Trail or, alternatively, head up to Dobbins Lookout – the park’s highest accessible point – to enjoy spectacular views. While, elsewhere, the steep inclines of the Alta Trail are sure to get the heart pounding. However, don’t worry if you’re not a pro. Newcomers can cut their teeth on the 1-mile Kiwanis Trail. Even if hiking isn’t your bag, you’re sure to find something to your liking. The trail network also caters for mountain biking and horseback riding.

Away from the trail network, there’s still plenty to do. The park’s scenic roads that reach all the way up to Dobbins Lookout are great for road-cyclists and motoring enthusiasts alike. While the Mystery Castle is renowned for its eye-catching architecture.

Hohokam Rock Art

South Mountain Park boasts a stunning collection of Hohokam petroglyphs. And we’re not talking about one or two isolated examples either. The park is a rich repository of ancient rock art. So rich, in fact, that it is believed that the surrounding area was sacred to the Hohokam people.

During your time in the park, you can enjoy realistic depictions of the area’s wildlife as well as more symbolic works composed of complex geometric patterns. Examples of rock art can be found near to numerous trails.

South Mountain Park’s Story

The park’s story begins with the city’s acquisition of 14,000 acres of federal land in 1924. Right from the get-go, the plan was always to develop this expansive parcel of land into a public resource.

The project got a real shot in the arm once the Civilian Conservation Corps was formed. Between 1933 and 1940, some 4,000 men forged the park’s infrastructural backbone. During this time, a 40-mile trail network was built, as were 18 buildings and 15 ramadas.

Following the issuance of bonds, the park was expanded to its current size during the 1970s and 80s.

South Mountain Environmental Education Center

The South Mountain Environmental Education Center is a real must-see. The center’s informative and highly engaging exhibitions contain boatloads of material about the park’s rich natural history and its ever-evolving conservation needs.

Nature in the Park

Budding botanists will love South Mountain Park‘s diverse array of desert plants. In this regard, the cacti – particularly the charismatic Saguaro Cactus – are probably the stars of the show. It’s not all about the plant life though. It just so happens that the park isn’t short of attention-seeking animals either. Sightings of large desert lizards such as the characterful chuckwalla and the pugnacious gila monster are likely to prove especially memorable.

Hours & Admission

The park’s entrances are open every day between 5 am – 7 pm. The trails, however, remain open all the way up to 11 pm.

Admission to the park is free.

See more places