The ultra-popular Echo Canyon Trail and its trailhead at Phoenix's Camelback Mountain will be closed from January 28 until sometime this fall for renovations.
Initial reports about the closure indicated that only the trailhead would be closed as workers built a new entrance to the mountain park, a larger parking lot and restrooms. The city's Parks and Recreation Department recently decided the down-time would be perfect to also perform much-needed trail maintenance along the entire length of Echo Canyon Trail.
"The fences will go up that Monday morning," says David Urbinato, parks and rec spokesman. "We hope to have it open by the time the weather starts cooling off next fall."
Hikers will still be able to ascent to the summit on Cholla Trail, located on the east side of the mountain, but they'll be greeted with signs at the top forbidding them to hike down the Echo Canyon side, Urbinato says.
Hiking off-trail, however, will apparently be permitted for rock climbers during the closure.
The "head" of the imaginary camel which gives the mountain its name, located on the park's west side, is made of a conglomerate-sandstone that's been an attraction to climbers for decades. The city historically has allowed climbers to access the climbing routes at Camelback, and that will continue even as most hikers get turned away from the west-side Echo Canyon trail. Urbinato reminds climbers that their activity is "pretty much at your own risk."
City officials recommend that Echo Canyon lovers find some other hiking spot to enjoy for the next several months. But that's not going to be easy for some people.
Echo Canyon Trail is unique in the Phoenix area for its combination of scenic beauty, physical challenge and convenient central-Valley location. It ascends about 1,200 feet in just 1.2 miles. Many hardcore Echo Canyon hikers do the trail every day; a few even run up and down two or three times a day. For them, the closure will probably be similar to taking heroin away from a junkie.
The trailhead and entrance renovations will provide separate access for homeowners adjacent to the mountain park, and two small parking lots. Urbinato says the total number of parking spaces will increase from 68 now to 132. Click here for an illustration.
A parking lot the size of the one at Piestewa Peak is not an option at Camelback due to the opposition of homeowners in the posh east Phoenix/Paradise Valley neighborhood.
On the busiest days, during nice weather, the parking lot of Echo Canyon is typically full, with numerous vehicles circling around the lot in vain before being directed to the exit by rangers.
We asked one of the rangers last week if he though the parking situation at Echo Canyon would change much after the $5 million project was complete.
"Do you want the politically correct answer, or the honest answer?" he says.
We choose the honest answer. The ranger says he believes that a year or so after the renovation is complete, Echo Canyon visitors will still have trouble finding a parking spot on good-weather days. (You'll have the lot to yourself if it's 110 or above...)
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The idea is to reduce the spillover traffic into the nearby neighborhood and give more people a chance to park near the trailhead -- and the project will accomplish that goal, Urbinato says. It will also give Echo Canyon the better amenities that such a popular trailhead deserve, he says, noting that, for example, it has only offered visitors porta-potties in the past.
Trouble is, good things take time.
If you want to summit Camelback Mountain during the closure, access the Cholla Trail by driving north on Invergordon Street (a.k.a. North 64th Street) from Camelback Road. Park on Invergordon and walk up to Cholla Lane. Go west on Cholla Trail for a bit until you see the trailhead. Unlike Echo Canyon, there are no toilet facilities. But there is a bike rack.