Hiking South Mountain's Mormon Trail and Beyond

As the country's largest urban park, the 16,000-acre South Mountain Park and Preserve has many trails for a hiker to explore its variable and unique terrain. We enjoy taking an easy-going day hike on the north edge of the park that provides an exciting and scenic climb through the granite desert expanse right here in Phoenix.

See also: 10 Favorite Hikes in the Valley 5 Easy Hikes for Beginners in Metro Phoenix

The Hike A hike that takes you along three different trails in the park, this trip begins on the Mormon trail with a 1.2-mile climb and about a thousand feet in elevation gain. Following switchbacks through variable terrain of huge granite boulders and lush flora, the Mormon trail is the workout portion of this journey. Gaining elevation quickly presents countless photo-moments with spectacular views of Phoenix at every turn. Don't drop that camera, though, as the trail is rocky and uneven.

At the end of the Mormon Trail climb, the hiker is presented with a junction of trails. This is a "choose your own destiny" of sorts, and your choice depends on how you are feeling after the haul up the mountain. Turn left for the Mormon Loop, a longer traverse eastward, or continue straight(-ish) onto the National Trail.

Now, it must be noted that the National Trail is a 14-mile trail that runs throughout the entire park and can take you on an interesting and beautiful journey throughout. But it's also a multi-use trail frequented by mountain bikers and hikers that, after a few minutes on it, will lead you to the Hidden Valley Loop, which is a brief turnoff of the National Trail with particularly interesting rock formations.

About a half-mile after the junction, stay to the right and continue along the National trail until the Hidden Valley turnoff at Fat Man's Pass. You'll see a special rock formation of massive granite boulders that act as gate-keepers to Hidden Valley. (Feeling bloated? Take the rock slide as opposed to squeezing through Fat Man's Pass.)

The half-mile long valley is indeed hidden from the rest of the park, with a path through a verdant wash and over more massive rock formations. Continuing through the valley will bring the hiker to the Natural Tunnel decorated with beautifully eroded smooth granite and petroglyphs, both old and new. This quickly brings you back to the National Trail where a left turn will loop you to the Mormon Trail junction after a brief walk. Take this back down to your car, or continue exploring along the various trails throughout this section of the park.

Hiking Notes This is an exposed hike, so be prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen. Also, beware of bees in Hidden Valley, as there are active hives along the path near where water collects. The granite formations are beautiful and exciting to explore, but again be careful as they can be slippery for those less sure-footed. And lastly, there are many hikes throughout South Mountain, so to avoid getting lost, download a map and study it well before embarking on your hike.

How to Get There Take 24th Street south from Baseline Road until you hit a parking lot at the edge of the park with a water fountain, map, and ramada. Space is limited, so be cautious of parking regulations if you park on the street.

For more information, check out the South Mountain Park/Preserve website, and as always don't forget your water.

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