Updated: Oct 2, 2018
While Camelback Mountain may be one of the more popular destinations for Arizona tourists, the Phoenix area is also home to a lesser known area with equally picturesque views. South Mountain Park, located quite literally on the southern edge of Phoenix, is the largest municipally managed park in the country and covers 16,000 acres. With saguaro lined trails to hike, beautiful overlooks and sunsets that will take your breath away, South Mountain should be on anyone’s shortlist for Phoenix sightseeing.
No matter how you prefer to tackle the trails, South Mountain Park has something for you. There are over 50 miles of trails geared towards hiking, mountain biking, and even horse riding. Not only that, but paved roads weave through the park so that those just wanting to quickly drive through, or some particularly avid cyclists, have a chance to experience the natural beauty of the preserve.
Originally known as Phoenix Mountain Park, the land was sold to the City of Phoenix by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. While it may sound like it is a single mountain, the park is actually made up of three mountain ranges converging on the spot: the Ma Ha Tauk, the Guadalupe and the Gila. Of particular note in the park is the Dobbins Lookout, which is the highest point available to the public and provides some absolutely astounding views of the surrounding landscape.
What makes this park interesting for nature lovers, however, is the unique flora and fauna. Some of the wildlife found in the park’s borders are unique even for Phoenix. First, there is the Busera Microphlla, better known as the Elephant Tree. The thick, twisting trunks of this tree are amazing to see up close and in person, and though you may spot one in other areas of the desert around Phoenix, they are quite prevalent in the park. There is also a very unique kind of chuckwalla within the park. Chuckwallas are large lizards native to the southwest, but those in the South Mountain region are unique in that the males of the species display an orange tail often called a “carrot-tail.”
In the Phoenix and Scottsdale area, there are plenty of things to do. You can take an ATV tour, drive out into the desert, or kayak the Salt River. But for unique views and less crowded trails, be sure to check out the South Mountain!