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National Trail - South Mountain Park

Summary: A hike along the ridgeline of South Mountain Park in south Phoenix. To complete this hike you'll need to spot a car at each trail head. The trail is designated as a multiple use path, which means it is open to mountain bikes and horses. It's the bikes that are the real annoyance, but you'll find they are not present west of the Buena Vista parking area.
Directions: West Trailhead: Take Baseline Road to Central Ave. Go south on Central to the main entrance of South Mountain Park. Follow the signs for San Juan six miles to the parking area at the end of the road.
East Trailhead: Drive back to Baseline Road and head east. Turn south on 48th Street. Take the second right out of the traffic circle and follow the  road as it curves east, then south, to Guadalupe Road. Go west about 1/4 mile, turn north on 48th St. then almost immediately turn left onto Pima Canyon Road. Drive to the end of the road and park (unless the lot is full, in which case you'll have to find a spot on the side of the road).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - paved all the way
Navigation: Easy - well marked trails throughout
Length: 15 miles
Date Hiked: December 2003
Weather Conditions: Cool and cloudy with occasional sprinkles
Required Skills: None
Hike Description: I describe this hike heading east to west. From the parking area at the end of Pima Canyon Road, follow the wide, flat dirt road west (with the mountain bikers, joggers and dog walkers) just over a mile as it follows the shallow drainage of Pima Wash. Turn left onto the National Trail, which begins just past a large sign. The trail immediately begins climbing moderately up to the ridge line. As you reach the top look for the left branching Hidden Valley Trail. Turn left on this short detour which passes through the rock formations of the Tunnel and Fat Mans Pass before rejoining the National Trail a short distance later (probably the best part of the hike). Continue traveling along the ridge as the path winds its way through the rocks. After passing sign post #19 (I'm not sure if the numbers on the posts have any significance or not), the path rounds a bend and drops down to the Buena Vista parking area. The trail picks up on the other side of the lot and the parallels the road towards the prominent antenna array on the peak ahead. Typical plants in the area are: palo verde, saguaro, brittlebush, mesquite, ocotillo, barrel cactus, jointed fir and hedgehog cactus. The trail passes below the antenna array on the northern slope, then descends gradually towards Telegraph Pass. Walk up the road a short ways, then follow the trail as it climbs up moderately to gain the ridge once again. Once on the ridge you'll have views north of downtown Phoenix and south of houses and the Gila Indian lands. As you reach the top, the walking becomes easier as the path travels along the ridge, passing a few old mines as it does so. The smoother rolling hills of the western section of the trail are quite distinct from the rocky eastern section. Eventually, you'll be able to see the San Juan Road in the valley to the north that you drove on earlier when you spotted a car. The path soon begins descending, gradually at first, then more steeply towards the end as it travels down into a gully. At the bottom of the gully the trail turns abruptly right, crosses the wash and climbs over a low hill before dropping into the creosote flats below. Once in the bajada, the trail heads east, crosses the road, then bends northwest, eventually paralleling the road until it brings you back to the trailhead and your car spot.
Rating (1-5 stars):
A pretty good hike considering it's in the midst of the 6th largest city in the country. The author and his wife completed this hike at a moderate pace in 6 hours.
Maps: None
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Start of the National Trail. The tunnel.
Fat Mans Pass. Antenna array.