Where do you begin with Camelback? If you are familiar with the valley and their stereotypes than I would say a good way to describe it is a playground for Scottsdalites
(imagine muscle heads who spend 4 hours a day in a gym) mixed with a touch of tourists and the novice hikers who have no idea what they are getting into.
From the start I can tell you there is one major downer to this trail. There is a single parking lot and it is small…really small, enough for 20, maybe 30 cars and that is it. On some trail heads, with open land and less visitors, this would not be an issue but NOT with Camelback! The trail head is surrounded by houses and the parking rules are not only strict but harshly enforced. If you plan on going at a popular time (weekends, lunch time, and 3-5pm Monday-Friday) expect to circle the lot for 15 minutes to get a spot. If this is going to start your hike off in a bad frame of mind you may want to skip this one altogether. There are rumors that they are working on a plan to improve the lot over the next few years. Until they they have Rangers stationed in the parking lot to help keep the traffic flowing. This is more for the residents that live in the area than it is for you, they wont let you sit and wait you have to keep moving. I know there is a shuttle service on weekends, but I do not know the details. Maybe a fellow reader can chime in here?
If you decide that you can tackle the parking wars than you are in for a treat. Expect a bit of a crowd, but a trail that accommodates it pretty well. This is a quick hike, both in time and distance. You will see runners lighting the way, but the average person is looking at 45-60 minutes to make it to the top of the 1.2 mile trail.
The Play By Play – It beings with stairs. Built for erosion control I am guessing, the stairs will bring you up a pretty steep section right from the beginning, pace yourself here as you will not want jello legs for the poles (we will get to that in a second).
After you make it to the top of the stair section there is a very nice peak/boulder thing you can climb on that makes a great photo op. From there you will start a nice climb up to some benches for a quick rest if you need and then another short, but steep section of stairs that bring you to the poles. The poles is a two part section, the first is usually the one that you will hear people sigh in disbelief “there is no way I can go up that”. Believe me, it is not as difficult, or as scary as it may appear to your eye.
The first set is more of a “slick rock” at a pretty nice incline, the poles are really not necessary (I do not use them) but almost everyone hangs on pretty tight. after you make it to the top you will quickly come to the 2nd set. This time instead of the slick rock it a nice steep section of boulders. Here I use the poles, but more so because the trail here is pretty narrow and it becomes more cumbersome not using them than it’s worth. After you have pulled your way up the two sections of poles you will come to a fork in the road, occasionally you will see a brave (or stupid, like myself) sole take the fork to the left. This will take you up some more slick rock that is much steeper than the section with the poles, but there are no poles! The majority of the crowd will follow the trail up to the right leading you through some more boulders.
Once the two meet at the top of that section you will have 2 more boulder like climbs to deal with and then you are home free. Remember all this happens in just 1.2 miles! You will know you are right at the end when you take a sharp dog-head left turn and scramble up a very short section to the summit
Once you make it to the top you will be generously rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. On a good clear day you can see the entire Valley. You now have two options, you can return down the same path you came up on or you can press on and head down the Cholla Trail. ***The Cholla Trail will NOT take you back to your car*** I will be posting a trail review of Cholla in the upcoming days, but if you take that route you will need to come back up and then down Echo Canyon in order to get back to your car. Since this is all about Echo Canyon I will assume that you will take that route down. You can expect to hit bottom in 30-45 minutes depending on how sure footed you are. Because there are several boulder sections this can be high impact on your knees, if you are someone who has knee issues you will want to take your time.
Some things to keep in mind
- There are a lot of rescues on this trail. My personal opinion is this is due to the high volume of inexperience hikers/tourists mixed with a younger crowed that does not follow the trails, not because it is overly complicated.
- There is a lot of exposure on this trail and very little if any protection. Be prepared for the Arizona sun to be pounding down on you the entire time. sunscreen, hats, and water!
- You will want 1-2 liters of water depending on the weather.
- The entire hike is kid friendly, although the pole section may make mommy nervous
- All of us in the Backpack 6Pack hike with our dogs, this hike has a lot of pet traffic. If your dog does not mind the company of other dogs they should do fine. I prefer to leave my boy behind on this one. He has made it to the summit once, but the boulder sections are a little tough for such a big guy, the little bouncy ones do great though.