Normally you would not think about a Shuttle Hike on the North side of South Mountain, but the Shuttle distance is fairly short, about 3 miles apart. I found that this is a great combination of Trails to showcase some of the sweetest areas of South Mountain Regional Park for people that have not been to this range before, whether they are visitors to the area, or just first time hikers in this range. And it's a hike that people and kids of all ages can enjoy both from the variety of areas that it encompasses and the length and difficulty range of the hike itself. You get to go from marveling at the Ancient Petroglyphs on the Rocks on the Holbert Trail to the wonderful Rock Playground and Peaceful Solitude of the sparsely traveled Hidden Valley.
Adults and kids should be in reasonable shape as both the ascent and the descent have some steep sections. Watch your kids around the rock areas, especially in Hidden Valley, where the fall potential increases from scrambling and descending large boulder areas. Also please be respectful of the Petroglyph areas and do not climb, deface or remove anything in the area.
This description starts from the Holbert TH and ends at the Mormon TH. See Directions for both at the bottom of the page. The Holbert TH takes you immediately into a passageway of large rock and if you look up you will start to see the ancient Rock Art appearing. You will travel out of the passageway into a fairly open area with more Petroglyphs on large and small boulders along the trail route. You will also see Petroglyphs on the rocks further above the trail on the hillside. After you encounter a large picnic area, the trail going east will gradually start to climb and soon you will parallel a paved road going to a large water tank against a hill. The Trail starts turning here to the south and the grade becomes a little steeper. You enter a large canyon and the trail becomes steeper yet, but is far from unmanageable and is well defined. The canyon serves as a large drainage and judging from the rock and steepness, is probably quite a site after a very large rainstorm. Don't forget to turn around every once in awhile and enjoy the views of the canyon and the city behind you. As you near the top of this canyon you will likely encounter more people as you pass Promontory Point, a scenic vista area with a large rock Ramada, with vehicle parking and restrooms.
Shortly after that, you will cross Buena Vista Road, and do a little more hiking up into a smaller canyon. As you top out of this canyon, you will encounter another paved road. This is TV Road and it goes from Buena Vista Road to the Radio Towers at the Summit. Check other Descriptions and Triplogs for more detail on hiking to the Summit. This makes a great sidetrip if you have the time and energy. This is also where you intersect with the National Trail running east to west. Turn east on National, enjoying full vistas to the north and peeks of the vistas to the South. You will also encounter the Buena Vista Lookout, a large Parking area and 2 more Trails. Geronimo Trail goes North back down, and Corona de Loma goes south and down, towards Awautukee. When you get to the edge of the Parking Lot, either continue straight east through the Parking Lot or stay right and circumvent it around the south end. If you circumvent it, you will see a marker for the Corona de Loma TH, with the trail starting out going west. This would be in the Southwest corner area of the Parking Lot. Continue around the Lot and pick up the National in the southeast corner, going east on the other side of the Lot. You start to lose the vistas soon after you leave here as you descend somewhat and then the trail starts to flatten out again.
1.7mi after the Buena Vista lot you will hit the Hidden Valley Trail Junction. Bear right and down into Hidden Valley. You will immediately descend into a large drainage that drops into the Valley with large boulders. Once you negotiate a few of the rocks going down, you will encounter Fatmans Pass. This is a gap between two giant rocks that is pretty narrow. Don't get too discouraged, it actually looks narrower from above than it is and alot of people can get through it. You may have to take your pack off, but an average person will fit. You can opt out if you like and go over the top, but it's not nearly so much fun and it's a good Photo Op if you're hiking with someone. The kids love it! After squeezing through the Pass, there is a little more scrambling on the drainage rock and then you are in the valley. The Trail becomes pretty obscure here and is not marked. There are alot of footpaths and little game trails that go every which way, but the valley is pretty narrow and I have found that if you stay in the main drainage wash in the center of the Valley traveling east, you can walk the short length of the valley without any trouble at all. This valley is a quiet little paradise and you would never know that you are only a mile from a major urban area. The Mountain Bikers stay on National for the most part and alot of hikers bypass this little gem. At the east end, the Valley closes in and you will find that scrambling over the large, dark slickrock and turning with the drainage will get you to the end of Hidden Valley where there is a natural rock tunnel for an exit. The trail becomes alot more defined again and as you climb a short ascent out of the valley, you will encounter the National Trail junction.
When you get to this junction, you want to go left and backtrack just a short ways west on National and you will meet up with the Mormon Trail Intersection. This is also the south end of the Mormon Loop that can be hiked. Proceed north on the Mormon Trail and before your final descent, you will see the north Mormon Loop Junction. Bypass this junction, and begin your descent on the Mormon Trail. It's a little steep in places, but not too bad and it's a scenic trail as well. It's quite a bit shorter of a descent than the Holbert Trail would be, so it's going to be half as hard on the legs and knees. But which way you decide to do this hike is entirely your choice and is enjoyable either way. I did this as a Shuttle to keep the hike shorter, otherwise if you backtrack out of Hidden Valley back the way you came to the Holbert TH, it will add signicant mileage to the hike and turn it into a full day affair. This way, you're down and out after approximately one more mile.
South Mountain has so many options for loops that you can get very creative and see alot of different territory in a short amount of time. I chose to Describe this hike due to the variations of terrain, points of interest and hiking ease so that we can show off South Mountain to our friends and visitors. Enjoy!
South Mountain Phoenix Preserve shows water availability at both the Holbert and Mormon TH's. However, the South Mountain Environmental Education Center at the Holbert TH has been closed since 2010 due to budget cuts, so I would not rely on a water source there. There are no Water Sources on the trails themselves. - Jan 21 2012 Outdoor Lover