Shadow Mountain is great to hike around ...
Overview: Shadow Mountain and its related prominences are a component of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve in the Lookout Mountain area. Although there are quite a number of natural and semi-blazed trails in the Shadow Mountain complex, there are only two, numbered trails. "Shadow Mountain, Mega Loop" (described hereafter) is an ordered concatenation of many established, but unofficial trails. If you take the hike in the counter-clockwise direction as described here, the trail quickly changes from a quiet suburban one into a busy, (and at times) noisy, urban route and then back into a quiet, suburban desert trek where you can be alone with yourself and the chirping of the occasional bird. This trail is a refreshing hike for beginners.
This loop is somewhat longer than the Lookout Mountain Circumference Trail (#308) (2.7 miles as compared with 2.3 miles).
Visible from and just east of Cave Creek Road between Acoma Drive and Sweetwater Avenue, the activity area is easy to get to and offers a number of nearby post-hike refreshment options north on Cave Creek along the way to AZ101 (particularly on the southern side of AZ101 at the Cave Creek exit). This is part of the preserve seems to be only partially developed (it sports only a few posts here and there and all of those posts lack trail trail identification badges), but it does have one drinking fountain, a watering trough, and a trash receptacle (at the trailhead). There are no restrooms. Based on the presence of spoor, the flat portions of this trail seems to be used from time to time by horseback riders and dog walkers.
This trail was meant to be virtually the longest path around Shadow Mountain. It is acknowledged that there could have been included a number of other legs which would have made the trail longer. However, those legs were not deemed suitable because they would have entailed trespassing, crossing pre-developed areas that will likely not be passable soon, or stepping upon domesticated land.
Warning: This seems to be a partially developed and only lightly maintained trail.
Hike: Because the Shadow Mountain trails are only partially developed, the trailhead, located at 33.618676, -112.026561 and identified as the "Acoma Drive Trailhead," is modest. From the trailhead, proceed forward about 190 feet to a break to the right and then make a right turn so that you continue on a course perpendicular to the mountain rather than towards it (the picture shows the path away from the initial track towards the mountain). Very early on this path, I came across a bird in a Palo Verde. I've not seen one of those kinds of birds around here before (I've asked namethatbird.com to ID it). Shortly thereafter, I crossed over a manmade bridge, evidence of some development of this leg of the trail. After about 990 feet after the first right turn, you will come upon a "crossroads." Turn left and walk roughly towards the rock outcropping in the distance. If you miss this turn, you will eventually get to a fence cutting across the path or (in the future) some sort of strip mall. Follow the path (which actually passes to the left of the rock outcropping). After about 1,035 feet from the left turn, you will be at a T-intersection from which, if you look to your left, you will see the facade of a modern design water tank. (To see the water tank from above, take the either the "Big Loop" or "Shadow Mountain 1779' Prominence (via Big Loop)" trail.)
Continue forward about 620 feet across the road. For the next 240 feet, the path will proceed away from the road and then curve back until you are at the edge of a clearing with a path heading off to your left and a wild growth of palo verde in front of you. Don't take the path on your left, but go 60 feet around the palo verde to the mouth of a second path (but not the other path that looks to lead towards a rock line in front of you). Take that second path about 520 feet across the rock line and then another 560 feet until it rejoins another path. Continue on the rejoined path 590 feet until you "T" into a perpendicular path at a point just north of a corner of the church parking lot. On your left will be a sign and path up a rise. Take the path to the right, walking along the edge of the parking lot 470 feet past two boulders, 70 feet to a merge-in with another path, and then another 530 feet to a hard-to-see right turn a little bit past the fence around some church classrooms (at the right turn, look out for the backside of a mountain preserve sign on your right, just past the turn-off). Follow this leg 725 feet until it re-inserts into the eastern path and then another 630 feet to a point where you can look down 24th street onto Dreamy Draw area.
As you continue east on the path beyond the house with the driveway that seems to be an extension of 24th Street, you'll notice that the sounds of the city quickly drop away. You've just passed into the quieter, more serene portion of this loop. Hike about 1,120 feet past a gorge and beyond a gentle elbow to a fork and keep going another 260 feet until you get to another fork and take the path off to the right. Follow this path 470 feet up a rise to the top of a ridge where you'll be able to see west-northwest over to Lookout Mountain. When you first look towards Lookout Mountain, you may experience a weird feeling of geographic confusion if you've been using aerial photos to guide you along. For me, the relatively flat perspective of the view obscured the parking lot and the assisted living facility while emphasizing the tiled roofs of the forests of houses beyond Cave Creek Road. Since I'd used aerial photos so intensively to plan this hike, I was very much expecting to see parking lots and the slope of the mountain, not houses. After confirming my location and noticing the church on my left and the "E" of the assisted living facility ahead, I was surprised that the houses seemed to be so close because the aerial photos made me expect they would be further away. Now, turn away and head off northeast about 190 feet up a slight rise, past which you'll come upon a "broken" three-tine fork. Take the middle tine, heading north-northeast (the tine that looks towards the path the curves up the mountain ahead of you into a saddle point). Walk 700 feet to the top of a gorge that has a path rising up from it that "T"s into another path.
Caution: this is the only slightly dicey part of the trail--exercise due care and don't attempt this section unless you're certain you can accomplish the next few moves. This is a look back at the slightly dicey part of the trail from the other side of the gorge about a third of the way up the path that leads to the other path. The way down from the path looking down into the gorge is in the upper right quadrant of the photo. Follow it down until you get to bare rock and it seems that you have to jump down into the gorge. Don't jump. Instead, step carefully to your right (to the left in the picture), using the shadow-casting rock as a brace, behind the small palo verde tree towards a path you'll see appear on your right that seems to lead easily (once you get to it) down into the gorge. Take that path down into the gorge and take the path out of the gorge that you saw earlier up to the transverse path. A couple of notes. If you don't want to go into the gorge, it appears from aerial photos that the path above the gorge will soon after have a hook back onto the transverse path (but I didn't go that way, so I don't know for sure). Also, if you follow back the path-that-goes-into-the-gorge away from the gorge, you will soon encounter a "Keep Out"/"No Trespassing" sign.
After you merge onto the transverse path, follow the path 590 feet until you're passing by the Frank L. Plettenberg bench. Continue another 930 feet until you reach the second post. Take the path to the right (heading off at about 40Â°) 380 feet to another post. Head to the eastern summit (160 feet away east by north from the post) and look off 127Â° towards the Mummy Mountain Golf Course and 117Â° towards the new Talking Stick Resort. Turn towards the north (350Â°, actually) and head downhill 65 feet. Turn and head southwest 100 feet until you're walking towards the post on the path you took to the eastern summit. Take the right tine of the fork at the post (heading west-northwest) 360 feet to the path that will lead back to the trailhead (1270 feet ahead on the path, including a quick jog to the right when you get to a fork just south of the drinking fountain). Overall, as mentioned above, this loop is 2.7 miles in length.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.