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Alta Trail, AZ

no permit
511 208 3
Guide 208 Triplogs  3 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > South Mtn
3.2 of 5 by 40
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 4.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,320 feet
Elevation Gain 1,100 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,550 feet
Avg Time One Way 2.5 Hours
Kokopelli Seeds 9.67
Backpack No
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10  2019-04-07
Maricopa Peak & T-bone Loop
2  2019-02-14
Maricopa Peak
7  2019-01-29
Max Delta - T-Bone - Alta - Bajada Loop
13  2018-06-03
Alta - Bajada Loop
4  2018-05-12
Maricopa Peak
34  2018-03-03
Alta - Bajada Loop
5  2018-03-03
Alta - Bajada Loop
2  2018-03-03
Alta - Bajada Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5 ... 8
Author chicago106miles
author avatar Guides 1
Routes 0
Photos 0
Trips 0 map ( 0 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location NorCal CA
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → Early
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:32pm
Official Route
31 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Running the Ridge
by chicago106miles

Hiking this trail during our great December weather we figured the trail would be crowded. We were pleasantly surprised to find nothing but peace and quiet. The Sunday we hiked it, we saw only six hikers all day long. Amazing on a hike so close to town.

Beginning from the San Juan trailhead hikers should be ready for a few switchbacks and some serious elevation gain, over 1100', in the first mile or so. It's easy to forget about the elevation change with the great views to the north, west and south. We had a clear winter day and watched the morning sun race across the valley and light up the Estrella Mountains from Maricopa to Goodyear. The trail sticks almost exclusively to the north face of the ridge. The shrinking shadows in the morning light made it chilly for us but would make for a great cool morning hike in late spring or early fall. The high point of the hike comes quickly and offers great views of the west valley all the way out to the steam plume of the Palo Verde nuclear plant. After another half mile or so at lower elevation on the north face, the trail climbs back to the ridgeline. From this vantage point, the trial offers a wonderful perspective view. The encroaching development of Phoenix on the north contrasts sharply with the great expanse to the south of the undisturbed wilderness of South Mountain Park. Leaving the ridge and turning south, more switchbacks bring you easily to the valley floor and the east end of the Bajada trailhead.

Following the Bajada Trail, we connected with a portion of the National Trail which brought us back to the San Juan parking lot. With the exception of the first mile, this is an easy hike in quiet country with some beautiful views. The only distracting things were the sporadic gunshots we heard from the Police Academy and the occasional jet overhead.

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2001-12-17 chicago106miles

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    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.

    Most recent of 77 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Hiked a 4 mile portion of Alta Trail in South Mountain with my girlfriend. The intent was to do a night hike that would not be impacted by the closing of the Phoenix Mountain Preserves that typically occurs at sundown during the week. In order to avoid closed gates we began our hike from West Estrella Dr rather than the typical Alta Trail start off of Central Avenue.

    There was no parking lot on Estrella Drive but there was enough space to pull a few vehicles off the side of the dirt road. We were the only ones there and we only saw one other person the entire time we were hiking.

    The trail itself was somewhat challenging. The first portion involved taking either parts of Dead Man's Pass Trail or National Trail to get to the San Juan Trailhead where Alta trail ends or in our case began. There was something like a half dozen trails in the area some of which were not noted on google maps or Hike AZ. We managed to guess the route correctly on the first try and got to San Juan trailhead without any wrong turns. The hike to the trailhead was quite steep and a good preparation for what was to come.

    Continuing on from the San Juan Trailhead the route was consistently steep and the trail consistently rough. There were uneven rocky surfaces regularly and a few spots where mild scrambling was required. It was not quite the stair-stepper steepness that is typical of Camelback or Piestewa but we still ascended about 1,374' in the 4 mile round-trip hike.

    We started almost exactly at sunset and the views got progressively better as we ascended. The challenging nature of the hike did not lend itself to much wool gathering or gawking but there were a few spots where a switchback left you facing a good view. The best was at the summit where the majority of Phoenix could be seen without portions of South Mountain obstructing the view. It is worth mentioning that this hike is home to the tallest Saguaro I have ever seen (though it was dark and the cactus was located on a steep slope that made it difficult to get an accurate measure of its full size).

    On the whole it was a good hike and the area seems to have lots of potential for night hikes in secluded areas with few people. More exploration of this area will be required and mapping some of the roots that are not currently posted will probably occur.
    Alta Trail
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Mad Max Road Warrior Loop
    After being in exile for 3 years, I made a return to the dystopian Mad Max Road Warrior Loop. I arrived at 0-4-55 just as the uniformed ecologist was preparing the waystation portal for this day's band of fearless explorers. I was shortly thereafter joined by the beautiful and deadly Gallydoll who was armed and ready for any beasts or harsh environmental adversities we may encounter on the Warrior ascent. Time has not been kind to this desolate landscape as we found it void of any living organism. After cresting the Ma-Ha-Tauk ridgeline we started our descent on the Alta trajectory and passed four wise wanderers from the West. They were able to provide a detailed account of the terrors that may lie before us. Maintaining a steady pace we successfully navigated the Ma-Ha-Tauk line back to the portal and escaped none the worse, neither richer nor poorer, to live another day.
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    An enjoyable loop with a great group of people. I really like the Alta trail, and Maricopa Peak beats any other in the park in my opinion (sorry @trekkin_gecko! :oops: )

    It was a nice day, but actually got a bit warm on the last couple miles down on the plains where the buffalo roam.

    If you weren't able to join us, be assured you were not forgotten (or unmentioned) :sweat: .

    Great to hike with Denny and Angela again. And I guess 9L and Linda too. I wish hiking partners would bring snacks to share as a regular occurrence! :)
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Yes, I was hiking with the gazelles today but they were moseying on my account I'm sure so I appreciated not being left too far behind as bait :lol:. It was a nice morning for my fifth time hiking in South Mountain Park.

    Alta Trail from east side The hike starts off on a very slight incline until it starts going up the side of a mountain switching back and forth in a very nice and pleasant grade. Linda led the way and was keeping a very moderate pace as we made our way up to a bit of a ridge crossing on both sides of it. She pointed out some items of interest and Denny showed us his favorite tree as it appears a few times along here. I heard the group speaking about someone down below but I thot they were talking about any hiker, I didn't realize they were talking about John9L and suddenly he was at my six as they say. He was breathing hard though as he had made quite the effort to get caught up as he had started on the wrong trail.

    And now there were four ducks in a row hi ho, hi ho....oh wait, that's dwarfs, hi ho, hi ho (channeling my inner Joe Bartels :D ) We continued along the upper side before crossing over to the north side with views of the city and ahead to the Estrella. You could see the peak right in front of you and I thot, not too far but then John informed me we would be going all the way around and up the back side. Well shoot. And now we're going down and down and back up and then down again before we finally just continued up the back side. Todd did a little stop for me to catch my breath during all this.

    Finally we arrive at the saddle looking at the west side of Maricopa Peak and a ridgeline hike up slightly to it. So over we went, John was already there by the time we got done chatting at the saddle. The view from the saddle is 360 so it's pretty nice. We made our way over to the peak and up on top. We hung out for longer than I thot they would. Chumley fixed Joe's hat (my hat) as the rim had separated from the body. They each took the opportunity to see what they would look like in the hat [ photo ] with great results I think.

    And now to get down from here and down and down and down. We paused at the saddle to make some observations and then started the switchbacks to the valley floor... This took awhile as the footing is not the best in some areas and it's just a longer trek than it looks from the saddle. We encountered quite a few hikers on the way, passed one group on their way down otherwise everyone was headed up. We reached the bottom and headed southish on the National Trail. From here it is a slog just as promised. As we were going thru this one section, Chumley mentioned something about buffalo.

    We took a break at the big wash where I explained that there aren't any buffalo here, it would be bison :) . Todd warned me that for the last two miles there was 300 feet of negligible elevation gain and he was sure right. I mostly noticed it because I was a little tired. I still don't have my stamina up to where I would like it and I think that's just a matter of consistently hiking more higher mileage hikes. John took off and I didn't see him until we got back to the TH. Soon Linda and Chumley also built up space between me and Denny. Denny was kind enough to hang back which was nice as the conversation made those two miles go by faster and easier. It's actually not a bad grade but it seemed a bit warm, even with the breeze.

    Finally we crossed over the wash and to the cars. While having some Tibber snacks and a beer and gatorade I shared, we saw a hang glider in the distance and watched him sail with the wind until he didn't and he came to the ground. It was a good hike but I agree with the others, an out and back to the Peak via Alta would be the preferred route. I thot the hike to the Peak was pretty cool, especially the first up on the Alta to that ridge.

    Thx Todd for putting this together. It was great to finally hike with Linda for the first time altho I feel like I somewhat knew her already. And good to catch up with John and Denny too. The drive on 7th St from the freeway to the Park is always interesting too. And as promised, a video of the hike and some hang glider at the end. The new stabilization on youtube starts the pics out a little blurry and then brings them into focus. It didn't used to do that so hopefully they'll get enough complaints. Update, I learned that it was my slide transitions that caused the focus issues so I adjusted the transitions and now it's much better. Here is the new link - [ youtube video ]
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
    A lot of people out on the trails and sadly a little warm at times. This AZ winter is becoming a tad depressing, hot and dry, sigh. Arizona loses its luster a little when its nearly too warm to walk the dogs in the valley during January and there is no rain in the desert. Despite the scorching temps however, we did prevail and were able to knock out the first peak of the 2018 year.
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
    A nice little hike up to Maricopa Peak via Alta with the pups today. I was worried about it being a little warm for the oldest one, but we were the benificary of some extended sections of shade going up and there was a nice breeze at times. We only saw two people the entire hike and had the raggedy peak to ourselves. After a bowl of water for Cup and Blanco, it was back the same way we came, for a pretty quick return.

    Alta Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    It's been awhile since I've been on the trails. Decided on doing something close to home with a little bit of bite. Alta is one of the nicer, but lesser used trails in South Mountain. It is a little more remote and doesn't tie in as nicely as most of the other trails do, so it gets less action. Started from the triangle where the San Juan Rd starts to climb. Got on the trail a little after 6am, so I had to use a headlamp initially. Took the Bajada to where it first connects to the Alta and then took the Alta up and over to where it connects to the National. I changed things up when I got to the juncture for the National Trail. Typically when doing the "loop" you take the National to the Bajada andd the Bajada back to your starting point. Instead, I headed north and followed the 35th Ave trail connector. I had noticed this trail on previous hikes but never followed it very far. This trail is legit and looks as if it gets a lot of local use. It got me as far as 28th Dr. From there I had to take surface streets for about a mile to get to a connector trail that brought me to the Ma Ha Tauk TH. (Kind of reminds of the Lost Goldmine Trail in the Superstitions, where the trail cuts through a subdivision). This was a nice change up from the Bajada, though it would be even nicer if it bypassed the homes. (As a side note, if you look at a HAZ map of South Mountain Park, you'll actually see a dotted line of this 35th ave trail...though there is no indication of the trail that connects to the MA Ha Tauk TH). I ended up taking the Ma Ha Tauk Trail to the Max Delta and the Max Delta back to the car. I nice alternative to the typical loop. I will be curious to see how this loop will look in a couple of years after the 202 is complete :? Met two hikers on the back side of the Alta, but otherwise I had the trail to myself.
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Maricopa and Star via Alta
    took advantage of san juan road being open this morning
    alta trail then up the east ridge to maricopa peak
    shorter, steeper, slower, more interesting and more fun
    always good to work on my off trail skilzzz (or lack thereof)
    hit both north and south parts of the peak, then went down the west side
    thought i would follow the ridgeline to star peak on the way back for some extra views and mileage
    pretty hazy again this morning
    saw a dozen hikers

    Alta Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Second day in a row of getting in some AEG in prep for an upcoming GC trip. Ready for a nap now.

    First time hitting the south side of the trail since the Great Deluge of 2014 wiped out half the trail. The new trail is great, even better than it was before. Doesn't seem as rocky now. But surprised to see how many cars parked at the Estrella Road trailhead, never saw more than 3 cars at a time in the past. Today there were almost 10-12 lined up along Estrella Road.
    Alta Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Maricopa Peak via Alta
    A buddy and I hiked to the summit of Maricopa Peak this morning. The trailhead situation was a little confusing so I got help from the HAZ forum and am glad I did. There still is no official trailhead. The "unofficial" one is also now under construction so it's gone too. We parked on the shoulder of a nearby street. Other hikers were there too and they parked closer to the trail than we did. We played it safe but the others seemed like regulars.

    I have to say that the summit was more treacherous than I expected. It's not like hiking to the top of Piestewa, Camelback or Tom's Thumb. One slip of the foot and you'd be tumbling quite a distance. Of course the payoff for such a climb is even sweeter. This is the 360 from the top:

    My friend found at least 4-5 seashells along the way, which blew my mind. You read that right. He's an avid reader and told me he'd learned about the geology of this area and was actively looking out for seashells as a result. I photographed his find and will add them later. WTH?

    Update: To quote @chumley, "Not fossilized seashells! :sweat:
    [ Talus Snail ]
    [ Squaw Peak Talussnail ]"

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To Alta Trailhead
    From Phoenix, head straight down Central Avenue. Keep going and going until it hits South Mountain where the road curves west passing an entrance gate. Stop at the information center and pick up a groovy free map. Last chance for restrooms and water. There is a cold water fountain and soda machines. If you can't find a map just keep on following the road. Continue two miles out and turn right onto San Juan Road. Take San Juan Road to the very end, about three miles. The trailhead is clearly marked on the East side of the parking lot.

    San Juan Road is open to vehicles the first full weekend of every month for easy access to the Alta, Bajada and National trails. The road is closed to motor vehicles all other times.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 15.8 mi, 33 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 115 mi, 1 hour 54 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 155 mi, 2 hours 31 mins
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