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Lost Camp Loop, AZ

no permit
218 172 3
Guide 172 Triplogs  3 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > South Mtn
3.1 of 5 by 7
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 5.35 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,303 feet
Elevation Gain 1,148 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,318 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 11.94
Interest Historic
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
7  2019-01-27
Lost Mine - South Mountain
3  2018-07-22
Lost Mine - South Mountain
2  2018-07-01
Lost Mine - South Mountain
7  2018-03-11
Goats in the Mist
7  2018-03-11 LindaAnn
2  2018-01-14
Lost Mine Trail South Mountain
3  2017-11-18
Lost Mine Trail South Mountain
1  2017-10-02 LindaAnn
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6
Author Sredfield
author avatar Guides 3
Routes 26
Photos 1,414
Trips 416 map ( 4,008 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → Early
Sun  6:16am - 6:27pm
Official Route
5 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
A lasso with a split the loop option
by Sredfield

2013 Note: Official Route modified to park approved access.

Overview: At the head of a small canyon in the southwestern reaches of Phoenix's South Mountain Park sits the remains of a sprawling structure, the history of which appears open for speculation. Known by City Park staff as "Lost Camp," and likely many other terms, the remains sit near evidence of late 1800's-era mining activity, which may help explain it's origins.

Several trails criss-cross the area; and the Park will be developing more. Three heritage trails from the mining days and the National Trail can be linked to form a lasso, with a "split the loop" option. Any combination of the loops yield a trip of 5 miles or less, and it's a thousand feet up the mountain, and down, any way you do it.

The trail head is (removed, as of 2013 use the Pyramid Trailhead).

Hike: (follow posted Offical Route now, the first sentence and a half are old data) Enter the park through the Ironwood tree thicket at the park border and proceed a short ways to a 4-way junction, crossing a drainage as you go. Take a right turn to stay on an old road winding around the toe of the ridge on the left (northwest). This route soon joins another old road that heads northwesterly up canyon. Drop into a drainage and follow the trail to a wide wash entering from the right (north). Guide stones draw you up this side wash; watch for a relatively obscure cairn marking an equally obscure trail joining from the right. This route will take you up out of the wash where the steep trail ahead comes into view. The path winds up the hill, staying in the morning shade on the west side of the mountain, till it breaks out at a saddle offering views of Ahwaukee to the southeast, the South Mountain towers to and peak 2241 to the east.

Portions of this route are something of a huffer, being very steep with no level spots till you near top, where the trail seems to disappear briefly till you crest the top and see it winding ahead towards a junction with the National Trail. At the base of this slight hill one must decide whether to stay left and drop back down the "split" of the loop or head right towards the National Trail and do the (outer) lasso loop.

Dropping down the "split" one finds a steep trail passing a prospect cut into the mountain on the left, then dumping out at the head of substantial mine works with open shafts. Stay out of these holes and off the news; rock flaking is clearly evident on the roof of these openings. Explore the old workings, roads and spoils piles from a safe distance, then find the trail to the southwest back to the wash you came in on. Here you have another choice, you can head directly back to the trail head; or you can follow guide stones and a short trail to the west and join the trail to the remains of the old camp, then head back to the trail head.

To do the outer lasso loop, at the junction on top of the mountain stay right (north) up a gentle slope and then bear left (west-northwest) where you will soon join the National Trail. After 8/10ths mile along the National Trail a not-so-obvious route departs to the left, in the afternoon shade of a small palo verde tree. This trail drops to a level spot strewn with rocks, then bears left and begins its serious descent along the inside of the canyon. The drainage is to the left, the mountain to the right. Heading east, then wrapping around to the right, the trail drops quickly towards Lost Camp. Watch for a narrow spur trail to old mine workings slightly above the trail on the right. There is not much up there but go take a look if you like.

The trail continues its sharp decline till it bottoms out at a wider wash immediately east of the old camp remains. Proceed across and up the other side to explore the foundations, floors and fire place; let your imagination run as to what you are looking at. Local lore holds that it was once a speakeasy, nudist camp, executive retreat, miners' accommodations or ?.

From here the route back is obvious; follow the remains of the road southeast back towards the trail head. Where it crosses the wash, stay right on the trail through the wash and back up onto the desert, avoid the trail that stays to the left in the wash, it is the western reach of the Desert Classic which crosses the wash here. Once out of the wash on the wide trail/road, watch for the route you arrived on which now bears right (south) as you pass the toe of the mountain ridge on your right. Follow this to the four-way junction where you want to stay left a few minutes to the trail head.

From the Ahwatukee Foothills News
The Mystery of The Lost Ranch
- Marty Gibson

We’ve got the mystery, now all we need is the history. Tucked up against the foot of South Mountain near the end of Chandler Boulevard lie the remains of a structure that cries out for explanation and historical context. Or rather, it is we who cry out.

Phoenix’s South Mountain Park Rangers refer to the mystery structure ---a multi-level concrete foundation with two stone fireplaces nestled on a plateau backing up to the mountain and looking south toward the Gila River Indian Reservation--- as “The Lost Ranch”. Easily accessed via a trailhead and natural wash not far from where the road dead-ends at 17th Avenue, the ruins sit roughly a half-mile or so north of the nearest neighborhood. Scores of curious hikers routinely pass it, unaware of just what it is that sits before them.

What was the approximately 2,000 square-foot structure in its heyday ---and when may that have been? Could the building have been a private residence? A miners’ camp? Perhaps a government work project? No one, including the rangers, seems to know. Public records which might explain the circumstances, background or intent of the structure and whoever built it are seemingly non-existent. What is certain is that long ago, someone went to a lot of trouble to build a structure that has partially survived well beyond its original intended purpose. An air of mystery prevails.

In an attempt to unravel the mystery, three local gents who spent most of their lives in and around the Kyrene Farming Community and later Ahwatukee Foothills were consulted. Tom Carney is 91, Jack Owens is 86 and Owens’ cousin, Tom Owens, passed away at age 89 last March. All three are and were pretty familiar with just about everything that went on in these parts from the 1920’s-on, and each does or did possess powers of recall belying their years.

If Tom Owens knew the secret of the ruins he never let on. Owens recalled dancing to a portable radio with a group of friends on the structure’s concrete slab as a young man in the late 1930s and 1940s. Some 70 years later, Owens said that the structure had no walls back then and didn’t look a whole lot different than it does now. Although a lifelong hiker and friend of Owens, it was only recently that Tom Carney viewed the structure for the first time. His rough measurement resulted in his guesstimate of the size of the mystery building at approximately 2,000 square-feet.

Thus, it falls to Jack Owens to provide us with the few tantalizing shreds of information that we know about the place, as handed down to him by his father when Jack was in his teens. Mac Owens, who built the Pima Ranch outbuildings described in last month’s column, was born in 1900 and lived in Phoenix before moving to the Kyrene area in the 1920s. According to Mac, after World War I he and his friends would ride their Indian motorcycles south from Phoenix along 51st Avenue toward the St. John’s Mission on the Gila Indian Indian Reservation, southwest of today’s Ahwatukee Foothills. Having passed South Mountain on the west, the group would turn back around the south side of the mountain and navigate some dirt trails several miles into the foothills.

For the majority of the 20th century, Chandler Boulevard extended west only as far as 32nd Street. Unlike today, The Lost Ranch could be accessed only from the west in Mac’s day, and even then only via horse or motorcycle. No roads were remotely in its vicinity. Mac described horse-and-buggy transportation to and from the structure, which was most certainly a building of some kind and which Mac said had a reputation as a “wild place”. Frustratingly, no further elaboration was provided. Jack was never given a description of the physical premises or who might have owned it, and has no idea of the circumstances that led to its apparent deconstruction and the condition in which we find it today. Mac died in 1969.

And so we are left with just a theory, an educated guess about the ruins which taunt us and leave us with more questions than answers. Who built it? How did he or they get supplies, materials and liquid refreshments in? What became of the roof and walls? While Jack Owens doesn’t know, he believes that the structure very well could have been a Prohibition-era (1920-33) speakeasy. Tom Owens was certain that at least one existed in the foothills of South Mountain, and said that The Lost Ranch very well could have been it. Tom Carney, wryly observing that “there was no building permit for that thing,” doesn’t disagree.

Pre-dating South Mountain Park, established in 1924, the “wild place” of young Mac Owens lives on. Unfortunately, with each passing year the likelihood of ever discovering the true history of The Lost Ranch fades. If only fireplaces could talk.

- Marty Gibson is a 20-year resident of the community and the author of Phoenix's Ahwatukee Foothills by Arcadia Publishing. Contact him at

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2010-01-20 Sredfield
    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 33 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Nice hike with my daughter. We started just as the clouds were clearing out, and ran into @johnlp before we headed up the Lost Ranch Mine trail. Chatted for a moment, then headed uphill. When we topped out at National, we went up to 2494 immediately to our left and took a snack break. After that, we headed down Lost Mine to finish out our loop. When we got home, my daughter jumped into the pool, clothes and all, to cool off.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Hot, no shade, no breeze, hot. Went up the Ruins trail, it's been eroded in some places by the recent rains, but nothing terrible. East on National, then down Lost Ranch Mine. I prefer Lost Mine, but Lost Ranch Mine is a little easier on the knees, although I think it's rockier, so really probably a draw. Lots of fallen barrel cactus all along the loop. Only saw one other hiker, near the big mines.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Went up Lost Ranch Ruins, and came down Lost Ranch Mine. We only saw two people once we were away from the trailhead. Warm, without much of a breeze. Saw two Speckled rattlers at the bottom of Lost Ranch Mine, the second of which was probably the fattest Speckled I think I've ever seen. Also saw a Gopher snake off Pyramid near the trailhead.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    An evening/night hike. Parked at Pyramid Trailhead and took Lost Ranch trail up to the National Trail. Got up to the National Trail just in time to see the sun dropping below the horizon. Then headed East toward Goat Hill. Instead of completing the Lost Camp Loop route we continued on to Goat Hill. It was dark by the time we got to Goat Hill, but the nearly full moon gave enough light that we didn't need to turn on our head lamps. After enjoying the city lights panorama from the top of Goat Hill for a few minutes we headed back to National Trail and continued East to Pyramid. I did turn my headlamp on for the steep part of the Pyramid descent -- I really didn't need it, but it's steep and there are lots of places where a mis-step could be bad. In the unlikely event that I did get hurt on the trail I didn't want to have to explain to my wife that I wasn't using the headlamp I was wearing. Once we got off the hill and back on the flat the moon provided plenty of light.

    As it gets warmer I may do this one again as a night hike. I wouldn't consider Lost Ranch at night, but it was great in the late afternoon shade of the hill.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Quick hike with Daniela. The clouds and breeze made it a little nicer than yesterday. Went up the Ruins trail, and came down Lost Mine. Saw nothing but bugs and spiderwebs, and a few people near the trailhead. Spent the first half of the hike talking about ex-boyfriends, best quote of the morning was "I haven't seen that guy since his 40th birthday, and that was 13 years ago. I'm guessing we're not friends anymore." And spent the last half discussing actors and trying to remember Bradley Cooper's name, which neither of us could think of until about five minutes after we finished the hike. Daniela always lets me know which movies I need to watch, then I watch...none of them, because I almost never watch movies or tv.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Great morning with the cool temps and clouds, I wished I'd had time for a longer hike. Went up the Ruins trail, then down Mine Drop. Lots of people out today, chatted with a few of them. The lot was about half full when I finished, and about half of those cars had either out of state or Canadian plates.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Hiked with Daniela while the kids were in school. Went up the Ruins trail and came down Mine Drop. Cool this morning, but could have used a breeze. Saw a handful of people, more than usual for a weekday morning. Daniela got a gps unit for Christmas, so I gave her a quick lesson on using it.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Daniela and I started from the Pyramid trailhead at 5am. It was foggy, but not all that cold. The fog made it difficult to wear a headlamp, as all it caused was a white glare in front of our eyes, so we were stuck with holding the headlamps lower most of the way. Sweaty climb up the Ruins trail, then a nice descent on Lost Mine. Always fun to hike in the fog, and adding that to the pre-dawn darkness made for a great hike.
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Eliminator Nat'l Gila Loop
    This was my first time hiking up the Eliminator Trail. I've hiked down before and it seemed steep, but I didn't appreciate how steep until I went up it today. It's one long, steep climb from the bottom up the top where it meets up with the National Trail. It just goes straight up the ridge from the valley with minimal switchbacks. I stopped and rested a couple times along the way. Halfway up Eliminator you get up on top of the ridge and there is a great view of the Pyramid Trail. At that point it looks like maybe the really steep stuff is behind you, but no, there's plenty more. It's a tough climb, but it gets you to the National Trail pretty quickly. I thought about going East on the National Trail and up Goat Hill, but decided to go West and loop back on the Gila Trail. National Trail follows the ridge line Westward and was relaxing after the Eliminator hill climb. Even though it was a pleasant and sunny day I didn't run into anyone on the trail.

    Along the National Trail I saw what looked from a distance like a lot of heavy construction equipment down in the valley of the Bursera and Gila trails. At first I thought it was SoMo Freeway construction, but as I got closer it looked more like grading for houses not a freeway. To get a better look I skipped the turn for the Bursera Trail and continued on National to the Gila Trail. It's a pretty big project, whatever it is. It's on the SoMo side of the freeway route on land that I thought was part of SoMo Park (it is green on google maps like the rest of SoMo), but it turns out not to be park land. I could see a new road from this new construction area over the ridge towards the South that comes out in the South Mountain 620 development. I went as far West as I could go on Gila Trail until I got to the construction site and no trespassing sign. It's less than 0.4 miles from where Bursera crosses the wash which means that from now on hiking Bursera won't feel like you're miles from nowhere anymore. Oh well. That's progress. :(

    After posting this I happened to notice a photo of a cave I saw from the trail. I had zoomed in as far as my little pocket camera would go to see if I could see anything in the cave. I didn't expect to see anything, but there was a critter in the cave! That's why I got a camera with 20x optical zoom. At first I thought it was a coyote, but the more I look at it I think it's a javalina. Nice surprise!
    Lost Camp Loop
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    Met Daniela for a short weekday morning hike. We went up Lost Ranch Ruins, and even though the temps were in the 40's, we were surprisingly warm. At the top, we headed east on National, then down Lost Mine. Got back to the car in exactly two hours--perfect to allow for running other errands while the kids were at school. Only saw a few other people, all near the trailhead.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To Pyramid Trailhead
    From I-10 going S exit on 202/Pecos Road. Go W on Pecos Road for about 9 miles and turn right on 17th Avenue. Turn left on to Chandler Boulevard and go to end of road and park where road is closed off at 19th Avenue.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) - 22.6 mi, 28 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) - 104 mi, 1 hour 46 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) - 166 mi, 2 hours 48 mins
    page created by Sredfield on Jan 20 2010 10:40 pm
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