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Described here from the popular east end to the quite west. This long trail has many faces. While it likely won't be on your top ten list, it can be subtly enjoyable. Timing is everything. With it's close proximity, short evening hikes in the upper reaches are phenomenal during monsoon season. The western park can light up brighter than Broadway in wildflower season.
Like most trails in the Sonoran Desert, you'll find bursage, brittlebush, creosote cush, palo verde trees and saguaro cactus. More than 300 species of plant life are found in the park. The park is also abundant with wildlife - rock squirrels, desert tortoises, chuckwallas, great horned owls, rattlesnakes, coyotes and red tailed hawks to name a few. There are petroglyphs hidden throughout the range, courtesy of the Hohokam Indians.
0.0 Mi TH to Old Pima TH
The east trailhead at Pima Canyon is often the meeting point for mountain bikers and hikers near the ramadas. Get there early because parking fills up fast! It's not uncommon for this lot to fill up by 6 am in the summer. Get started by simply following the old dirt road.
1.2 Mi Old Pima TH to Buena Vista
After an easy 1.2 miles over on the fire road, you come to the old Pima Canyon Trailhead. It is well marked with a sign and map of the entire South Mountain trail system. Be sure and check out the old stone houses located at the beginning of the trailhead. Directly behind the trailhead sign is a large unmarked boulder which has great petroglyphs hidden on the west side away from the trail.
The trail starts rocky and steep but soon levels off. Beware of mountain bikers in this technical area. A favorite spot on the trail has been named the waterfall. It's not an actual waterfall, rather a boulder-strewn area that's quite steep and technical. It's fun to watch the mountain bikers transverse this section. Because National Trail allows both mountain bikers and hikers, it's always a good idea for both parties to be alert for one another. There are many blind turns, and accidents have occurred.
4.5 Mi Buena Vista to Telegraph
Views of downtown Phoenix open up to the north as you come to Buena Vista. Finding the trail for the next few miles can be tricky where it crosses or utilizes the road for short distances. It's nothing overly difficult if you pay attention. The trail is more level here, transversing numerous drainages to Telegraph Pass. While near a road, you don't see it much. Wildflowers during a good year are outstanding along this stretch. The closer you get to Telegraph Trail, you will find the mountain bikers more experienced and courteous. Along the way be sure to check out the radio towers - the infamous red lights you see blinking on top of the mountain at night time.
7.5 Mi Telegraph Pass to Ranger
This short section is sweet. It is steep for about a half-mile, then relatively flat for a mile to the Ranger Trail. Here you find views of the north and south valley with a real sense of being away from it all. Wildflowers carpet these upper hills before the rest of the mountain in early January(given a wet December). Mountain bikers are few, if any. Just be on the lookout as they can pick up speed in the flats.
8.75 Mi Ranger to Bajada
This is the least used section of the trail. You quickly pass Goat Hill. Chances are you won't see a soul further out. Your chance for spotting javelina, snakes, and such greatly increase in this remote western section of the park. You will pass some obvious old mining sites. With a keen eye, you will see many more sites in the distance. The Sierra Estrella Mountains dominate the western horizon. You get nice views of Estrella / Hayes Peak.
12.5 Mi Bajada to Alta TH
Here the trail practically follows the road with a few variations. You finish near the San Juan lookout, which is located near 35h Avenue. It should be noted there are no facilities at San Juan, which is closed to vehicular traffic for resource recovery efforts except for the following times: the first weekend of each month (Saturday and Sunday from 5 am - 3 pm) and during wildflower season (Saturdays and Sundays, February 23 to March 30, from sunrise to 5 pm). One of the park rangers suggest an unofficial alternate option: 43rd and Estrella in Laveen, adds 0.4mi
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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