This week our adventures took us to the center of the Valley of the Sun on a beautiful, early morning hike at Squaw Peak. Technically, the name was changed to Piestewa Peak and I mean no harm or disrespect in still referring to it by its former name…it’s just that old habits die hard and I’ve spent my entire life calling it Squaw Peak. Plus, my grandma is one of a handful of known people to have been born at the base of the mountain before freeways and houses intertwined their way around it…so I feel some personal loyalty to the original name.
There is more than one side to hike on this mountain…and much to my embarrassment, although I have lived here my entire life- I didn’t realize there was more than one side to hike until when several years ago my friend called me up because she was in town and wanted to hike it. Now…keep in mind that although I live in a place that has tons of hiking to offer and hiking weather nearly all year long, I was not an avid hiker at that point in my life. I showed up to the Dreamy Draw side of the mountain, not the side to scale to the summit of Squaw Peak. I stood there on the one side…and she stood there on the other. Oops. We ran out of time by the time we figured it out and met up but we wound up going and getting smoothies. Apparently you can actually get to the summit from the Dreamy Draw side as well because Trail 302 eventually intersects with this trail and you can choose to continue the trail up to the top or turn around.
My husband and I spent our early morning of this past Martin Luther King, Jr Day hiking to the summit of Squaw Peak. It’s really an incredible hike and even more beautiful when you hike it in anticipation of an Arizona sunrise. The proper name for this trail is Trail 300 or the Piestewa Peak Summit Trail 300. It is 1.2 miles long each way and takes hikers from 1,400 feet in elevation to 2,608 feet. Unfortunately, bikes and four-legged friends aren’t allowed on this trail.
And, as I stress in every post I write… bring and drink water. People are routinely rescued via helicopter off of mountains in AZ and this one is no different. And, if you’ve not hiked this trail before or you’re just not that experienced at hiking, you will wish you had water once you get to the final ascent where you basically have to conquer about 5 flights worth of steeply inclined stairs (I’m guessing on the number here, but I don’t think I’m far off. Maybe I’ll count next time.)
The trail is categorized as extremely strenuous and difficult. But, it’s also really, really worth it. I’ve only seen a snake once thank heavens (a king snake, I think) but I’ve seen a beautiful chuckwalla that was happy to pose for several hikers as they pulled out their cameras to photograph him. And the views are just awesome. One reason I love this mountain so much is that once at the top, you can look every direction at the vast Valley and really get an idea of how large it is as well as see so many other mountain ranges circling the city. Here’s the chuckwalla from back in 2010. See how proud and handsome he was?
As far as the history of this trail goes, a wrangler employed by the Biltmore Hotel spent his time constructing it sometime around 1930. To this day, it’s estimated that between 4,000-10,000 people hike this trail every week and is one of the most heavily used trails in the nation according to the City of Phoenix. I’m guessing Camelback Mountain ranks right up there and is probably somewhere higher on the list because Camelback is more packed on a daily basis than I’ve seen Piestewa Peak on a busy holiday (Mother’s Day seems to be the busiest holiday in my observation and opinion, by the way).
The trail begins ascending right away and takes you along several switchbacks and does offer a couple of benches to stop and rest at along the way if necessary. Some of the steps are large (you really have to step up/down) but for the most part the trail is smooth (until the stairs at the end) and it’s definitely really well-maintained. At the very end, you’ll need to hoist yourself up in order to go from the end of the trail to the top of the peak. It’s not very difficult. Then sit on the peak, take it all in, and enjoy! And then…reverse, reverse! Back down you go.
Here’s the end where you hoist yourself up (through the slanted crevice where it looks like you run into the rocks):
Enjoy! I hope you’re able to experience this hike someday. Let me know in the comments if you go!