Piestewa Peak • Phoenix Mountains
• Maricopa County

The lower switchbacks near the start of the hike

Piestewa Peak summit

Summit from about the 1/2-mile marker

Final set of switchbacks

Camelback Mountain from summit of Piestewa

Where most people congregate atop Piestewa Peak

View of the route from the summit

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Prominence Peaks


Date: First time 1997, a hundred-plus times since • Elevation: 2,601 feet • Prominence: 1,178 feet • Distance: 2.5 miles • Time: 55 to 70 minutes • Gain: 1,200 feet • Conditions: Varies • Teammates: Always a lot of people on the trail

Piestewa Peak is a popular hiker's peak in central Phoenix, always crowded even on hot days. I hiked this peak the first time in 1997, and have hiked to its top about a hundred times over the years. That's a conservative figure. The truer count may be close to 200. I honestly have no idea how many times I have hiked this peak.

The peak usd to be known as Squaw Peak, but its name was changed in 2003, named after Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi woman from Tuba City (AZ), the first woman killed in combat in the Iraq War. It wasn't hard to get used to the new name. It seemed more appropriate anyway.

The peak sits within the Piestewa Peak park, part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Access is from Lincoln Avenue nearby the AZ-51 Freeway. On a pleasant winter weekend, the parking lots will be jammed and there may be 200 people hiking the mountain at any one time. Even in summer, when it's over 100 degrees, there will be a dozen of so people on the mountain.

For years, I have shifted my allegiances back and forth between Piestewa Peak and nearby Camelback Mountain. Both peaks have similar hiking statistics, although the trail to Piestewa Peak's top is a little more well-defined than that on Camelback. I may hike Piestewa Peak a dozen times over a three month period, then not at all for a year.

I always take the standard route, which starts at the southern parking lot near some ramadas. The trail is hewn into the rock, with gentle grades and many switchbacks. It's like this all the way up. In places, rock-and-masonry walls have been built to limn the route. It's not a wilderness trail by any stretch. Do not come here expecting quiet alone time in the wilderness.

The route gets steeper toward the end, the last hundred vertical feet up rock steps. Then, just below the summit, the trail splits. Most people hang a left and scamper up to a broad rocky bald. The actual summit is to go right, and climb a short chute to a saddle, then another ten feet of rock to the top.

In all my years of hiking this peak, the vast vast majority of hikers never go to the actual summit. And it's not a trivial difference. The elevation difference between the summit and the more-popular rock bald is about 10 feet. Strictly speaking, very few people actually summit Piestewa Peak. I find this amusing. I realize most people are here for the exercise and don't care about ten extra feet. Still, it amuses me.

Every hike is enlivened by the sea of humanity on the trails. It's a mix of everyone and everything. There are the superfit types who bound up the peak in 15 minutes. There are families with kids who cry and don't want to be doing this. Once, me and another hiker came across $400 in four $100 bills just lying on the trail. Know what I did? I said, "I don't want any part of this" and walked away. Yes, I actually walked away from $400 just lying there.

I have seen Mennonites (or similar), the women in pinafores and the men in black slacks and long beards. I've seen a crew of gang-bangers on the trails for reasons I don't know. There's always some barely-dressed honey about every thirty feet. I once helped a woman down who had sprained her knee. I've run into former students of mine on the trail. In summer, I will be moving at 5 a.m., down by 6, before it gets too nasty. My usual round-trip time is 70 minutes. My best time is 55 minutes.

So, yeah, I've been here and done that nearly 200 times over 20 years. But it's still a great hike. I always come down feeling great, and along with Camelback Mountain, it is arguably one of the best urban hikes in the country.

(c) 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.