The Mountains of Arizona •
Union Hills Peak • Highpoint: Union Hills
• Sonoran Preserve
• City of Phoenix


Hawk's Nest Trail

On the Desert Tortoise Trail. Black Mountain is ahead

Summit view, with Camelback and Piestewa Peaks in the mist

West view, with the Bradshaw Mountains in back

Looking north at the New River Mountains and Skull Mesa

The peak as I descend. Watch out the cholla!

A little farther out now


All images

• • •

The Arizona
Mountains Gazetteer

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Date: November 30, 2013 • Elevation: 2,383 feet • Prominence: 718 feet • Distance: 6.2 miles • Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes • Gain: 780 feet • Conditions: Cool and clear


The Union Hills are a band of hills in north Phoenix, east of Interstate-17 and north of the Loop-101 freeway. The highest point is an anvil-shaped hill at the southeast end of the range, and is called either Union Peak, or Union Hills Peak, or nothing at all. In recent years, the range has been purchased by the city of Phoenix and formed into the Sonoran Preserve, a park with many miles of hiking, biking and horse trails. Much of this is brand new, only since about 2010. I have never explored these hills until today.

I "discovered" these hills a few months ago, doing some general web searching. I figured this would be a good hike when nothing else was going on, and the weather wasn't so hot. This being the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend, and the weather just beautiful, I chose to check them out this morning. From my home in Scottsdale, I drove the 25 (or so) miles to the Desert Vista Trailhead on the west side.

For those who care: I followed Interstate-17 to Jomax Road, east through one light to a T-intersection where 19th Avenue goes south and Northern Parkway goes north. North on Northern about a mile to a right onto Copperhead, then left onto Melvern, then right onto Desert Vista and to the trailhead parking lot. This is all brand-new homes and upscale apartments, and not all the street signs were actually up, but I had no problems. The one-way drive took about 40 minutes and I rolled in about 9 a.m., the weather sunny and cool, but very nice.

The parking lot was about half full, and there were a lot of mountain bikers getting suited up and ready to ride in. I got myself together and started hiking, first on the Hawk's Nest Trail. A quarter-mile later, I angled right onto Desert Tortoise Trail. The trails are smooth and wide, very nicely groomed, and perfect for bikers. There were a few hikers and joggers too, but overall, it was not crowded at all. I was surprised there weren't more people on a holiday weekend with such nice weather, but I figured they were all down at Camelback or Piestewa Peaks.

I stayed on Desert Tortoise as it surmounted a saddle, then started a very lenient downhill grade, with great views looking northeast. I could immediately pick out far-away peaks such as Black Mountain, Mount Ord and the Four Peaks. The tread was flat and I made fast time. The recent rains had sprouted all sorts of little green shrubby grasses, and the whole place looked more like a park than a desert. It was here that I got some good views of the peak, off to my right.

After a little over a mile on Desert Tortoise, I angled right onto Valle Verde Trail, stayed right on it at a subsequent junction, now slowly gaining toward a saddle to the west of the peak. The slopes were covered in teddy-bear cholla cactus, glistening in the morning light, so serene, so beautiful ... of course, we know they're evil little plants that stick you a hundred times with barbs even if you so much as give one a dirty look. Fortunately, the trail winds cleanly through the worst of them.

The trail gets steeper here, as the final 600 vertical feet is gained in less than a mile. Certainly not too steep, but after a couple easy miles of mostly flat hiking, it was good to give my heart and lungs a little workout. I was now on the Great Horned Owl Trail, marked "GO" on the intermittent posts. Soon, I was at its junction with the Union Peak trail, marked "UP". The post at said junction read "GO" and "UP". Too clever. So I did. The final push went fast, and I was up top at 10:30 a.m., a hike of slightly over an hour, and covering 2.9 miles going by the trail map. The one-way elevation gain is about 800 feet.

I stayed up top for about 10 minutes. The views were nice, but a lot of it was suburban rooftops. Farther south, there was a little ground fog, and the peaks nearer to Phoenix looked like islands rising above this misty layer. I found a register and signed in, noting about one or two people sign in per day. Not everyone signs in, and the register was kind of hidden, but I would have expected more people up here (and no register, frankly).

I started down, and jog-walked the trails nearly all the way back to my truck, exiting in less than an hour. I passed a few bicyclists and less than a dozen total hikers and joggers. Back at the truck, I just dumped my gear in the front seat and drove out, home by a little after noon. The hike had gone well. I was expecting rougher trails and more people. The smooth trails made my hike go a lot faster, while the lack of people was a nice treat. Given the park is so new, it just may not be on that many people's radar for now. I was expecting non-stop humanity, like on Camelback.

There are two other peaks in the northwest part of the range that have trails to their tops and some day when I have nothing else going on, I'll come back for those. I calculated that doing the three main summits in one hike would push 11 miles. I had other things to do today, so I didnít have the time for an all-day hike.

(c) 2013, 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.