South Mountain Park and Preserve occupies over 16,000 acres of mountainous land, tying together the Ma Ha Tauk, Gila, and Guadalupe mountain ranges. A stop at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center is an excellent way to learn more about the Sonoran Desert’s flora, wildlife and natural history.
If you’ve never tried desert mountain hiking, the Kiwanis Trail is a good place to start as this short, moderate trail offers a good introduction. From this trail, visitors can also join additional trails such as the National trail or the Telegraph Pass Trail. The latter is a mile long in and out trail, passing by two 90-year-old dams and the Telegraph Pass Look Out. All three trails are considered to be nature trails with patches of wildflowers sprouting every day.
For more experienced hikers the trail to Dobbins Lookout offers a 6.1km thrilling challenge with a constant incline to the highest point at the park. While the trail in itself is scenic, the real beauty lies at the top with panoramic 360 views. An observation point shows different landmarks in Phoenix visible from the lookout. At the top, a stone Ramada offers a well-deserved shady break. Similarly, the Pyramid trail is a moderately challenging in and out trail, covering 9.7 km. The trail is not only ideal for hiking but also for bird watching, especially between September and April, as temperatures in summer are too high. This trail can be looped into a longer 20km trail by joining the Pyramid trail, with Ranger, Bees Knees, and National Trails.
Visitors may also choose to drive around the park on the 5.5-mile scenic Summit Road, which also leads to Dobbins Lookout. This road however has limited access on Sundays with the first, third, and fifth Sunday of the month being closed to traffic between 5 am and 10 am. The 4th Sunday is Silent Sunday and the road is closed off to motorized traffic all day. The park, the entrance of which is free, on the other hand, is open daily between 5 am to 7 pm. At the foothills of South Mountain lies Mystery Castle, a weird-looking building that was built by Boyce Luther Gulley for his daughter using the cheapest materials possible. The house has attracted a lot of publicity over the years, with Life Magazine giving this building its iconic name.
When in Maricopa Country Arizona, it is worth paying a visit to this incredible park. If hiking and cycling is not your thing, a drive on Summit Road to the peak is still recommended, as the 360 views are simply unique.