South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona is the largest municipal park in the United States. It was first named Phoenix Mountain Park and was formed in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge sold the original 13,000 acres (53 km²) to the City of Phoenix. It is part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve system and it is located south of central Phoenix, hence the name. It now has more than 16,000 acres and is known as the largest city park in the world. Visitors get to the park from the north, east or west from I-17 or I-10.
From several locations within the park you’ll find fantastic views of Phoenix and the surrounding communities. The National Trail climbs up the ridge to the west, and offers very good views of Phoenix, Tempe and the metropolitan area at several established viewpoints. As you explore the park’s 58 miles of trails you’ll find lots of beautiful Sonoran Desert scenery. Ancient petroglyphs and abundant wildlife will keep you entertained as you enjoy the amazing views of the Phoenix valley and surrounding mountains. There are four basic activities that you can enjoy at South Mountain Park: Hiking, biking, bird watching and horseback riding.
Stop at the main gate on your way into the park and pick up a map. At the visitor’s center, you can find trail maps and talk to a park ranger for information on hikes or mountain bike rides in the area. Park rangers can be a great source of information and they can provide trail maps and even help you reserve one of the picnic ramadas. Here you can also learn about upcoming park ranger-led outdoor programs. After a stop at the visitor’s center you should continue up to Dobbins Point for breathtaking views of the valley.
There are a series of trails in the South Mountain Park one of them is the wheelchair-accessible Judith Tunell trail located close to the visitor center. Most of the trails in the park are on rugged, desert terrain. So you need to be prepared if you decide to go hiking on foot. Sturdy hiking boots are recommended and be sure to carry a supply of drinking water along with you.
The more than 10 different trails in South Mountain Park range from 1 mile in length to 14 miles. Javelina Canyon Trail is going to be one of the easiest of these trails. It starts at the Beverly Canyon parking lot at 46th Street, south of Baseline Road. All of the trails will be rocky and some of them are quite steep.
There are many species of plant life and you can see creosote, brittlebush, palo verde trees and a variety of cacti along the trails. You can find many desert critters in the park and you may even spot a javelina, cottontail rabbit or jackrabbit as you are hiking along the trails. Some of the best spots to see petroglyphs in South Mountain Park are along the Judith Tunnell Accessible Trail. Some of the best views are going to be found at the Buena Vista Lookout off the National Trail.
More people probably visit South Mountain Park for the scenic drive and views than for anything else. The main road which courses to the highest lookout in the park is full of switchbacks and you should be aware that this drive is on a winding mountain road that isn’t too wide. If you want to get to the second highest point in the park, drive up to the Dobbins Lookout, which is only about 30 feet below Mount Suppoa.
In the foothills of South Mountain Park, just a little before the entrance Ponderosa Stables and South Mountain Stables have provided horseback riding to the public for many years. Guided trail rides are available to riders of all levels of experience. For information contact Ponderosa Stables or South Mountain Stables. They offer breakfast rides, cookout rides and interesting trails rides for all levels of experience.
While you are there you should probably stop over and take a tour of the Mystery Castle. It is located only a couple of miles from the entrance to the park and is well worth your time. You’ll be fascinated by your tour guide who happens to be the daughter of the man who built the home from materials he found in the surrounding area.
South Mountain Park can easily take a full day to explore if you decide to take to the trails. Or you can take an hour and drive your car up to the top of the mountains for a beautiful view of the Valley of the Sun. Be sure to take time to stop for at least a few short hikes to explore the rugged desert countryside or perhaps a family picnic in one of the many ramadas.