Phoenix Spring Escapes

Backcountry Biking
By Judy Wade & Bill Baker

South Mountains Park, the largest municipal park in the world, is a Phoenix treasure for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. This mound of mountains on the city's southern edge encompasses about 17,000 acres with picnic areas, lookout points and extensive trails. It's a natural preserve as well— everything within its boundaries is protected by law, including coyotes, javelinas, cactus wrens, Gila woodpeckers, quail and dozens of other species.

You see mountain bikes on trails throughout the park, but the favorite, and biggest challenge, is the 14.3-mile National Trail that runs through the park's center. It takes the better part of a day to ride it. You'll probably spend four to five hours on the trail and several more recuperating. If the elevation gain of more than 1,000 feet doesn't get you, carrying your bike over rock outcroppings and picking yourself up from loose gravel probably will. The reward is great views and Indian petroglyphs. Winter and spring months are about the only time you want to do this, as there aren't enough cool morning hours in summer (even if you start at dawn) to stay comfortable for the length of time it requires.

You can access the trail from the park's 48th Street entrance, between Baseline Road on the north and Elliott on the south. Leave your car in the lot and follow a busy (on weekends there are lots of hikers, walkers, families with kids) dirt road about 1/4 mile to a sign that says 'National Trail.' Past that, you'll see only intrepid hikers and bikers. To add a few miles to the ride, you can start with the Desert Classic, a trail that begins at East ramada in Pima Canyon and follows the base of the mountains to Telegraph Pass Trail. From there you can turn right onto National Trail.

For more information on riding in South Mountain Park, contact the Phoenix Department of Parks and Recreation, 10919 South Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85040-8302; (602) 495-0222.

Judy Wade and Bill Baker are freelance writers/photographers who pack and unpack in Phoenix.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »