Discovering South Mountain Park: A Guide to Phoenix’s Urban Oasis

South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park

Phoenix, Arizona is known for its sunny climate and beautiful desert landscapes, and South Mountain Park is a shining example of this natural beauty. Spanning over 16,000 acres, this park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. From hiking and mountain biking to picnicking and horseback riding, there are endless activities to enjoy at South Mountain Park.

In this article, we’ll delve into the history and features of South Mountain Park, explore some of the most popular activities to do there and provide tips for planning your visit.

History of South Mountain Park

Mountain Park has a long and rich history dating back to the ancient Hohokam civilization, which once inhabited the area. Evidence of their presence can still be seen in the form of petroglyphs and ruins scattered throughout the park.

In the early 1900s, the city of Phoenix began acquiring land in the area with the intention of preserving it as a park. The park was officially established in 1924 and has been a beloved destination for locals and visitors ever since.

Features of South Mountain Park

The most prominent feature of South Mountain Park is, of course, the mountain itself. South Mountain is the largest municipal park in the country, and at its peak, it reaches an elevation of over 2,300 feet. Visitors can access the mountain via a network of hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous.

Another highlight of the park is its stunning desert landscape. The Sonoran Desert is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, and Mountain Park is no exception. Visitors can expect to see towering saguaro cacti, mesquite trees, and a variety of desert wildlife, including rattlesnakes, javelina, and coyotes.

Activities at South Mountain Park


One of the most popular activities at South Mountain Park is hiking, and with over 50 miles of trails to explore, there’s something for hikers of all skill levels. For those looking for an easy hike, the Judith Tunell trail is a great option. This trail is just under a mile long and offers stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape. More experienced hikers may enjoy the National Trail, a 14-mile trail that traverses the length of Mountain Park.

Mountain Biking

South Mountain Park is also a popular destination for mountain bikers. The park has over 16 miles of designated mountain biking trails, ranging from easy to difficult. The Desert Classic trail is a popular choice for intermediate-level riders, while the National Trail offers a more challenging ride with steep inclines and technical terrain.

Horseback Riding

For those looking for a more leisurely way to explore the park, horseback riding is a great option. Several companies in the area offer guided trail rides through Mountain Park, allowing visitors to experience the beauty of the desert from a unique perspective.


South Mountain Park also offers several designated picnic areas, complete with tables, grills, and shade structures. These areas are great spots to relax and take in the beauty of the park while enjoying a meal.

Tips for Visiting South Mountain Park

  1. Bring plenty of water: The desert can be hot and dry, so it’s important to stay hydrated while visiting South Mountain Park. Be sure to bring plenty of water and drink it regularly throughout your visit.
  2. Wear appropriate footwear: The hiking trails at Mountain Park can be rocky and uneven, so it’s important to wear sturdy, comfortable footwear. Closed-toe shoes with good traction are recommended.
  3. Respect the wildlife: Mountain Park is home to a variety of desert wildlife, including rattlesnakes. Keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter and never attempt to touch or approach them. Additionally, it’s important to properly dispose of any trash or food scraps, as this can attract animals and disrupt their natural behavior.
  4. Check trail conditions: Before embarking on a hike or mountain bike ride, it’s a good idea to check the trail conditions. Trails may be closed due to weather or maintenance, so be sure to check the park’s website or social media channels for up-to-date information.
  5. Plan for the weather: Phoenix can be hot year-round, so it’s important to plan your visit accordingly. During the summer months, it’s best to visit the park in the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. Additionally, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.


South Mountain Park is a true gem in the heart of Phoenix, offering visitors a unique opportunity to explore the beauty and diversity of the Sonoran Desert. From hiking and mountain biking to picnicking and horseback riding, there are endless activities to enjoy at this expansive park. Whether you’re a local or a visitor to the area, be sure to add South Mountain Park to your list of must-visit destinations. Just remember to come prepared with plenty of water, appropriate footwear, and respect for the park’s wildlife and natural beauty.

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