Arizona Hiking: Telegraph Pass at South Mountain
- Good fitness hike
- Net accumulated elevation gain (AEG) up to Summit Rd., 536 feet
- User friendly; easy to visually stay on trail; good footing
- Moderate to intermediate
- One way distance to Summit Rd., approximately 1.13 miles, for just over 2 miles round trip
- Snake sightings: Minimal. But (as always) if you see one, stay calm and yield.
- Tourist tip: Petroglyphs along the lower portion of the trail.
Telegraph Pass in South Mountain Park, Phoenix, is my hands down home favorite for regular workouts. It's a moderate to intermediate hike on a beautiful trail ... tough enough to get your heart pumping with heavy breathing, and user friendly enough for beginning hikers to get their new boots dusty. Autumn through Spring, I like hiking toward late afternoon when the long shadows of the summits cover a good chunk of the trail in shade.
Telegraph Pass is well traveled, but not nearly as congested as the Pima Canyon Trailhead on the east end of the Mountain. It has its moments, but generally hikers are fewer, and friendly.
The trail begins with an easy walk on a paved surface for wheelchair accessibility, up to a fork that meets Telegraph Pass to the left, and the Desert Classic trail to the right. Desert Classic trails away from the summits through a level area, and is a good obstacle course for mountain biking. But for a rewarding mountain hike, turn left at the fork.
There is gradual elevation to a decent climb, and the trail is nicely rocky with enough small to medium embedded boulders for good footing. (Nothing is worse than slogging vertically on loose gravel, which is my main gripe about the Tom's Thumb trail north of Scottsdale.) The trail has seen a lot of wear and tear over time, and some of the more challenging inclines nearer Summit Road have leveled off somewhat, but that is true of many other popular trails as well.
Once at the top at Summit Road, there is a permanent bench for relaxing and hydrating a bit while taking in very nice views of the Ahwatukee Foothills (and the Reservation beyond) to the south/southeast. From here most people turn around and head back down. Many hikers though, continue on to the more lateral, and geologically scenic, National Trail West up to the stone ramada. One could also head toward the cell towers on the National Trail East, but be aware of the slightly daunting vertical hike to the top.I much prefer the West trail up to the stone ramada house, which increases the distance to 1.59 miles one way. The switch back-ey route is also filled with embedded rock and boulders, and lateral enough for horseback riding, which is always fun to see. Topography changes offer interesting visual variety, with eye popping boulder colors from sandy, to coppers and browns in many shades. Gorgeous.
Not many people do this, but I sometimes continue past the Stone House up the National Trail West toward the Salt River summits. It's another decent vertical hike that ends at a breathtaking summit, with panoramic views of the entire Valley, and the stunning Estrella Mountains to the West. We're talking a total round trip hike of approximately 4 miles from the Telegraph Pass parking area and back.
You can really go nuts continue on to the west summits, or head south/southwest on the Pyramid Trail, but that could potentially add some serious round trip mileage to your hike. Map it out ahead of time if you're feeling that fabulous, but be careful!
One can keep on hiking until the body says STOP here. South Mountain Park is enormous, and the experience can be anything you want it to be. I can't say enough about the physical and mental health benefits of hiking an edge of wilderness treasure within a sophisticated urban environment.