Phoenix, Arizona offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails for all skill levels. There is a different trail here for every day of the year. My 365 Phoenix Hikes project is an endeavor to connect our stunning geography with the great surrounding neighborhoods. Trails are around every corner. Let’s get outside!
My favorite new hike in the Phoenix metro this year is the Sunrise Peak Trail in Scottsdale.
It is the only place in the Valley that I know of where you can simultaneously get sweeping views of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. It’s a real bang-for-your-buck trail, and it is not heavily traveled. Locals know about it, but my assessment is that it’s off of the radar of the Valley’s seasonal visitors.
To me, this hike is like Momma Bear’s porridge. Not too hot, not too cold. Just the right length. No sheer rock face to scramble up (like the Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback Mountain), but enough of an uphill climb to give you a workout.
Total elevation gain is 1,095 feet.
You’ve probably seen Sunrise Peak many times from the Loop 101. It is just south of Thompson Peak’s radio antenna farm in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The Sunrise Peak Trail is just a small segment of the Preserve’s 200 miles of footpaths.
From the trailhead, it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the peak at a moderate pace. Budget about 55 minutes for the trip down.
The trail is ungroomed with compacted dirt. The path is 4-6 feet wide in most areas. Trail running shoes or hiking boots are recommended because there are areas with scree and craggy rocks to walk over. There are no sharp drop-offs or nail-biting ledges.
You will do fine on this trail if you are, like me, in unexceptional physical condition. The 1.2 miles up to the saddle (elev. 2,460′ ) is a hike with its own rewards. The next 6/10ths of a mile will take you through switchbacks in a small forest of towering saguaro cacti. The final 500 feet to the summit reminded me of a stair climber. However, it was brief and there is room to rest at the top.
The first leg of the trail up to the saddle winds gently through a canyon. Lots to see here, but bring a flashlight if you are hiking just before sunset as this canyon loses daylight 45 minutes before the rest of the trail. Alternately, there is no shade from the overhead sun in this same part of the hike during mid-day. Pack a hat and sunscreen.
Round trip is 4.4 miles. There is a western spur to the trail that will take you Lost Dog Wash Trailhead. However, this post covers only the portion from the Via Linda trailhead to Sunrise Peak. Here is a map of trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Fountain Hills Splendor
If you synchronize your hike to the Fountain Hills fountain schedule, you will be able to see the 300-foot tall water plume from the top of Sunrise Peak. From the summit, look to the ESE at about 4 miles.
The fountain operates 7 days a week, for 15 minutes at the top of every hour for most of the day. Hours of operation are 9am to 9pm. The exception is when high winds cancel its operation.
When it was installed in 1970, it was the world’s tallest water fountain. It held that record for a decade. Now, it is the fourth tallest. The maximum height of the fountain is 560 feet. This is achieved every year on St. Patrick’s Day when the Town of Fountain Hills turns the man-made lake and fountain green for the local holiday celebration.
Benefits of this trail
The Sunrise Peak Trail has a lot going for it. Here is the myriad of reasons why this trail has so much appeal to me and my family:
- Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Four Peaks, and the Phoenix Valley are visible from one summit
- Time your hike to see the Fountain Hills fountain rise hourly during the day
- A gradual climb to the peak from 1,923 feet elevation to 3,069 feet gives you a sense of accomplishment but doesn’t burn your legs
- Rewarding views 1.2 miles up at the saddle if you choose only to go that far
- Even locals who’ve heard of the trail can’t tell you exactly where the trailhead is
- A great trail for children, teens, and families
- Unbeatable orange sunsets
- About 4.4 miles up and back, 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace
This is a great hike to see wildlife. On one trip up to Sunrise Peak, I took a photo of this chuckwalla below. He was observing hikers and sunning on a rock just a few feet from the trail. They are harmless and skittish. Chuckwallas in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve have a magnificent copper band around their bellies. Colorations in the species vary depending on their habitat in the Valley. On South Mountain, for example, chuckwallas instead have black backs and orange tails.
Please don’t torment the chuckwallas or confuse them with the Gila Monster.
Directions and Parking
The trailhead is located about halfway between Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, just north of the Shea Boulevard corridor. It is accessed from 136th and Via Linda. Use this address on your GPS to map the trailhead parking lot: 12061 N. 145th Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85259.
Drinking water is available from a fountain at the trailhead, but there are no restrooms.
If the 22 parking spaces in this tight parking lot are taken, there is overflow parking on a gravel lot across the street from the trailhead entrance. The second parking lot is about 600 feet to the southwest on Via Linda. The gate closes every night at sunset.
Pets on the trail
Dogs are permitted on trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as long as they are leashed. The leash must be 6 feet or less in length.
Hours of Operation
The trailheads at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are open from sunrise to sunset. This means that the hours of operation vary. For early morning or late evening hikes throughout the year, see detailed park hours here.
If you have hiked to Sunrise Peak in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, leave me a comment below to let me know how you rate it. It is truly one of my favorites.
I usually find myself hiking in a place that not a lot of people go hiking, just trying to find some solitude. I like being out in the middle of nowhere. Not always, but it’s a good place to go to just reflect and think, and it’s something I really enjoy. – Rami Malek, American film actor who portrayed Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody