Route: South Mountain Park, National - Alta Trail Loop (AZ)

Location
Arizona, US
Description

A 50 km lollipop loop in the Phoenix South Mountain Park/Preserve, Phoenix, AZ, USA. For start and end at Pima Canyon Trailhead, use, in order, the dirt road access, National, Alta, Bajada, Las Lomitas, Box Canyon, Holbert, and National trails, and ending with the same dirt road access. The route reaches two park-maintained water fountains, one at Pima Canyon Trailhead and one at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. There are no natural water sources in this park. Recommended season is late Fall to Winter.

Some notes on the route:

  1. National Trail (end-to-end) has been used in the past for informal ultra runs (typically roundtrip on the National Trail, about 30 miles).

  2. National Trail traverses the Guadalupe Range and the Gila Range, two of the three mountain ranges of the park. It passes just below the telecommunications towers.

  3. Alta Trail climbs and traverses the remaining range, Ma Ha Tauk Range, roughly parallel to the Gila Range. Alta Trail passes close to Maricopa Peak, which is not included in this route or effort.

  4. Bajada, Las Lomitas, and Box Canyon are well-marked connector trails.

  5. Holbert Trail connects back to National, but is a solid climb in its own right.

  6. The total distance is very close to 50 km (50.44 by my GPS), a standard ultrarunning distance.

  7. The route is all trail (dirt/rock), except for about 1.2 miles of dirt access road, and several paved road crossings, some of which cross at a diagonal.

  8. The route is challenging due to rough terrain, but no scrambling is required.

  9. The route achieves about 5300 feet elevation gain (which is more than National Trail round trip). However, this is by no means the most climbing that could be achieved in a single run or even in this distance in this park.

  10. The trails are all designated trails on the official park map, and are all well-marked (though there are many trail junctions).

  11. The number of trail name changes was minimized.

  12. The route is all within a single park boundary.

  13. The route is a loop, except for the eastern portion of National Trail.

  14. The route reaches two park-maintained water fountains, one at Pima Canyon Trailhead (where I started) and one at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center (mile 23 in my effort). There are no natural water sources in this park. 

  15. There are a number of options for where to start. I selected Pima Canyon because it’s the closest trailhead on this route to my house (I biked to get there). But starting at Buena Vista or Telegraph Pass would result in a shorter maximum distance between water stops.

  16. The views are great.