Alta Trail

Difficulty Rating:  Difficult/Moderate
(Difficult, due to the longer, besides that it’s moderate.)

Trail Length: 8 miles, roundtrip

Trail Location: South Mountain Park & Preserve – San Juan Gate via the Main Entrance
10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042

Directions to Trailhead: After entering the park continue going straight for about 1.9 miles until you reach the intersection with San Juan gate on your right. Park at the gate.

Trail Links: At end of Alta, is also the same location as the end and/or start of National Trail.

Hiking Tips:

  • Wear long pants as there is some overgrown vegetation along the side of the trail.
  •  Bring extra water and snacks for energy.

Trail Description

Alta Trail is the third longest hiking trails along South Mountain and it is one of the few trails along the Ma Ha Tuak range, which gives you a different perspective of the surrounding area.

The Ma Ha Tuak range is in the northern portion of South Mountain and you will be able to get views of the West Valley.

Parking

Once you enter the main entrance of the South Mountain Park Preserve continue driving straight for about 1.9 miles until you reach the intersection at San Juan Rd. Typically, the road will be closed off but there is a small area at the gate, where you can park your car.

San Juan Gate, 1.9 miles from main entrance

From this gate you will hike up the paved road for about a half mile before seeing the Alta Trailhead marker on your right hand side.

Walk along San Juan Rd. for about half mile to trailhead
Beginning of trailhead

As you step onto the trail, there is a gradual incline and at around .3 miles switchbacks starts.

These are easy and gentle switchbacks, with the trail being a dirt flat path leading you up to the first peak.

From this point you will still be able to view the eastern part of the mountain range and see the roads within the park and the antenna towers.

Shortly after reaching the first peak the trail curves to the north at which you will be walking along the northern edge and getting views of the West valley that you typically don’t get from the other hiking trails on South Mountain.

In between the peaks, the trail tends to flatten out and curves around this quiet northern end.

You dip down enough that you are not walking on top of the actual mountain but instead the mountain acts as a protective wall and you are walking against it.

This trail is less crowded, making it feel secluded and peaceful.  

At times the path dips up and down, but right before the second peak you start to feel more intensity of the incline.

Once at the second (and highest peak) you will be rewarded with a 360 degree view of the mountain range. You are again in the open air and standing on a top portion of the mountain.

View on top of 2nd peak

The trail then will be heading down from this point. You will see the switchbacks returning to guide you down.

It’s also important to note here, that while it may be easy going down this section, you still need to come back up this portion. The hardest part of the hike is getting back up this portion because it is steeper than the first section.

Therefore, know your limits and if you feel like you might be too tired or have problems coming back up, then it may be a good time to turn around. 

But if your still feeling good and you still have plenty of water, then let’s go make our way entirely down this portion!

As the trail starts going down you will notice that these switchbacks are different than the beginning switchbacks. Where the beginning switchbacks were gentle, these ones are a bit more aggressive.

At times the familiar dirt trail turns into rock piles to carefully navigate down with it being a steeper decline.

Rock piles to walk over

The closer you approach the San Juan Lookout the more the switchbacks will dwindle away and you will be walking on a straight path going down.

Once at the lookout you will see a little hut that has some cement benches to sit and relax. This is a great spot to relax and take in halfime! Eat some snacks to restore your energy cause now you have to go back the way you came!

San Juan Lookout
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