Difficulty Rating: Difficult/Moderate
(If you’re a beginner hiker, this trail would be seen as a difficult trail, but if you’re used to steep inclines than you might consider this trail as moderate.)
Trail Location: South Mountain Park & Preserve – Main Entrance
10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042
Directions to Trailhead: After entering the park you will take the first left immediately after passing the first guard station. Take this street down, past the South Mountain Environmental Education Center and follow the park signs indicating that the trailhead is located shortly before the end of the street. You will see a big parking lot area on your left.
Holbert trail is fun and challenging all year round, but it is especially fun after a good monsoon storm. When Phoenix receives a lot of rain fall, this hike will provide you with sights and sounds of waterfalls, running washes (prepare to get your feet wet) and a different perspective of what a desert landscape really looks like.
This trail is somewhat tucked away in the park but will lead you to one of the most popular look out points, known as Dobbins Lookout.
As you begin to start the trail you’ll notice that the ground in this first little section is actually sandy. For a minute, it might feel as if you could be walking towards the shores of a beach, but instead… you are entering a desert wash area. In essence, when it rains this is an outlet for the water to run down off the mountain. Throughout this beginning section there are multiple wash sections that you will need to walk across. The park has done a great job of putting in trail markers on the other side of the wash so that you know where to cross it.
As this path continues it is flat and there will be stones laid out marking the way of the trail.
It’s in this flat area that you will even see some Hohokam rock art as you walk by. One area is fenced off to announce the rock art but there are plenty of other rocks around that if you pay attention to has other rock art as well.
At around a half mile you will reach a paved road leading to a big water tank. Once at this road crossing it can be a little confusing as to where to go, but there is a trail marker sign indicating to turn right onto the actual road.
As you make your short distance up the road you’ll see another trail marker indicating where Holbert trail continues.
From this point on Holbert trail becomes more challenging. It’s a little rocky and a little steep going up this part after the road. This is where the Holbert Trail challenge really starts to begins!
As the dirt trail is leading you up you will be walking along a cliff. At all times, the trail can become narrow, making it hard for two people to be side to side on the trail.
I’m not going to lie, this narrow part of the trail can be a little hectic, especially when there’s a lot of other hikers. Some hikers just are not aware that there is a hiking etiquette – so you’ll see hikers going down not getting over and stopping for hiker’s coming up. And you’ll also see slower hikers going up and not getting over or stopping for the faster hiker’s behind them. I feel that this is important for you to know, so that you don’t feel frustrated if this happens.
At around a mile the trail will curve towards to right and it will change from a dirt path to a little section of bigger rocks that you have to walk over. If you are lucky enough to do this trail after a good rain – you will see a waterfall right in this section and you will literally be walking right in front of it. It’s a little waterfall, but it’s really cool to see!
After passing this area, the trail turns back into a dirt path and a series of switchbacks will now lead you up, until you reach Dobbins Lookout. The trail widens at this point and you will not be hiking right against the cliff of the mountain.
The switchbacks can be a little misleading at times, if you don’t pay close enough attention (like me). There are some areas where it looks like you keep on going straight, but in reality you should have turned. When this has happened to me, I have quickly realized that I’m no longer on the trail and as soon as I look back, I see where the trail had turned. I know this isn’t just a “me” problem as I’ve seen this also happen to other hikers, which is why I’m mentioning it to you. If you get a feeling and it looks like you’re off the trail you probably are, so either wait for another hiker to come along and/or look back to see if you missed the turn.
At around 1.7 miles on your right you will see the trail marker guiding you towards Dobbins Lookout or you can continue straight to remain on Holbert Trail.
If you go up to Dobbins Lookout, the trail will continue on switchbacks for around another 0.2 of a mile. I would suggest hiking up and checking it out. At the top there are some benches and a stone hut where you can take a break and enjoy the view.
After the lookout you can go back down the way you came up to hit the Holbert trail again. If you decide to continue to the end of Holbert you’ll notice that this trail now becomes less populated. And while the path is still inclining up, it fortunately does so more gradually now. Those switchbacks become a fond memory as you now enter a canyon area surrounded by the inner workings of the mountain range and the other mountain tops.
For the most part, the rest of the trail is a gradual incline. There is a section where you will cross Buena Vista Rd. and see a trail marker on the other side indicating where the continuation of Holbert is at.
The end of the trail marker is located near the TV Road, which leads to the antennas on top of South Mountain. This ending trail marker abruptly appears and it somewhat feels unfinished, because it’s just a marker sticking out of the ground. But if you turn around and look at the view behind you it’s completely worth it!
From here you can turn around and head back the way you came. Overall this trail roundtrip is about 5 miles, but if you want to explore more, National Trail is just up the road a little more.