This classic Phoenix-area hike is consistently crowded, but never fails to offer a solid workout with commanding views of the city.
Piestewa Peak Hiking Guide
PARK HOURS: Parking 5am to 7pm – Trail 5am to 11pm
MAP: see below
PERMITS: no permit or entrance fee is required
DESIGNATION: Phoenix Mountains Preserve – city of Phoenix
BEST SEASONS: fall, winter, spring
DISTANCE: 4.4 miles round trip
HIKING TIME: average 1.5 hours round trip
ELEVATION: trailhead 1,400ft – summit 2,612ft – gain 1,200ft
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: From central Phoenix, find your way east to the north-south oriented Route 51 (Piestewa Freeway), which roughly parallels the I-17. Take exit 5 toward Lincoln Drive, turning right (east) on Glendale Avenue. Turn left on Squaw Peak Drive, continuing about 0.5 miles before looking for parking for the trailhead on your left. The best trailhead registers in Google Maps as Piestewa Peak Trailhead. The proper trailhead is designated as the 302 Trailhead.
ROUTE: well maintained trail with signed junctions
Dogs, drones, and mountain biking are not allowed on the Summit Trail, but dogs are permitted on the park’s other trails.
Piestewa is pronounced PI-ES-TE-WAH
Summit Trail Map
The map below shows the Summit Trail up Piestewa Peak, but fails to highlight the secondary trails in the Phoenix Mountain Park. You can right-click on this map to view a larger version or download it.
The “interactive map” that shows all the official trails can be found here, though the summit trail is intuitive to follow, and the few junctions are well marked.
5 Tips for an Enjoyable Day
Here’s a few ways to get the most out of your hike.
1) Be courteous!
Since you’re virtually guaranteed to see many hikers on this trail, the best way to ensure a good time is to treat others the way you wish to be treated.
This especially means being patient with those that may be moving slower than you. Wait for an opportunity where there’s plenty of room on the trail so others don’t feel startled or pushed aside.
Likewise, it’s equally important to quickly forgive others. You’re likely to encounter at least one fast hiker (or trail runner) that will make you feel like an object of great annoyance for being in their way. It’s best to simply brush off their attitude, and not let it affect your own.
Technically uphill hikers have the right of way, but the reality is that you cannot expect the majority of users to recognize this in such an urban setting.
2) Be flexible with timing, and expect parking trouble.
This is a very popular and often crowded hike. Parking can be a hassle, especially in the evenings. The best way to avoid the heaviest crowds is to hike in the early morning.
Regardless, a good tip is to continue farther up the road from the trailhead. Additional parking is available up to the end of the E Squaw Peak Road. Just expect to walk up to an extra 1.2 miles (round trip) on the Freedom Trail, a level path that parallels the road through here.
3) If you’re going solo, consider headphones.
Sometimes this can feel more like a city sidewalk than a hiking trail. As a solo hiker, you may wish to drown out the ambient noise and small talk of our common humanity with your favorite music.
Speaking of music, nobody should have to hear your music but you. Use your headphones! Subjecting the general public to your choice of tunes on a hiking trail is just plain rude. We didn’t come to Piestewa for your DJ services. Thanks.
When wearing headphones, just be sure to remember Tip Number One – be courteous and conscientious of others coming up behind you that may wish to pass!
4) Consider going at night.
This is a great night hike, especially in hottest months of the year. Due to the ambient light of the city, it’s often possible to leave your headlamp off. At night you have the added benefit of leaving some of the crowds behind, too.
The hours of operation for the trailhead are listed as 5am to 7pm, so entrance is closed after 7pm.
However, one may exit the parking lot at any time. The park “gate” is a stripe of tire spikes that forbid entrance, but allow for exit.
The summit trail is technically closed from 11pm to 5am.
5) Mind the heat and know your limits.
Hiking in the midsummer heat of Phoenix is asking for trouble! This trail is best done in winter, early spring, and late fall. The heat and exertion even in the cooler off-season can catch unsuspecting hikers by surprise.
Nobody wants to end up in a rescue situation like the one at the end of this page.
History and Naming of Piestewa Peak
Piestewa Peak was originally known to the Pima tribe as “Vainom Do’ag,” or Iron Mountain.
For nearly 100 years since the pioneer days of the early 1900s, the mountain was known as Squaw Peak. Since the word “squaw” developed to be derogatory of Native American women, lobbies to change the name came about as early as 1992. This notion sparked a debate that continued in Arizona for more than decade.
In 2003, governor Janet Napolitano strongly lobbied to rename the peak in honor of recently-deceased Lori Piestewa. Piestewa was from Tuba City, Arizona, and had recently been honored as the first Native American to die in combat as a member of the U.S. military. She was ambushed as part of a military convoy in Iraq in 2003.
The governor’s lobby to rename the mountain was met with some defiance. This was mostly due to a rule of the governing bodies for this sort of thing – namely the U.S board on Geographic Names and the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names. In order to name a feature after a person, the person must have been deceased for a minimum of 5 years.
The governor’s lobby, however, caught political momentum due to its sensitive and controversial nature. As a result, Arizona’s state board went on to approve the name change despite the waiting period stipulation in April of 2003.
The greater national board waited the 5-year tenure before officially approving the change in 2008.
The city of Phoenix acquired ownership of the land in 1959.
Piestewa Peak vs. Camelback Mountain
The question of whether to hike Camelback Mountain or Piestewa Peak comes up often, since both of these hikes are similar in character and difficulty.
If you’re wondering which hike is more difficult, the answer is negligible. If hard-pressed, I’d say Camelback is harder. Both have comparable elevation gain, in the range of 1,200ft, but the trails up Camelback are slightly longer than the one up Piestewa.
The round trip mileages break down like this:
- Piestewa Summit Trail – 2.4 miles
- Cholla Trail (Camelback) – 2.6 miles
- Echo Canyon (Camelback) – 2.5 miles
Camelback is the more popular and celebrated summit. Despite its heavier use, it may at times feel less crowded than Piestewa. The key difference here is that Camelback has two trails leading to its summit (Cholla & Echo Canyon) whereas Piestewa has just one.
Piestewa has better parking at the trailhead.
Dogs are not allowed on either of these mountains.
Video: a helicopter rescue gone wrong?
In June of 2019, video of a helicopter rescue on Piestewa Peak went viral, as it showed a rescued hiker spinning out of control on a short haul line – 74 year-old Katalin Metro.
Initial reports by officials stated that she suffered “no ill effects” as a result of the spin, but Metro reports a much different story, stating she felt like she was going to die, and going on to file a lawsuit with the city.
It’s worth noting that such spins occur in short haul operations more often than you may think. Rescuers do the best they can to avoid it from developing, but cannot absolutely ensure against the phenomenon.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I hiked Piestewa Peak on the evening of November 13, 2019. Here’s the rest of the photos.