Hike review: Phoenix South Mountain, Bursera – National Trail loop

Visible to anyone flying into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport is South Mountain – a notorious mound of rock bearing a few dozen red-light dotted communications towers. Since one of the trailheads for South Mountain is about a half mile from my driveway, I have taken quite a few hikes on it since we moved to Phoenix in 2012.

It was only recently that I got serious with my goal to hike every foot of marked trail on South Mountain – a 17,000-acre preserve owned and operated by the City of Phoenix. Some sources report South Mountain (pdf map) is the largest city park in the nation. Who am I to question them? For a little perspective, Vail Ski Resort in Colorado measures up at 5,300 skiable acres.

I completed the hike chronicled below with my friend Ken on a beautiful Saturday morning in December, 2013. We were blessed with mostly cloudy skies following a day and a half of rain. We also had a few days of rain a couple weeks earlier, so the mountain was as green I have seen it.

Hike Details*

  • Trail(s): Bursera Trail to National Trail via Lost Ranch
  • Length: 5+ miles round-trip
  • Time: 3.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 800 ft. (ballpark)
  • Difficulty: hard

*Rough estimates. I don’t do GPS.

Click photos to enlarge.

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