Piestewa Peak in Phoenix, Arizona: Part 2, The Hike to the Summit

In my previous article on Piestewa Peak, “Part 1, The Name Controversy,” I discussed the heated debates surrounding this Phoenix landmark as it went from the early name of “Squaw Tit Peak,” to simply Squaw Peak, and finally to Piestewa Peak in 2003. In this second part I’ll be discussing the hike to the summit of the peak, the third tallest point in Phoenix.

Standing on the summit of Piestewa Peak at 2,610 feet (796 meters) on one of my many hikes to the top. The photo was taken from the second highest point on the mountain a short distance away. Camelback Mountain can be seen in the distance to the left.

Standing on the summit of Piestewa Peak at 2,610 feet (796 meters) on one of my many hikes to the top. The photo was taken from the second highest point on the mountain a short distance away. Camelback Mountain can be seen in the distance to the left.

Hiking the Peak
Piestewa Peak as seen from Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon Summit Trail.

Piestewa Peak as seen from Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon Summit Trail, about 3.5 miles away.

Piestewa Peak is one of my favorite day hikes in the Phoenix area and is often one of my go-to hikes when I don’t have anything else planned. It’s less intense than Camelback Mountain nearby, but still offers a great workout and excellent views from the top. Driving on the Arizona 51, Piestewa Peak dominates the city to the east. The Summit Trail to the top is a short, but strenuous 1.2 mile (1.9 kilometer) hike with a large elevation gain of 1,208 feet (368 meters) from the trailhead to the highest point at 2,610 feet (796 meters) above sea level.1 To the peak and back down, roundtrip, it totals 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers). Piestewa Peak’s Summit Trail starts with a climb up a rocky staircase-like path. A large sign at the start explains that no horses, dogs, or bikes are allowed on the trail. On almost any day of the year you’ll soon find that the trail is heavily used with many fellow hikers going up and down as you progress. Located in the center of a major metropolitan area, the trail is one of the most visited in the nation with 4,000 to 10,000 hikers on any given week.2 It is the second most visited trail in Arizona after the popular Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park.3

Near the trailhead, showing the first portion of the hike. No, that's not the peak in the background, you've only just started!

Near the trailhead, showing the first portion of the hike. No, that’s not the peak in the background, you’ve only just started!

The people you’ll encounter on the Summit Trail are extremely diverse and of all skill levels. As long as you’re properly prepared and healthy enough, the summit can be reached by anyone regardless of age. I’ve seen elder adventurers well into their 70s or 80s, some with canes or hiking poles, moving up the mountain at their own pace, to babies less than a year old bouncing with each step as they are carried on their mother’s back. You’ll come across the athletes, with fit girls in tight sportswear and shirtless, muscle-bound guys in tennis shoes and shorts completing their daily run. There are also the overweight troopers covered in sweat, putting their all into losing a few pounds. Families take outings here together, friends hike up in groups, and single hikers make the trek as well. Residents and visitors alike regularly visit Piestewa and you’ll often hear a variety of languages being spoken. Spanish is the most prominent due to the large Hispanic population of the area, but other European and Asian languages are often heard as well. The hike offers a great cardio-vascular workout and there are many, including myself on occasion, who run the trail. Some who make the hike a regular workout carry small speakers and play music aloud as they make the trek. It is important to step with care and judge your speed appropriately as there are many places with very rocky segments or exposure to steep drops or cliffs that can be dangerous if you lose your footing. The time it takes to reach the peak depends on each hiker’s capabilities, but an average walk up takes about 40 to 60 minutes, while coming down often goes much faster.

Tip: If you aren’t yet feeling up to the challenge of the Summit Trail, try hiking some of the other great trails near Piestewa Peak or within the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. They still provide some great views of the Sonoran Desert, but do not require such a strenuous elevation gain. The Freedom Trail is a 3.8 mile loop that coils around the base of Piestewa Peak and offers a moderate alternative to the Summit Trail.

Preparing for the Hike

The ascent up Piestewa Peak can be difficult for some, especially if you’re not regularly active or come unprepared. The Sonoran Desert is one of the warmest environments in the United States. The climate is dry and temperatures reach past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the summer months. Hikers use the Summit Trail year round, but it is best enjoyed in cooler months or timed around sunrise or an hour or so before sunset. The trails remain open until 11pm and many people also hike with flashlights at night. Even if you don’t plan on being in the dark, it’s best to have a small flashlight with you in the afternoon just in case. Regardless of what month or time of day that you go, ensure that you bring plenty of water! This is the most important advice I can provide. Many experienced hikers who are not familiar with central Arizona’s desert environment often underestimate the amount of water that they’ll need. There’s no water on the trail and dehydration can be a serious complication if you don’t carry enough. On any day hike, I like to bring my CamelBak hydration pack. It’s a great way to comfortably store a good amount of water and also has compartments to carry and secure other items. It’s a good idea to carry a small food item like a Clif Bar and some light first aid items on any hike as well. Phoenix’s sunny skies mean you should also wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Make sure it offers broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays) and is water resistant to prevent sweat from wiping it away.

Saguaro cactus near the base of Piestewa Peak.

Saguaro cactus near the base of Piestewa Peak.

Getting to the Trailhead

To get to the Summit Trail, approach Piestewa Peak by taking the Arizona 51 to the Glendale Avenue/Lincoln Drive exit. Glendale Avenue turns into Lincoln Drive just to the east of the 51. Take Lincoln Drive east about a half a mile until you reach the traffic light at the intersection with Squaw Peak Drive, which is located between 22nd and 24th Streets. If you’re coming directly from the east, such as from central Scottsdale, just take Lincoln Drive west to this same location. Turn north into the residential area and after driving a short distance you’ll see large markers on the right indicating that you’re entering the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. A smaller sign with an Arizona flag design announces the location’s designation as a Phoenix Point of Pride. There are currently 31 landmarks and attractions within the city limits that are marked as Phoenix Points of Pride. The first were selected in 1992 and the sites highlight some of the city’s best man-made and natural features.4 The parking lot with the easiest access to the Summit Trail is at the first left after the park entrance. As this is a very popular hike, this parking lot is often filled, but there are a number of additional parking lots beyond this. Be aware that no parking is allowed along Squaw Peak Drive itself (there are several No Parking signs), but you can park within the residential areas beside it if the regular parking lots are full.

Tip: For an even better sense of the area, check out the map at the end of this article.

Trail History
Some of the man-made features of the trail, such as stairs and retaining walls.

Some of the man-made features of the trail, such as stairs and retaining walls.

As you start the trail, it will become obvious where man made features have been added, such as steps and rock walls formed to delineate the trail from the natural surroundings, but they were not always there. Long before the trail on Piestewa Peak was built, the Hohokam Native American people inhabited the area around the mountain. These is evidence of a Hohokam settlement dating from about 1100 to 1450 nearby.5 The Akimel O’odham (Pima), inhabited the area in the centuries prior to the settlement of Phoenix by peoples of European heritage in the late 1860s and early 1870s. The Pima now inhabit the Salt River Reservation to the east of Scottsdale, operating the popular Talking Stick Casino, and the Gila River Reservation to the south of Phoenix and Chandler.

U.S. Army Signal Corps Personnel training with a heliograph in 1898.

U.S. Army Signal Corps Personnel training with a heliograph in 1898. A heliograph like this was used on Piestewa Peak during the Apache Wars of the 1880s. Photo by Irving Bacheller (1859-1950), featured in the July 1898 issue of The Cosmopolitan.

During the wars between the Apache and the U.S. military in the late nineteenth century, a skirmish occurred near Squaw Peak on September 30, 1872 involving Detachment A of the 1st Cavalry. In the 1880s, Squaw Peak was used by the U.S. Army as a heliograph station. A heliograph was a wireless solar telegraph that signaled by using the sunlight reflected on a mirror. Morse code could be signaled with the mirror and the sunlight to transmit messages over large distances. It was a simple, but effective way to communicate messages during the Indian Wars as the army sent signals from mountain to mountain to keep apprised of hostile Native American movements. During the Geronimo Wars of the 1880s, Sergeant A.J. Robinson of the 9th Infantry was in charge of the Squaw Peak heliograph station. After the Apache were defeated, the troops were withdrawn from the peak in 1890.6

It should be noted that the information on Squaw Peak’s involvement in the Apache Wars comes from the book Squaw Peak: A Hiker’s Guide by Jack San Felipe. I suspect it may be possible that the Squaw Peak referred to in the primary source records San Felipe used to obtain this information may have been referring to another Squaw Peak located in Yavapai County to the north, unbeknownst to San Felipe. Unfortunately, without further archival research, the information cannot be verified one way or another and the substantial time and effort that would demand goes beyond the scope of this article. The information he provided on Squaw Peak and the Apache Wars has been perpetuated in many other histories of the mountain, so I am including it here, but with this precautionary note.

The Arizona Canal in 1953, facing west with Squaw Peak in the background. Source: Library of Congress

The Arizona Canal in 1953, facing west with Squaw Peak in the background. Source: Library of Congress

The 1880s saw the construction of the Arizona Canal, a major irrigation canal through central Maricopa County that led to greater activity around the Phoenix Mountains, including Squaw Peak.7 The canal is still a prominent feature of the valley, flowing west from the Granite Reef Dam northeast of Mesa, through the Salt River Reservation, downtown Scottsdale, Phoenix’s Arcadia and Sunnyslope neighborhoods, Glendale, and Peoria before ending near Arrowhead Towne Center. The unique shape of Squaw Peak attracted sightseers, picnic goers, and other outdoor adventurers from around the area. The tourism industry drew people to visit the peak and a great photograph from the 1910s shows a truck called the “Wonderbus” in front of Squaw Peak as visitors take a picnic outside near a large Saguaro cactus. The photograph can be seen on the cover of Donna and George Hartz’s book titled The Phoenix Area’s Parks and Preserves. This book features several early photographs of Squaw Peak that I was not able to include here to due to image use fees. I highly recommend checking out the book for these great historical views of Squaw Peak, as well as several other Phoenix mountains.8

An 1885 map of the town of Phoenix.

An 1885 map of the town of Phoenix. This map does a good job of conveying just how small Phoenix was at the time. The population was only about 2,500 people. “Squaw Tit Peak” or “Phoenix Peak” (both names that Piestewa Peak was popularly referred to as at the time) can be seen on the horizon. (Click the image to enlarge it for a better view). Source: C.J. Dyer, Bird’s Eye View of Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, (Phoenix: Schmidt, Label & Litho. Co., 1885). Library of Congress.

Some of the land near Squaw Peak was used for mining and grazing when Phoenix was still a small city and surrounded by large areas of agricultural land and huge stretches of unspoiled Sonoran Desert.9 The large grassy areas and meadows that used to surround the base of the mountains (where homes are built now) used to provide good grazing areas for cattle. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, residents of the area would sometimes journey into the lower slopes of the mountain for small game hunting as it was still far removed from the city of Phoenix then. In January 1906, 40-year-old J.S. McMillen was visiting Arizona from Canada to care for his sick brother-in-law. He went out with his shotgun to bring home a few birds and decided to hike into the lower ledges of Squaw Peak. He stumbled over a loose boulder and put out his hands to catch himself. His left hand went in front of the barrel of his shotgun and the weapon discharged when he hit the ground. The shot tore away his thumb and lacerated his hand. Additional shot barely missed his head, tearing off his hat brim. The wound on his hand bled profusely and McMillen quickly used the napkin from the lunch he was carrying to lessen the flow of blood. He had to walk two miles with the wound before he could reach help. He survived, but he lost his thumb and a small portion of the palm of his left hand.10

Squaw Peak in about 1918.

Leon Alphonso Keith (1886-1943) and Richard Colpitts Keith (1913-1989) with their donkey named Nancy in front of Squaw Peak in about 1918. Source: The Redwood House


The trail to the summit of Squaw Peak was first built in 1930 by a wrangler employee from the nearby Arizona Biltmore Hotel. The hotel had been opened the year before just to the south by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.11 The Biltmore’s architecture and history definitely make it worth a visit by itself, but that’s an adventure to discuss another day. Several famous people, from dignitaries to celebrities have stayed at the Biltmore near the base of Squaw Peak over the years, including Marilyn Monroe whose favorite swimming pool was the one still in use at the Biltmore today. Every U.S. President, from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush, has stayed at the Biltmore. Ronald and Nancy Reagan spent their honeymoon there beside Squaw Peak.12

1954 postcard of Phoenix showing Squaw Peak in the background.

A colored photograph from a 1954 postcard of Phoenix showing Squaw Peak in the background. The label mentions the “Winter Resort Area,” which included the Biltmore Hotel.

A number of interesting incidents occurred at Squaw Peak over the years. In 1941, a mysterious death was discovered when the sun-bleached skull and bones of a man were found on the north slope of the peak dressed in tattered garments that appeared similar to those issued for patients at the state hospital for the insane. The medical examiner found that the man had been dead for more than a year on mountain.13 In 1953, 11-year-old Donald Reichel was hiking on Squaw Peak with his 12-year-old brother. Donald stumbled, striking his head on a rock, fracturing his skull.14 Another accident occurred two years later in 1955 when Phoenix Police Officer James Howard Buick was picnicking at Squaw Peak. During the outing, his service pistol fell from its holster, struck a rock, and discharged. The injury it caused resulted in Officer Buick being paralyzed from the waist down.15 A climbing accident, off the actual trail, occurred in April 1972. Michael Angel, 17, was climbing when he fell from near the top of Squaw Peak about 55 feet to his death.16 In June 1977, a pair of marathon runners jogged up the Summit Peak Trail to get married on Squaw Peak. Dr. Art Mollen, 32, and his fiancé, Peggy Armstrong, 23, dressed in light jogging suits for the event. They were followed up the trail by friends and the Jewish rabbi who married them. The two were very passionate about jogging and their health as Dr. Mollen was a director of preventative medicine and his new wife was the coordinator of the cardiac rehabilitation program at Good Samaritan Hospital.17 These are just some of the many stories about Squaw Peak that can be found in Arizona newspapers throughout the past century.

Postcard from about 1979 showing Squaw Peak.

A postcard from about 1979 showing Squaw Peak with a trail heading into the park.

Squaw Peak had not been annexed by the City of Phoenix until 1958 when a lease agreement was signed with the State of Arizona and Squaw Peak Park was created.18 The same year that Phoenix had acquired the land, a layer of snow covered the top of Squaw Peak when there was a rare snowfall on November 16, 1958.19 Although the peak was protected, the land around it was not and residential development threatened much of the land that is now part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve.20 Dorothy Gilbert was an advocate for the park and in 1966 she helped to obtain over 1,200 signatures on a petition submitted to the Phoenix City Council. In August 1966, the city council voted unanimously to adopt a plan to preserve Squaw Peak and the surrounding land. The creation of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve at this time protected Squaw Peak and the other mountains from the major residential and commercial development that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s that surround the park to this day. The enlarged Squaw Peak Park was dedicated in November 1968. Additional land continued to be added to the park in following years.21 In 1988, Phoenix voters approved major improvements to Squaw Peak’s Summit Trail that can still be seen today. The work crew built native rock retaining walls and added curbs to halt erosion. This was completed in 1991.

For a long time the trail was decorated with lights each Christmas season, but once the trail became more popular with residents and visitors, the crowds were so large that the Phoenix Park Service discontinued this tradition. Longtime hikers of Piestewa Peak can still remember these lights from years past and often lament that they are no longer displayed.22

Garnett Beckman (1907-2010) of Phoenix was a longtime hiker of Squaw Peak and she was still making the trek to the summit at age 90 when Jack San Felice wrote his book on the mountain in 1997. Beckman was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked in 1941 and arrived in Arizona after the war. She was an avid hiker, visiting the Grand Canyon, Alaska, and the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. The fourth bench up on the Summit Trail was dedicated for her while she was still alive and hikers still enjoy resting there today. Garnett died at the age of 103.23

In 2003, the name of the mountain was changed from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak. If you haven’t already, you can read more about the details surrounding this change in my previous article, “Part 1, The Name Controversy.”

Downtown Phoenix seen from a lower portion of the Summit Trail during a morning hike.

Downtown Phoenix seen from a lower portion of the Summit Trail during a morning hike.

Geologic History

As a geographic landform, Piestewa Peak is young on the geologic timescale, formed about 14 million years ago during the Neogene period when large terrestrial mammals and birds dominated the Earth. The rock that the peak is made of and that hikers tread upon is much older, however. The rocks are from the Precambrian period, being over 540 million years old. These “basement rocks” were forced up from underneath the Earth’s surface when the peak formed more recently, “awakening” them from their 526 million year “slumber” from below the light of day. Basement rocks are those rocks that are usually found beneath all the sedimentary rock layers, but those layers are missing on Piestewa Peak because they eroded away during the mountain’s formation and subsequent weathering. The rocks that form the mountain are remnants of the Earth’s early crust, when vertebrate life had yet to evolve, long before the dinosaurs. Piestewa Peak is made up of complex associations of igneous and metamorphic rocks, primarily schist, quartzite, and quartz.24  As you’re climbing the Summit Trail, just think of how old the ground is that you are treading upon!

Plant and Animal Life

As soon as you enter the park, large Saguaro cactus can be seen dotting the slopes of the Phoenix Mountains. This iconic and endemic species of cactus is only found in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and neighboring Sonora, Mexico. They grow very slowly and can live more than 150 years. A variety of other cactus, such as prickly pear, barrel, and ocotillo are also common here. Wildflowers that bloom in the spring bring wonderful colors to the slopes including Mexican gold poppies, yellow brittlebush, and orange desert globemallows. Palo verde and mesquite trees are common, as are creosote bushes.25

Part of the Summit Trail with the many Saguaro cactus along its path.

There are a wide variety of reptiles that make the Sonoran Desert their home and many can be seen in the Phoenix Mountains. These include several species of snakes and lizards, including gopher snakes, king snakes, collared lizards, whiptails, horned lizards, and chuckwallas. The orange and black gila monster, one of only two venomous lizards in the world inhabit the area, as well as a number of rattlesnakes.26 The high level of traffic that the Summit Trail receives tends to keep most animals like rattlesnakes away from the trail, but you should still always be vigilant about where you step. While not aggressive, they will strike out if they feel threatened.

Hundreds of unique insects and other invertebrates are found in the Phoenix area, including scorpions with their well-known association with the Sonoran Desert. Desert tarantulas usually come out at dusk. Giant desert millipedes are harmless, but their venomous centipede relatives should be avoided. If you have an aversion to anything “creepy crawly” though don’t give up on this hike just yet. I have rarely seen larger arachnids or their many-legged cousins on hikes close to urban areas like this and you’re more likely to see colorful butterflies, ants, or some interesting beetles.27

Given the fact that Piestewa Peak is surrounded by urban areas, the mammals found in the park are limited to coyote, bobcat, kit foxes, and smaller animals like rabbits, jackrabbits, cactus mice, ground squirrels, and kangaroo rats. The ringtail, a creature related to the raccoon, also makes its home on the slopes of Piestewa Peak and can sometimes be seen at night, dawn, or dusk. They are about the size of a domestic cat, have large eyes and ears, and a long ringed tail of black and white from which they get their name. The ringtail is Arizona’s state mammal although few have seen them in the wild because of their secretive and nocturnal nature. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, they often climb about on the upper slopes, far from the residential areas below. A number of small bat species are other nocturnal mammals that can be seen at night, catching insects mid-flight in the moonlit skies. There are more than 54 species of birds that can be seen including cactus wrens, Gambel’s quail, mockingbirds, cardinals, hummingbirds, hawks, turkey vultures, and owls. 28

Reaching the Summit
Camelback Mountain seen from the Summit Trail on Piestewa Peak in the late afternoon.

Camelback Mountain seen from the Summit Trail on Piestewa Peak in the late afternoon.

The first time I ever hiked Piestewa Peak many years ago, I went by myself on a whim without looking into the particulars. I wasn’t sure how long the trail was and there were at least two times, first about half way up and again closer to the end, when I thought I was approaching the summit only to discover there was further to go. There are many first time visitors who underestimate the hike because it appears shorter to the top than it actually is and they choose to turn around before reaching the summit. The reason this occurs is because of the perspective one has from different portions of the trail that hides the true peak from view until you are at a higher elevation. You cannot see the peak from the trailhead or for at least the first half of the hike. Lower elevations on the trail are often mistaken for the final peak, only for hikers to turn a corner or reach that next marker on the trail to discover more trail ahead of them. Whenever I have brought someone with me to Piestewa Peak who was hiking the trail for the first time, they also experienced this illusion. It’s at least a little less discouraging when you know to expect this before attempting the hike for the first time. There are now markers that appear at intervals on the trail that include side-view illustrations of the mountain, indicating at what elevation you’ve reached and how much further you have to go. These help quite a lot in maintaining an idea of your progress and probably encourage more first time hikers to reach the top.

If you need a break along the way, there are a few benches placed along the trail that offer a chance to rest and catch your breath. There are also a few larger flat areas to the side of the trail to stop and take in an excellent view of your surroundings. At about .9 miles (1.4 kilometers) there is a bench with a palo verde tree that provides some shade and a great view of Camelback Mountain to the west. From here the trail gets more narrow and steeper as you complete the last .3 miles.

You’ll know you’re reaching the final segment of the hike when you arrive at the metal hand rails that have been installed to aid hikers up some of the steeper or more precarious sections of rock.29 After this, there is a steep stair-step like section of rocks before coming to a location right below the trail’s end. There is a large boulder that can be a little tricky to get around and I always use my hands to climb up past this. Finally, you will have arrived at the end of the trail, at the second highest point on the mountain!

The Summit and Completing the Hike
The summit of Piestewa Peak during sunset, facing east.

The summit of Piestewa Peak during sunset, facing east.

The second highest point on the mountain?! Wait, you say, I thought we were going to the summit? Well, don’t worry, the summit is very close by and I’ll get to that in a moment, but the reality is many who hike the trail don’t actually make it to the true summit as they stop where the trail appears to end. This, the second highest portion, is a large outcropping of rocks that many people stand upon to wipe their brow and enjoy their achievement. On any given day you’ll see several hikers sitting here or trying to get the best photo they can with their friends, their selfie stick, or both. From here, you get a 360 degree view of the entire city of Phoenix, all of its suburbs, and beyond. It can be fun to stand here and try to spot familiar landmarks from afar, especially if you have a pair of binoculars or a camera lens that allows you to see even further and with more clarity. The entirety of downtown Phoenix is visible to the southwest with South Mountain behind it. Glendale and the Cardinals football stadium lie to the west with the White Tank Mountains on the horizon. If you arrive at the end of the trail near sunset and are fortunate enough to have some clouds in the sky, the oranges and reds of an Arizona sunset will make the climb even more rewarding. The odd geological formations of Papago Park and Camelback Mountain can both be seen to the south. Pinnacle Peak and the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale are seen to the northeast, while the Superstition Mountains near Mesa lie to the southeast. Overall, the views from Piestewa Peak are incredible and well worth the 1.2 mile trek to the top, even if the trail does try to fool you a couple of times. If you manage to hike the peak at night, or begin your descent just after sunset, the lights of the city will begin to shine and you’ll be offered a sweeping view of the country’s sixth largest city all aglow.

Now, the actual summit of Piestewa Peak is just a short distance from the second highest point mentioned above. The craggy peak is located just to the east and you’ll be able to tell that this portion is slightly taller by about a few feet. It’s not too difficult to get to the actual peak, but it does involve a few meters of climbing over the rocks as there isn’t an actual trail to the top. When you arrive at the tippy top, with the breeze in your face and majestic hawks soaring around you with their cries echoing off the mountain side, you should feel a sense of accomplishment! Well, if you don’t, and still need a little more reassurance that you’ve made it, the good people with the United States National Geodetic Survey (NGS) have attached a circular metal disk to the summit as a marker. The NGS has been in existence under a number of names since 1807 when the federal agency was formed by Thomas Jefferson’s administration. They take part in a number of mapping and charting activities and their projects have numerous applications for science and engineering. Survey markers, like the disk on Piestewa Peak, have been placed by the agency on summits across the country as part of their work and it can be interesting to seek these out when on hikes elsewhere. The one on Piestewa Peak was first placed in 1963 when the NGS was called the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and when Piestewa Peak was still Squaw Peak. The original disk was vandalized and a replacement was sunk into the bedrock and cemented there in 1973 with the words Squaw Peak and the year on it.30 This is the same disk that is there today, but the stamping in the center is scarred and less visible. After enjoying the view from the top, the descent down is much easier than going up.

If you enjoy hiking and plan to visit Phoenix, I highly recommend completing the summit trails of Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain at least once. They both offer a unique experience to view Arizona’s capital from above. If you live here, check out both! Let me know of your experience hiking Piestewa Peak or whether you plan to visit by leaving a comment below.

You can check out the video version of this article below and also view a separate video of the full Summit Trail hike taken with a GoPro camera and accelerated to five times the normal speed right here.

Suggested Reading:
The Phoenix Area’s Parks and Preserves (2007) by Donna and George Hartz
Provides several intriguing late nineteenth and early twentieth century photographs from Phoenix’s parks and preserves, including the Phoenix Mountains and Squaw Peak. The cover even features a great photograph from the 1910s with Squaw Peak in the background. I recommend checking this out if you are interested in the history of Phoenix's mountains or seeing more early photographs of Squaw Peak.
Squaw Peak: A Hiker’s Guide (1997) by Jack San Felice
A history of the peak and detailed information on the various trails, including the Summit Trail.
60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Phoenix (2009) by Charles Liu
I highly recommend checking out this book if you’re an avid hiker or intend to hike other trails in the Phoenix area. It includes detailed overviews on several wonderful hikes, including Piestewa Peak’s Summit Trail and Freedom Trail on pages 48-56.
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (2015) edited by Steven J. Philips & Patricia Wentworth Comus
Produced by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, this book is the authoritative text on the Sonoran Desert. It is absolutely the best read on the environment, plants, and animals of this unique ecosystem and will greatly inform any travel or hike through the areas of central and southern Arizona, southeast California, Baja California, or Sonora. Originally published in 1999, the updated second edition came out in 2015. The original edition is available for a cheaper price here.


Show 30 footnotes

  1.  “Piestewa Hiking Trail Map and Descriptions,” City of Phoenix; National Geodetic Survey (NGS) Data Sheet for Squaw Peak Reset, PID DV2012.
  2.  Ibid.
  3.  Charles Liu, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Phoenix, (Birmingham, AL: Menasha Ridge Press, 2009), 52.
  4.  “Points of Pride,” City of Phoenix.
  5.  Donna and George Hartz, The Phoenix Area’s Parks and Preserves, (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007), 101; Jack San Felice, Squaw Peak: A Hiker’s Guide, (Higley, AZ: Millsite Canyon Publishing, 1997), 15.
  6.  Hartz, 101; San Felice, 17.
  7.  Hartz, 102.
  8.  Hartz, cover, 104.
  9.  Hartz, 103; San Felice, 18, 20; “Rich Strike at Phoenix is Reported,” Bisbee Daily Review, 8 August 1907.
  10.  “Gun Half Cocked, Hunter Stumbles,” Arizona Republican, 23 January 1906.
  11.  Ibid.
  12.  “Resort History,” Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.
  13.  “Another Death on Desert Revealed As Bones, Skull Found,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 3 September 1941.
  14.  “Boy Critically Hurt in Fall on Squaw Peak,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 28 December 1953.
  15.  “High Court Upholds Commission Ruling,” Yuma Daily Sun, 3 April 1957.
  16.  “Novice falls to death on Squaw Peak,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 22 April 1972.
  17.  “Joggers wed on mountain,” Yuma Daily Sun, 20 June 1977.
  18.  San Felice, 3; “Piestewa Peak/Dreamy Draw,” City of Phoenix; “Maricopa to Develop Squaw Peak as Park,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 3 November 1958.
  19.  “Nogales Low Falls to 11,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 17 November 1958.
  20.  “Phoenix may buy acreage in preserve,” Tucson Daily Citizen, 12 July 1972.
  21.  Hartz, 110, 111.
  22. San Felice, 2.
  23.  San Felice, 3, 45; Garnett Hundley Beckman, U.S. Social Security Death Index, 26 November 2010; Garnett Beckman (1907-2010), Gravestone, Rappahannock Christian Church Cemetery, Dunnsville, Virginia, Find A Grave Memorial #152613268.
  24.  “Piestewa Peak,” Gemland.com. For further detail see Julia K. Johnson, Stephen J. Reynolds, and David A. Jones,  “Geologic Map of the Phoenix Mountains, Central Arizona,” Arizona Geological Survey, 2003.
  25.  A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, ed. Steven J. Philips & Patricia Wentworth Comus, (Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2000); “Piestewa Peak/Dreamy Draw,” City of Phoenix.
  26.  Ibid.
  27.  Ibid.
  28.  Ibid.
  29.  Liu, 55.
  30.  For further details on the marker’s history on Piestewa Peak view the NGS Data Sheet for Squaw Peak Reset, PID DV2012.
  • Melissa Fleury

    Great article!! So much interesting information.