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Urban Adventures: Summiting Piestewa Peak In Phoenix, Arizona [Photo Essay]

Piestewa Peak

Hiking up to Piestewa Peak. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

One great thing about Phoenix, Arizona, is that while it has the amenities of a city (great restaurants and bars, shopping, accessibility), it’s also full of active outdoor adventures. On a Monday morning I decided to take one on: Squaw Peak.

After Camelback Mountain, Squaw Peak is the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains and the city’s third-highest point in general, sitting at 2,610 feet (796 meters) tall.

In my opinion, this combined with the trail’s jaw-dropping beauty makes it one of the best day hikes in the world and should absolutely be mentioned as a recommendation in any Arizona visitor guide.
Piestewa Peak

Beautiful contrasting views while hiking Piestewa Peak. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

Today you may actually hear locals call it by a different name, Piestewa Peak. This is a controversial topic in Phoenix. While the new name pays homage to Lori Piestewa, the first Native American female serving for the U.S. military to die in combat and the first female soldier in total to be killed during the 2003 Iraq War, the original name was believed to be derogatory by Native Americans who thought it to have a sexual connotation (as in, it means “vagina”). There are many locals, however, who refuse to call the mountain by its new name, not only because it’s the name they grew up hearing, but because they don’t believe the word to be disparaging. It goes further than Phoenix, too, as opposers to the title “Squaw” are trying to get the name changed on a national level, with landmarks around the country. It’s an interesting story — and one you can read more about here — but for now, I want to tell you (and show you!) about the trek.
Piestewa Peak

Phoenix looks like a Monopoly board while hiking Piestewa Peak. Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

The hike itself is great for solo travelers, challenging (I’d call it moderate) and well-traversed in case you need help. It takes about an hour to get to the top, with few breaks from the steep inclining path. For hard facts, it’s 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) to the top, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet (366 meters).
Piestewa Peak

Certain sections of the Piestewa Peak are steep, so be prepared for a good workout (and bring lots of water!). Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

Phoenix is know as the Valley of the Sun for a reason, so make sure to bring the essentials: salty snacks, sunscreen, a hat and, mostly importantly, plenty of water (one Poland Spring bottle is not enough!). Also, while you don’t need to be a marathon runner to complete the trek, being in shape and agile is necessary, as the terrain is rocky and rough. At some points, a bit of climbing and balance are necessary. From the top, enjoy panoramic views of the city, surrounding mountains and beyond.
Piestewa Peak

Footprints in the sand…which eventually turns to uneven rock. No pain, no gain! Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

Even if you don’t make it to the top, which typically takes about an hour, there are numerous viewpoints along the way that can satisfy your need for great photos. If you’re a beginner hiker this is perfect, as the trek tends to get more challenging toward the end, not only because you’re tired, but because the terrain gets more rocky and steep. One thing I loved about the hike was that it wound around the mountain, providing city views one minute and cacti-clad mountains the next. There were also a few shady spots to seek refuge from the unforgiving sun and grab a drink of water.
Piestewa Peak

Hiking Piestewa Peak, can you believe that I’m still technically in the city? Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey.

To get to the trailhead, drive down Lincoln Drive and turn onto Squaw Peak Drive, until you come to a parking lot on your left titled “Piestewa Summit Trail #300.” The hikes within Phoenix Mountains Park, where this trail is located, are free to enjoy between the hours of 5am and 11pm.

Have you hike Piestewa Peak in Phoenix, Arizona? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below.

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  1. FrankieSH on at 3:12 pm

    Being a PHX resident for six years I’ve hiked Piestewa Peak countless times. I usually make it to the top in 30 minutes but most times I choose to do the circumference/peak trails combined for more solitude as the summit trail is often run over by hoards of people. For a more challenging hike I highly recommend Flatiron in the Superstition mountains just outside of town in Apache Junction.

    • jess2716 on at 2:06 am

      @FrankieSH: I seriously have to go back just for all the hikes I keep hearing about. Sad I didn’t get to do more!

  2. Sky on at 3:36 am

    I am far from a hiker but those views might be worth the climb!

    • jess2716 on at 8:00 pm

      @Sky: So so so worth it!

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