As you may have heard, the Echo Canyon Trailhead on Camelback Mountain, and the Summit Trail that leads from there to the top of Camelback, are closed this summer for trailhead improvements. We spoke with Chris Ewell, the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department’s lead staff member on the construction project, to get some details about the improvements.
What’s being done to the Echo Canyon Trailhead area?
We’ve completely demolished the old trailhead. We’ve done some rerouting on the first half-mile of the trail. We are expanding the parking lot to 132 spaces; it was 68 before. We’re adding a shaded area, interpretive exhibits and a chilled drinking fountain. And we’re finally going to have permanent restrooms; we used to have portable toilets, which weren’t very pleasant. Up the road, we’re putting in a roundabout on McDonald Drive to control traffic a little better, so we’re coordinating with Paradise Valley on that.
We’re also adding new landscaping; the plants that were near the trailhead are being kept alive at Papago Park for now, until we can add them back in. And we’re building a gatehouse, in case we need staff members to control the parking lot more closely during busy seasons.
Why was this necessary?
Because of the increasing popularity of hiking in the Phoenix metro area in general, and Camelback in particular. That little, tiny trailhead was developed years ago and became overcrowded. There were times when nobody could get in or out because the traffic was so bad. There are 83 homes that share the same driveway as the trailhead, so people sometimes couldn’t get into or out of their homes. We had to have two staff members at the site all day during the cooler months to regulate traffic.
How long will the construction be going on? Will the Summit Trail be closed until construction is completed?
We spent almost two years working with hikers, neighbors, our internal staff and Paradise Valley to figure out what was the best solution. It will remain closed until fall, and probably late fall; we don’t have the exact date yet. The Summit Trail will remain closed until then, as well. With the new landscaping at the beginning of the trail, it’ll be a good chance for the summer rains to come and help things take root again.
What can hikers expect once the work is completed?
We think traffic circulation is going to improve, as will access for emergency vehicles and people who live near the trail. We even provided a drop-off area for people who just want to be dropped off at the trailhead. We wish we could have done it sooner, but we’re under way now.
What alternate Phoenix-area hiking trails would you recommend in the meantime?
Cholla Trail, on Camelback, is still open, and it’s been extremely popular since the closure. The Phoenix Mountain Preserve and Piestewa Peak are great options, too, as is South Mountain Park. We also have 25 miles of new trails in the Sonoran Preserve, up north.
—Noah Austin, Associate Editor