Runners running shoes on trail run

"This challenging event is a great way to hike the entire 15.5-mile National Trail, from the Eastern end of the trail at Pima Canyon to the Western end at the San Juan Lookout."

In addition to the daily adventure South Mountain Park offers, there are fantastic annual events, offering a unique way to engage with the mountains. 

Phoenix Summit Challenge 

One of the premier outdoor events in Phoenix and a definite bucket-list item, the Phoenix Summit Challenge- it involves hiking at any of the enjoyable-four, challenging-five, or excruciating-seven summits in one day. 

 Options also include a team registration and all-abilities challenge.

 This event requires driving yourself to several different parks, with the specific mountains, distance, and elevation varying from year to year.  

Summits included in recent years range from the challenging Holbert Trail and Piestewa Peak at around 1,000 feet to “summits” like Dreamy Draw and Apache Wash, which provide about as much elevation gain as standing on the roof of your SUV.  

Held once per year since 2004, this event is a great way to see different parts of the city from an elevated perspective as you challenge your physical limits.

The last summit is always the Holbert Trail, followed by the UROCK Festival at the Activity Complex located next to the trailhead.

Food trucks, desserts, music and beer comprise a perfect way to cap off what is sure to be a highlight of your year.  

The registration fee has been approaching $100, with the event serving as a fundraiser for the Phoenix desert preserves.  

To help get you ready, the Chandler REI store often has information sessions prior to the event and Phoenix Parks and Recreation typically offers preparatory hikes with Park Rangers and volunteers.

This one has limited capacity and fills up fast. You’d better have your plan set, account ready and be on your computer the minute it opens fast.  

Information: or FaceBook @PhoenixSummitChallenge.   

National Trail Trek (January)

Another highly anticipated annual event at South Mountain is the National Trail Trek, held each year since 1996.  

This challenging event is a great way to hike the entire 15.5-mile National Trail, from the Eastern end of the trail at Pima Canyon to the Western end at the San Juan Lookout.  

Shuttles take hikers to the starting point and from the ending point to the South Mountain Activity Complex and parking area. 

A great challenge to complete with a group of friends or solo as a way to meet some new hiking buddies, the National Trail Trek includes a stop for lunch, enjoying your meal with a view of Phoenix from 1,000 feet above. Park Rangers, volunteer Park Stewards, and medical staff will join you on the trail, prepared to assist if needed. 

To help you prepare, Phoenix Parks and Recreation often offers preparatory hikes.  

Registration typically occurs in November and there are limited spots available.  

The event fills within minutes, so be prepared in advance of registration. If you’re on the phone trying to get your crew to commit at the time of registration, you’re not getting in this year. 

For more information: 

South Mountain Casino Challenge

A two-day event, this starts at the Pima Canyon Trailhead, taking the National Trail to the Western End, then requires exiting the park and walking to the Vee Quiva Resort and Casino.  After dinner, a soak in the hotel hot tub, and an overnight stay at the casino, you repeat the 18-mile trek back to the Pima Canyon Trailhead. 

This event was held once, in 2015, and involved two participants, the author and his friend Matt Jolly.  A note if you wish to replicate this uniquely Phoenix adventure: Use GPS at the Western end of the park to reach the streets and casino, make sure to respect private property.  

With the in-progress 202 extension/South Mountain Freeway and changes to the overall trail plan in the park, the path to follow from the National Trail to Vee Quiva Resort and Casino is changing.

Andy Lenartz of Ahwatukee is a hike and mountain bike enthusiast. Reach him at

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