Distance: 1.2 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Fall, Winter, Spring
Last hiked: 2016 March
The Piestawa Peak hike is one of the favorites among locals in the Phoenix area. It’s a strenuous and rugged climb up over 1,000 feet in just over a mile. Steep rocky staircases become a regular occurrence on the trail, together with sprawling vistas of the metropolitan growth. Fortunately, the peak is part of a desert preserve, so much of the scenery is also of a rugged snapshot of Sonoran Desert wilderness.
Piestaw Peak (or Vainom Do’ag to the native Pima) immediately begins its climb from the parking area where you’re introduced to its signature rocky stairs. Along the way you’ll be hiking through sharp and jagged metamorphic rock formations, specifically schist. Closer to the top, quartz and quartzite become more apparent, often stained orange and red with iron. In fact, the Pima name for the mountain translates to Iron Mountain.
The rocky staircase brings you ascending quickly up the canyon as views of the mountains directly to the east go from interesting to spectacular. In just a short while, Papago Park becomes visible over the nearby mountains as well. As you reach the ridgeline you’ll spend much of the hike bouncing over from one side to the other.
Switchbacks continue the climb ever higher as views both east and west open up. Directly to the north is the daunting summit of Piestawa Peak. Jagged and gnarly rocks jut out of the elevated ground in all directions, hinting at a violent past in the creation of the mountains. The trail itself takes a steep direction upward as the steps seem to grow in height before cresting the ridge and flattening out on the other side, only to repeat the process all over again.
Higher and higher you climb with increasingly dramatic views and soon, railings are placed along the trail where a particularly steep section climbs upward through a rocky pass. On the other side the trail levels out again, but just beyond is one of the hardest staircases you’ll ever climb. Large steps head seemingly straight up to the top of the summit in a draining climb to the top, testing the leg muscles of even the most fit hikers.
Just before you reach the final ascent, you’re required to make a quick scramble up a rocky face before reaching what appears to be the top, sadly coated in orange peels, their consumers not yet learning that these don’t decay in the arid air of the desert despite evidence covering the peak.
If you’re out late, around sunset, keep an eye out for ringtail cats.
From downtown Phoenix, take I-10 to the junction with Highway 51 and head north for 5 miles to the Lincoln Dr. exit. Take that eastward for just shy of a mile and turn north onto E. Squaw Peak Dr. for half a mile. Find parking at the large parking lot on the left where the trail can also be found.