Distance: 1.7 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Fall, Winter, Spring
Last hiked: 2016 March
At the western end of the South Mountains is the San Juan Lookout. It can be accessed via the road system or a short hike along the National Trail. At the western end of the trail, it peters out into a widening valley before ending its span along the mountains at the remote (by Phoenix standards) lookout. It’s a more rural area of both the city and the mountains since it’s much more out of the way. It also doesn’t show off the higher elevations as other lookouts, so it receives less traffic. It makes for an easy and pleasant trail to spend a morning or afternoon enjoying the scenery on the way there.
At the Bajada Trailhead, follow the trail along the road for a short distance. It will then intersect with the National Trail and head northwest and toward the Ma Ha Tuak Range. Prime examples of Sonoran Desert flora are on display along this trail where they’re given ample room to grow undisturbed. Saguaro cactus reach spectacular heights and forests of cholla cactus can be seen growing here and there along the base of the mountains.
In the first stretch of the trail, a few small drops into different washes show where larger desert riparian trees provide a bit of shade. The trail then begins to parallel the base of the mountains as they follow the large curve around toward the north. Along the way, Maricopa Peak towers above cliffs far above the trail, while a couple of forests of cholla cactus threaten hikers who get too close. The Estrella Mountains wall off the western horizon in an impressive steepness and majesty on the other side of the Gila River Indian Community.
As you’re brought to a more northward direction, you enter into a small canyon where the road also joins nearby. The smaller mountains just to the west now block the Estrellas and a steep mountainside walls you in on the east. Straight ahead, the San Juan Lookout soon appears. Upon your arrival, the views open up below a parking area next to the lookout. Rural Phoenix spreads out beyond the protections of South Mountain Park. Across the parking area, a few other trails begin from the lookout.
For a better view of what rural Phoenix looks like, head northwest from the lookout and follow the trail that wraps around the base of a small mountain and begins to veer north at a small saddle. Continue following that up to a great vantage point of the western side of the Ma Ha Tuak Range towering above to the east.
From downtown Phoenix, follow Central Ave. south into South Mountain Park. The road will become San Juan Road. Continue straight and in just over 2 miles, the Bajada Trailhead will be found on your right.