Phoenix Summit Challenge can take you to new heights

Every year, the City of Phoenix hosts the Phoenix Summit Challenge to get people out of their easy chairs and onto some spectacular hiking trails. The goal is to hike to seven specific mountain summits in seven days. It’s a great opportunity for residents to challenge themselves physically and mentally while discovering new perspectives of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun.

You don’t need to enroll in the official program to accept the challenge.

Mountain peaks dot the Phoenix skyline
Mountain peaks dot the Phoenix skyline

For 2020, the city announced that the event would be hosted virtually out to concerns that large groups of people might worsen the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In order to participate in the official program, participants were required to enroll online by 4 p.m. on November 6. I missed the cutoff by a couple of hours but was able to obtain all the info I needed about the challenge to go it alone, before the official challenge began.

You can hike these summits anytime you want.

Ridgeline Summit visible through a natural arch formed by palo verde trees
Ridgeline Summit becomes visible as you pass through a natural arch formed by Palo Verde trees along the trail.

If you’re looking for a takeaway from this post, here it is: You don’t need to enroll in the official program to accept the challenge. You can hike these summits anytime you want.

Total mileage of the seven hikes adds up to 25.2 miles with an elevation gain of 5,230 feet.

Phoenix Summit Challenge 2020: Seven Summits in Seven Days

Although the official challenge for 2020 was set to run from November 14 to 20, I began the challenge seven days ahead of schedule. Below is an overview of the seven summits, with a multimedia recording of my hike to each summit.

Day 1: Ridgeback Summit at Apache Wash Trailhead

  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: Apache Wash Trailhead, 1600 E. Sonoran Desert Dr.
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 456 ft.
  • DISTANCE: 3.74 Miles Total (out and back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Begin from the Apache Wash Trailhead, travel west on Ocotillo Trail until you reach the Ridgeback Summit. Once you have reached the summit, turn around and go back to the parking lot the same way you came in.
Sun sets over the Sonoran Desert in North Phoenix, AZ
Sun sets over the Sonoran Desert in North Phoenix, AZ

Day 2: Dixie Mountain Summit at Desert Vista

  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: Desert Vista Trailhead, 1900 W. Desert Vista Trail
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 633 ft.
  • DISTANCE: 3.10 Miles – (out and back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Hike from the trailhead parking lot on the Hawks Nest Trail to the intersection of Dixie Mountain Loop Trail. Go right and follow posts until you reach the summit trail (left), follow to summit. Reverse direction and return.

Day 3: Lookout Mountain Summit Trail 150 @ Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain Summit
Lookout Mountain Summit
  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: Lookout Mountain Park, 14441 N. 18th St.
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 586 ft.
  • DISTANCE: 3.6 Miles Total (Out and Back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Begin from Lookout Mountain Park. Once you have reached Trail 308, travel counterclockwise until it intersects Trail 150. Take Trail 150 toward the southeast. You will reach the Lookout Mountain Summit. Once you have reached Lookout Mountain Summit, traverse the route in the reverse order to return to Lookout Mountain Park.

Day 4: Shaw Butte Trail 306 at North Mountain Visitor Center

  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: North Mountain Visitor Center, 12950 N. 7th St.
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 813 ft.
  • DISTANCE: 4.2 Miles Total (Out and Back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Depart from the North Mountain Visitor Center, take Trail 100 westward. Use the “Connector Trail” to intersect Trail 306. Travel west/southwest on Trail 306 (dirt road). Follow to the towers at the top of the road. Once you reach the Shaw Butte summit, traverse the route in reverse order.

Day 5: Alta East Trail at South Mountain

  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: South Mountain Park, 2 miles from the entrance gate, by Derby Track area.
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 789 ft.DISTANCE: 3.12 Miles – (out and back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Begin by the gate at the road intersection, hiking on Bajada Trail until you reach Alta Trail. Head up to the eastern peak shown on the map. Reverse direction and return.

Day 6: Holbert Trail at South Mountain

  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: South Mountain (Main Entrance), 10919 S. Central Ave.
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 997 ft
  • DISTANCE: 3.8 Miles Total (Out and Back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Begin from Holbert Trailhead, located adjacent to the South Mountain Activity Complex. Traverse Holbert Trail until you reach the intersection. of the Dobbins extension until you reach Dobbins Lookout. Return the same way you came.

Day 7: Pyramid Trail at South Mountain

  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: South Mountain Park, 15441 S. 19th Ave.
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 956 ft.
  • DISTANCE: 3.64 Miles – (out and back)
  • HIKE DESCRIPTION: Hike north from the parking lot, follow posts marked Pyramid Trail to the National Trail intersection. Reverse direction and return.

Full press release: Phoenix Summit Challenge is Going Virtual for 2020

This year’s Virtual Phoenix Summit Challenge (PSC20) is a seven-day opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities to hike multiple summit trails throughout the city’s preserve land. This annual event helps to raise dedicated funding for the more than 41,000 acres of desert park and mountain preserve land located throughout Phoenix. Changes needed to be made to this year’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the spirit of the annual challenge lives on in this revised format.

This year, participants will track their hikes by using the interactive online Walker Tracker application. The application will provide a fun, engaging, self-directed experience through which participants can choose where and when they complete their hikes. Sign up, hike with friends and have a great time on the trails to support a great cause.

The Walker Tracker application (app) will be available after registration is completed. It will need to be downloaded from the app store to a smart phone. A log-in, password and profile will then need to be created. It will provide maps of the seven specific trails. As hikes are completed, the app will keep track of steps and mileage. Hikers will also be able to view the progress of other event participants. There also is a discussion forum where participants can communicate with one another and cheer each other on.

Participants will be able to choose when and where to complete the hikes during the allotted seven-day period. They can complete the seven suggested hikes or any other trails they choose. Anyone can participate, regardless of ability, and may choose to complete their steps on flatter terrain or a treadmill, etc. The challenge will be complete once a pre-determined number of steps are accumulated. The steps translate into mileage which in turn add up to the total distance of the seven suggested hikes. Total mileage of the seven hikes adds up to 25.2 miles with an elevation gain of 5,230 feet.


If you missed the Phoenix Summit Challenge sign-up deadline like I did, no worries. The beauty of this challenge is anyone can start it at any time. All of the summits are located in desert areas managed by the City of Phoenix and are open to the general public year-round. You don’t have to scale them all in seven days. Consider stretching it out and doing one or two a week. After you’ve experienced all the unique perspectives you get on these peaks, you’ll be glad you challenged yourself.

Questions? Feel free to ask in the comments section below.

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