If you are looking for a workout but don't want to deal with the crowds of Squaw (Piestewa) Peak or Camelback Mountain the South Mountain Reserve houses a similar challenge. Located on the far West side of the park the Ma Ha Tuak Range shoots up 2000 feet from the valley floor. The Alta trail skirts up the North and South sides of the range and offers the hiker a workout, rewarded with great views of downtown Phoenix.
Mileage- 4.5 miles One Way
Elevation- 1100 feet AEG
Use- Hikers, horses and downhill MTBers
Map- Green Trails Maps South Mountain Preserve
Starting from the Southern trailhead the Alta Trail heads North-East at a steady climb. After about a mile the trail begins a rapid ascent using a series of long switchbacks. The trail is well marked an easy to follow. After approximately 1.5 miles the switchbacks top out at a pass that provides views of downtown Phoenix as well as the Estrellas to the West. From this point the trail continues at a steady climb passing evidence of old mines in the area. After gaining some elevation the trail eventually drops down on the North side of the range. The trail steadily descends into a ravine, before heading back up the other side. This pattern continues a few more times losing some elevation with each descent. Eventually the trail peaks for a final time and the descent begins to the San Juan Lookout. Portions of this section are steep and require easy down climbing. After some steep sections the trail tapers and drops the remaining elevation to the San Juan Lookout.
If you are interested in extending your hike further you can pick up the National Trail at the San Juan Lookout. After 1.7 miles the National Trail meets up with the Bajada Trail which can be taken back to your parked vehicle.