Let us help you plan your adventure in South Mountain Park. Our friendly staff can recommend activities to suit your time, skills and interest. The side-walked Judith Tunell Trail is just outside the Center, accessible by all ability levels and featuring interpretive signage to learn more about our Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. Looking for a grab-and-go fun? Check out one of our Adventure Packs and make the most of your visit.
Our outdoor spaces and the Judith Tunnel Trail – Patios surround the South Mountain Environmental Education Center, including a small picnic area, courtyard, and a Nature Play space set up on weekends, October through April. The Judith Tunnell trailhead is located just beyond the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. Consisting of two connected half mile loops, this side-walked trail provides access for all levels of mobility. The inner loop has little elevation, and the second loop has a moderate slope, dubbed the ‘Challenge’ loop. Several benches dot the trail, and three ramadas offer seating and shade. Great views, beautiful scenery, occasional animal sightings and interpretative signage offer a rich desert experience for all.
South Mountain Trails & Roadways
Looking to explore even more of the South Mountain area? The Preserve boasts 51 miles of primary trails for hiking and mountain biking for all ability levels. Favorites near South Mountain Environmental Education Center include Holbert Trail, Max Delta Trail, and Kiwanis Trail. From the park's main roadway, Summit Road, near South Mountain Environmental Education Center, you can drive up 5.5 miles to Dobbins Lookout and spectacular valleywide views or you can continue to the Gila Lookout for a view of the Gila River Valley. Several picnic areas are nestled throughout side areas along Summit Road. Additional hiking areas can be reached from drivable access points all around the 16,000 acre mountain range. The popular Hidden Valley area, including ‘Fat Man’s Pass’ is located on the National Trail, accessible from the Buena Vista Lookout off of Summit Road, or from driving to the trailhead areas for Mormon Trail or Beverly Canyon. Visit the City of Phoenix website for more information.
Immerse yourself in learning when you visit South Mountain by renting a Trail Exploration Adventure Pack. These kits are designed for all ages, providing focused learning on various areas of interest such as: Desert Plants, Snakes, Exploring Birds, Cactus Hotel, and South Mountain Games. Use these kits for fun family time, small group learning experiences and even Scout badge-work.
For adults and youth ages 4 and up, accompanied by caregiver. Available onsite during hours of operation before closing time – check current hours. Program fee: $5 rental
South Mountain Flora & Fauna
South Mountain Park and Preserve features typical Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, plus a few surprises. Vegetation includes cactuses such as cholla, prickly pear, barrel and saguaro; flowering plants such as white bursage, brittlebush, range ratany, desert senna and poppy; and trees such as palo verde, mesquite and ironwood. The preserve is also one of the only places in the United States where you can see an elephant tree in the wild.
Mammals that inhabit the area include larger species such as coyotes, javelinas and bobcats, and smaller ones such as squirrels, rabbits and ringtail cats. Birds include roadrunners, quail, cactus wrens and other migratory species. Reptiles such as the desert tortoise and several types of snakes and lizards are common, including the orange-tailed chuckwalla, found nowhere else in the world but South Mountain Park and Preserve.
Evidence of people in the South Mountains dates back over 1000 years. Visible from the Judith Tunell trail are petroglyphs, and it is estimated as many as 10,000 more such markings are throughout the Preserve. Many are visible from trails and roadways, and all provide a glimpse of the importance of this area to people over the centuries. More recently, the area was recognized as a City of Phoenix Park in 1924, and has continued to be a treasure to local residents. Mining interests throughout the park brought people from around the country through the early 1900’s, and the Civilian Conservation Corps helped move money throughout the country with its large project to build the Summit Road and adjoining recreational areas in 1933-37.