South Mountain Trails 101: The Kiwanis Trail

Distance: 1 mile one way; out and back trail or connect to National Trail for short extension to Telegraph Pass Lookout

Difficulty: moderate

Elevation change: 480 ft.

How to get there from SMEEC: Exit the parking lot and turn left onto Stephen Mather Dr. and follow signs for Kiwanis Trail. Turn left onto the first major cross road, Piedras Grandes Dr. The trailhead will be on your right. There is a small parking lot with a covered picnic table next to the trailhead. There is a bathroom just down the road past the trailhead parking lot, within sight of the parking lot, with some additional parking. Parking lot can fill up on the weekends.

Figure 1: View of trailhead from parking lot

The Kiwanis trail is a one of the most scenic trails at South Mountain. It is a steady, but moderate climb, with few steep sections. Younger kids may have a challenge, but it is a family-friendly hike. It climbs through a canyon with palo verde, ironwood and saguaro lining the surrounding hills. In early spring after a wet winter, the canyon walls are carpeted in green from all the annuals and wildflowers. In warmer months, you can enjoy your hike in the shade of the canyon in the morning and evenings.

Figure 2: Beginning of trail up through the canyon
Figure 3: Canyon wall carpeted in green annuals

Steeper areas of the trails have makeshift steps built in to make the climb easier. Midway through the hike, the trail cuts across a wash. The climb out of the wash is one of the steepest sections of the trail and has wooden stair steps. The Kiwanis trail ends at Telegraph Pass Rd, and the final push up to the road is another of the steeper sections of this hike.

Figure 4: One of the steeper sections of trail with built in steps

Kiwanis Trail ends where it meets the Telegraph Pass Rd. The hike is rather anticlimactic if you stop here, with only a road to mark the end. Don’t stop here! Just across the road you’ll see a sign for the National Trail. You really need to keep going to get a sense of accomplishment and some spectacular views. Cross the road to meet up with the National Trail. You will have caught glimpses of a stone structure, the Telegraph Pass Lookout, along your hike, and again when you reach the road. It’s just a short ¼ mile hike further along the National Trail to reach the lookout. 

Figure 5: View of the National Trail across Telegraph Pass Rd. from the end of Kiwanis Trail
Figure 6: View across Telegraph Pass Rd. up to the Telegraph Pass Lookout

This section of the National Trail is a little steeper than Kiwanis was and has some narrow sections with a drop off. If you have kids along, you will want to keep them close heading up to the lookout. Before long, you’ll come to a vista out across the south valley with expansive views. Take a minute to enjoy the views from here. From this view point you can see the stone structure off to your right. The trail wraps around it and then heads straight up to the lookout after just a few more minutes of hiking.

Figure 7: Spectacular view over the south valley
Figure 8: Telegraph Pass Lookout

Telegraph Pass Lookout was built from granite rubble by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This is such a fun place to end your hike before heading back down, and is a natural gathering point for fellow hikers. Enjoy the cool breeze and shade, with windows opening on all sides to amazing views around the Phoenix metro area. If you want to continue hiking from here, the National Trail awaits with 14 miles of trail to explore.

Figure 9: View over the south valley from Telegraph Pass Lookout