South Mountain Trails 101: The Max Delta Trail

Distance: 2.9 miles one way; out a back trail or connect to other trails to extend your hike.

Difficulty: easy

Elevation change: 80 ft.

How to get there from SMEEC: Exit the parking lot and turn right onto the main road (Central Ave.) towards the park exit. You will pass the guard house, and the parking lot will be on the left-hand side across from Scorpion Gulch. The trailhead starts from a small paved parking lot. Parking space is limited. If you can’t find a spot, you can park back at SMEEC and carefully walk along the road to the trail. You will want to cross the road at the junction of the SMEEC driveway and walk along the west side of the road until you reach the parking lot. Alternatively, there is a small cut through trail starting at the guard house which connects to the trail[e1] . [e2] 

The trail starts out narrow and follows the main road. There are wildflowers, creosote, brittlebush, saguaro, hedgehog, and barrel cactus. The trail is relatively flat, with a slight climb just after starting. If you turn around after this first climb, you are already rewarded with a great view of the city. The trail is exposed, but there are multiple small trees to provide shady rest spots, depending on the time of day.

After following the road for about a mile, the trail meets up with a self-guided nature trail with informative placards. This is a fun bonus of this trail. It’s perfect timing if you are hiking with kids to have something new and interesting for them to look at. You can follow the nature trail to loop down to the road, but signage is clear so there’s no risk of losing the MD trail.

Just after the nature trail, the trail crosses the main road. At this point, you could turn right towards Big Ramada and Little Ramada Picnic Area. You could stop for a picnic here and enjoy the lookout or choose to connect to the T-Bone Trail. If you decide to continue on the MD trail, you will cross the road and continue straight. Be careful crossing and watch for traffic.

The trail opens up here in a valley with lots of wildflowers and saguaro. Watch out for horse droppings on the trail. This are of the trail is very exposed and sunny. It also takes you deeper into the park away from the road.

You will cross multiple trails (Crosscut, Ma Ha Tauk, Derby Loop), providing opportunities for multiple extended hikes. The hidden potential of the Max Delta Trail is that you have so many choices for extending your hike for every level of challenge you can imagine. All trail crossings are well marked, and it is easy to follow the MD signs to stay on your trail.

After about a mile the trail crosses the Derby Loop trail, at which point it meets up and follows Stephen Mather Drive. This road is closed except for the 1st weekend of the month. Cyclists utilize this road though, so watch for them if you decide to return by road. The trail dead ends at the Bajada Trail, but that doesn’t mean your hike or adventure needs to.