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Alta-Bajada Loop Day Hike
South Mountain Park
February 4, 2017
by Dave French
  GPS Map 
L to R: Dorinda, Mark, Michelle, Dana, Kari, Tamar, Lin, Jim, Ramona, Dave

Ten hikers showed up on a chilly Saturday morning to do this somewhat difficult hike. The hike is located off San Juan Road, which branches off to the west of the main road about two miles into South Mountain Park. The road is only open the first weekend of each month, so I scheduled this hike accordingly. I assume the rest of the time it is used by mountain bikers and hikers.

Jet trails in the sky. [photo by Kari]
The pause that refreshes. [photo by Kari]

San Juan Road and the trailhead are in a valley between two mountain ridges. At 8 AM in February 4 we were in shadows of the mountains, which kept the temperature down in the forties. So we postponed the group picture and started the climb up the Alta Trail to the north. It is a moderately steep but relentless climb of at least 1000 feet. Getting out of the shadows and into sunshine plus the exertion of the climb had us taking off jackets pretty quickly.

Breather time on the way up Alta.
We find mostly barrel cactus.
There’s an occasional saguaro or ocotillo.
Yes, we made it to the top.
Like being on the top of the world!
Phoenix and Piestewa Peak.
Are you sure this is the right way?
Mark scouts out the trail.
Profile of Alta Trail. [photo by Lin]

The vegetation in this part of South Mountain is fairly sparse, with mostly barrel cactus, and a few saguaros and ocotillos. A little green grass has sprung up from the recent rains. Once we reached the first summit the Alta Trail follows along the north side of the ridge, so we were in shade again. The trail is somewhat rolling until we reached the high point of the trail. See the trail profile. From this point, the trail is a steep decline with several big steps. We got our first view of the Gila River Reservation and the Gila River Valley.

Note that a freeway will be built soon between the Vee Quiva Casino and the toe of the mountain. It will be seen and heard from this trail.

The Alta Trail takes us steeply down the mountain.
First view of Vee Quiva and Gila River Valley.
Trudging down to the San Juan Overlook. [photo by Lin]

We got down to San Juan Overlook about 11:30 and took a well-deserved break for snacks and took the delayed group photo. From that point we headed south on the National Trail, getting closer to the casino and the future freeway. The trail curves to the southeast and eventually crosses San Juan Road. Just on the south side of the road, the Bajada trail branches off to the left and follows along the lower part of this south mountain ridge. The National Trail curves to the west and then goes up onto the top of the ridge. We were glad we did not have to make that climb. The trek back to the parking lot was uneventful and on gently rolling terrain, dropping down into an occasional wash. We reached the parking lot about 1:30 PM.

The hike was 8.6 miles long and took us 5 hours and 15 minutes. The elevation gain was approximately 1800 feet. If I lead this hike again, I think I would drive to the San Juan Overlook and go up the Alta Trail and back on the Bajada and National trails. This direction would have us going up the steepest part of the Alta Trail, and I always do better going up steep and going down it.

Here’s our restaurant. [photo by Lin]
R & R at Los Dos Molinas. [photo by Lin]

Afterwards, eight of us went to Los Dos Molinas Restaurant on south Central Avenue for cold drinks and eats.

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updated February 4, 2017