HOLBERT TRAIL [ARIZONA] HIKING TRAIL GUIDE
Holbert Trail is a South Mountain treasure with its beautiful wildflowers, saguaros (aka giant cactuses) and petroglyphs carved into the desert varnish on the rock formations along the route, all native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Rated difficult on AllTrails.com due to the incline along the route, popular opinion lists the hike as moderately challenging—and well worth the views of the city from the mountaintop.
The level of difficulty is best judged by one’s comfort level with pacing at an incline. It’s a modest distance at 3.8 miles start to finish, with its trailhead conveniently located just 15 minutes south of downtown Phoenix at the footsteps of the Avance community.
This trail is particularly revered for hiking after sundown thanks to the stellar way the city lights sparkle from afar, illuminating the night sky from the lookout point—Dobbin’s Lookout—offering hikers a rare and spectacular sight.
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Located immediately south of Phoenix, most of South Mountain is thought to be a metamorphic core complex, containing rocks that were formed by movement on a major fault line. The South Mountain Preserve includes most of the South Mountains and is a part of the Phoenix Parks System—which is also known as the largest municipal park in the world.
The South Mountains are split fairly evenly between two main rock types: metamorphic rocks on the western half that were formed under high temperatures and pressures about 1.7 billion years back during the Precambrian Era, and granitic rocks on the eastern half that were formed only 25 million years ago when molten rocks solidified below the earth’s surface. Between the two, hikers may see dark-colored rocks with numerous lighter colored bands (metamorphic), or salt-and-pepper colored—usually coated by a brown/tan veneer from the desert winds.
Holbert Trail is widely considered to be one of the more challenging hikes among South Mountain’s top trails. Yet it is considerably shorter in both distance and time than South Mountain’s National Trail (which is 13.9 miles of mixed terrain, spanning the park’s border east to west).
Holbert Trail takes hikers approximately 2-4 hours to complete, depending on their pace and number of stops made along the way to rest and take in the scenery (also remember to factor in ease at moving at an incline and changing elevations). Everyday runners should be able to conquer the trail in under two hours—perfect for early morning trail runs before work.
With a terrain of mostly sand and loose gravel, the trail is fairly easy and enjoyable to walk on—especially compared to the rockier ground that makes up the majority of South Mountain's other trails.
The most noticeable increase in elevation doesn’t happen until the last mile of the trail. The majority of your hike will be a slight but steady incline, relatively flat.
The trail maintains moderate traffic for most of the year—with the exception of December to February when moderate temperatures and humidity in the dry Arizona desert climate bring out significantly more visitors.
On the cooler months, you’ll need to bring lots of water and sun protection like a hat or bandana and, of course, sunscreen to fend off the potentially dangerous dry desert heat. Proper footwear is recommended. This is not a hike to embark upon sporting your old trusty pair of rainbow flops (as great as the open air may feel on your toes).
But there are a few shaded spots along the trail where you’ll be able to take a break and find reprieve from the sun in the shadows cast by rock formations along the way.
The best address to plug in to navigate to the trailhead is 10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042. Starting from the Park Main Entrance, take the first left onto Phoenix South Mountain Park Road from S. Central Ave to find the parking lot and Hobbins Trailhead. There is no entrance fee to hike or drive Holbert Trail.
Trailblazers can find plenty of parking in the surrounding area as well as in the designated parking lot off Phoenix South Mountain Park Road next to the trailhead. Public restrooms are available at the parking lot—a nice perk, as you won’t find bathroom facilities at most other trails on South Mountain.
Dobbin’s Lookout is approximately 2/3 of the way through to reaching the trail’s turnaround point (reminder that it’s a back and forth, not a loop), and well worth stopping at to catch its epic panoramic views of Phoenix amidst the Sonoran Desert landscape—arguably the best spot to capture a desert city portrait.
Dobbins Lookout can also be accessed by car and therefore attracts plenty of tourists and travelers taking a shortcut to the gorgeous city view—sans 4-mile hike. So, be prepared for the scenic stopping point to be busier than the trail. If you want to steer clear of crowds, we recommend getting an early start in the day. If it’s an option, try going on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which are the two least popular days of the week. (An added bonus is the milder temperatures in the morning).
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In an age when everyone seems to be locked to their small blue screens, I am vehemently passionate about getting more people outside to enjoy the wonder of nature. I grew up with the outdoors on my doorstep, and when I headed off to university I picked a degree in geology that allowed me to spend a lot of time outside on field trips! Over the last 30 years, I have camped or hiked through the wilderness on 5 continents. I hope my posts are informative for both the grizzled veteran and the complete novice alike.
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