South Mountain Park ~ One of the best places to hike with spiders, snakes and gila monsters

I love South Mountain Park.  With over 16,000 acres, it’s the largest municipal park in the country.  51 miles of trails and believe me when I say, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere on some of those trails. 

When I first moved to the valley in 2001, I thought I’d take an afternoon hike not paying much attention to the setting sun as I wandered the trail.  I soon found myself in the dark and more than just a little bit scared.  I heard loud howling sounds and wondered if there were mountain lions in those mountains as I tried to make my way down a stony mountainside. 

I might add that my night vision has never been too good.  Luckily the moon was bright…bright enough for me to see a tarantula crossing the path in front of me.  It took every ounce of my being to not scream like a 3 year old (I didn’t want the mountain lion to hear me).  I don’t do spiders. 

I don’t do snakes either and I knew there are plenty of them in “them thar hills” I’ve seen em.  Rattlers.  I did scream like a 3 year old the day I happened upon my first rattle snake (outside of a zoo) on the trail…my screams were accompanied by a frantic dance.  It wasn’t pretty.

I was also surprised when hiking with my daughter by a hissing Gila Monster.  Big as a dog, I swear.  They’re poisonous you know. They can kill you I guess.  So, yes, there was screaming. All mine.  

I once, maybe I should capitalize that…ONCE hiked Camelback.  This was the most frightening day of my south-mountain-arizonalife.  Hiking up the trail wasn’t too bad and the view from the top was spectacular.  But coming down? Well, I’m not real fond of heights. Looking down…almost straight down and the trail I would have to take to get off this mountain, I could actually “see” my body plummeting over the side.  I mean there’s nothing there to keep you from falling off the side of the mountain.  Nothing.  This is not Disneyland.  Horrifying.  Yet hikers were literally bounding past me.  Hikers as young as 7 and as old as, oh I don’t know…dirt?  Embarrassing for me and not something I would repeat.  I can’t remember who talked me into that because we’re not friends anymore.

So. I’m obviously not a professional hiker but I have learned a few lessons…like taking a flashlight when starting out on a hike in the shadows of the setting sun.  Yes, that would be good. Oh, and it’s one of the few places in the world you can scream like a 3 year old and no one will really care.


  1. I’ve seen a rattler on National Trail in South Mountain. It was stretched across the middle of the trail, getting some morning sun. Actually, I’ve seen rattle snakes on many of the trails in the Phoenix area. Hiking in the morning is always a tad safer than the afternoon, because the rattlers haven’t warmed up yet, so they can’t move as fast. Plus, they are more afraid of you, than you are of them.

    FYI, the vast majority of people bit by a rattle snake are young men. And you know why they got bit: they were “playing” with the snake.

    I’m more of a mountain biker, myself. I broke my right are at South Mountain 2 yrs ago there, but I still love the area, and it’s still one of the best mountain bike destinations in the US. That’s probably not the best thing for hikers, but for bikers, it’s awesome.

  2. Hey Steve!
    Yes, boys and their snakes. Never a good combo, huh?

    I’ll admit, I’ve never been overjoyed during my hike when my serene zen-like state is suddenly blasted when a mountain biker comes careening into my “space”. But there’s a small part of me that envys the biker’s apparent lack of fear. (This is coming from someone who puts her rollerblades on at the bottom of her driveway)

    I’ve seen mountain bikers tumbling head over bike as they misjudged something on the trail. I’ve climbed over rocks to see if I can help a biker lying in a heap with feet still strapped on to the pedals (I’ve heard you shouldn’t strap your feet to the pedals by the way…but then you probably know this). It’s amazing to me that the biker usually gets right back up, a little battered and a little bleeding, to hit the trail again. Where does this come from in a person? It’s certainly a daredevil gene I was born without.

    So, kudos to you on that mountain biking thing! I’ll take my chances with the wildlife and try to stay out of your way~ 🙂

  3. Amy, I discovered mountain biking 8 years ago and consider it a travesty that the “secret” was kept from me for so long. I guess I’m a bit of an adrenalin junky, though I’m not one to go launching myself into the air. For the most part, my wheels stay on the ground, even if they are rolling over a significant rock.

    For me, one of the best parts of mountain biking is all of the places you get to see. A 10 mile bike ride is a nice little ride, while a 10 mile hike would be HUGE. I know I’ve ridden to places I never would have seen otherwise.

    PS- we really need to get you to a TWEALTOR meet-up soon.

  4. Good point. I do love biking on realatively flat surfaces and you can certainly cover more ground and see some of those remote areas., what’s a TWEALTOR?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wow, less than seven years in the area and you’ve seen a rattlesnake, tarantula and one of the most elusive creatures of the desert, the gila monster.

    I’ve been hiking the Phoenix/Scottsdale mountain ranges for over twenty years and besides the ever present coyotes, I have only seen one rattlesnake (South Mountain) and that was because someone else on the trail 100 yards in front of me almost stepped on it .

    I really need to get my eyes checked.

  6. Maybe you should.
    I really don’t like all those creatures of the desert. Believe me…I wish I could say I hadn’t seen them. It has really kept me from hiking as much as I used to.