If you happen to own a car, a motorcycle, or even a bicycle, this article is definitely for you. When the rigors of (inner) city life have gotten to you there’s nothing better than a drive through the mountains to clear your head and mind. It also helps that cell reception is rather ‘spotty’, keeping those emails and texts at bay. I’d like to introduce you to one of my all time favorite driving roads just outside of Downtown Phoenix; South Mountain Park. Consisting of over 16,000 acres of pristine desert landscape it has been designated a Phoenix Point of Pride, and is also the largest city park in the United States. A narrow black stip of tarmac cuts through a beautiful portion of this park, and climbs to a height of 1000 feet above the floor of the surrounding desert. This route is paved all the way to the top making it accessibly by any car or truck, which makes it one of the best routes within the valley.
At the bottom of the page is a Google map that shows the route and mark special points. I should note that this route refers to the entrance located at the intersection of Central and Baseline, i.e. the Phoenix side, not the Ahwatukee side.
Shortly after entering the park one of the first buildings you’ll come across are the ruins of Scorpion Gulch, which was once a small shop owned by William Lunsford and constructed in 1936. Be sure to stop off and take a look around as the architecture is very interesting. Also as the buildings are exposed to constant weathering, they won’t be around forever.
After Scorpion Gulch things are uphill from there, literally and figuratively. The climb up the mountain begins, with a couple spots for one to pull of the road and take in the sights of the city of Phoenix, or travel by foot along the total of 58 miles of trails that South Mountain has to offer. (Remember to be properly prepared for any hiking, especially during the summer.) The winding narrow road up the mountain bridges the gap between breathtaking and nerve racking due to the somewhat shear drop offs, separated only by a thin looking guardrail. Many blind corners present a challenge, requiring that one pays attention to the road ahead rather than the scenery.
Near the top there is a fork in the road that can lead you to either the lookout point, or the TV antenna/Buena Vista. The lookout point is a great view of the city and has plenty of parking for visitors (which is where the first photo was taken, complete with stone building). The road leading to the TV antennas/Buena Vista flattens out with more twisting and winding roads. Personally I stay away from Buena Vista because there is very limited parking and it is extremely difficult to turn around, even in a compact car.
The blinking lights that are visible from most anywhere in the valley at night on top of the mountain are the beacons marking the antenna for airplanes. These antenna provide radio, tv, cellular, and probably internet connectivity to the valley. Driving on the road past them makes one realize how large they really are. The road here is not only full of curves, but hills and dips as well making for an exciting drive especially in a small, nimble car.
Like the other lookout points there is a large parking lot at the top which leads to a trail. This is one of the only (if not single) spots that you can drive to on the Mountain and see the other (Ahwatukee) side. The times I have visited I have also seen things burning way off in the distant fields.
So what exactly makes this worthy of the ultimate driving road? The scenery for one, the length of road and sharp turns and hills second. This route is best enjoyed by cars and light trucks, however the trail up 4 peaks would be the best trail for off roaders. Be sure to check on times the park is open, especially on weekends as it is sometime only open to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
View South Mountain Driving Road in a larger map