The Double Butte Loop trail is an easy 2.5 mile hike around the West side of Papago Park. With a small elevation gain this is a great hiking trail for children and dogs who are just starting out hiking. Papago Park encompasses the Papago Buttes, which are unique red sandstone formations that formed between 6-15 million years ago. Due to the uniqueness of this area it attracts locals and tourists alike but also a surprising amount of wildlife as well.
There are a variety of hiking trails located in the park, but the Double Butte Loop goes around the entire area of the West side, giving you an overall view of the area and the buttes. The other section of the Papago Park to the east is across the main street and features the popular Hole in the Rock Trail.
From the parking lot, you’ll see three trail options to choose from. While there is a map located in this area, there are no trail markers. You can access the Double Butte Loop trail from two of these options. Either to the left of the picnic tables or the trail right in front of the picnic tables. For this trail write up I decided to begin at the option right in front of the picnic tables and work my way counter clockwise around the loop.
As you hike a short distance, you will begin to see trail markers, but they’re not very consistent. Sometimes they’ll have the name of the trail you’re on and other times, not a ton of information at all. So just keep in mind that this trail goes up and around the Big Butte in the back, and then travels back toward the parking lot.
You will follow this dusty trail straight and pass the little butte, a lone formation standing sentinel in the desert. The coral like rock is hard to bypass without having an urge to feel the stone. There are some side trails that leads closer to the butte to give you that opportunity. As you feel it, it seems so fragile yet it has been strongly surviving here for so long — even amid all the drastic changes brought to the Phoenix area. While this rock can be brittle in areas, there are a few small rock climbing routes and some bouldering areas if you’re in the mood for a scramble. There are no signs to point out these areas, though, so make sure you know how to spot clean routes.
As you continue along the path going straight towards the Big Butte the trail is very wide and allows plenty of room for everyone. This area is pretty hands-on with lots to explore, so while this park is popular and will likely have a combination of hikers, children and pets around, you’ll likely also find a bit of elbow room on the trail for that feeling of outdoor solitude.
Towards the middle section there is a little rest area — you’ll note a composite rock wall that looks a little out of place in this red sandstone rock area.
The Double Butte Loop trail will veer towards the left of this rest stop and then heads towards the Big Loop straight ahead. This area does get a little confusing because the trail markers are not clear. To follow along the trail you will then head towards the right (after passing the rest area) and across the paved road. You will see signs with markers labeled as “5k”, and these will take you toward the right of the Big Butte.
Follow these 5K signs, until you reach the 3rd 5K trail marker. Here you will see that there is another unmarked trail that veers back towards the buttes. Take this unmarked trail down a ways until you come across a labeled trail marker indicating that you are on the Double Butte Loop trail.
As you go around, you’ll notice that it becomes a lot quieter. Most of the people are busy exploring the front of the butte but few get around to the back of it. Back here, you do see a main road with cars whizzing by. While at first the cars are a reminder that you’re right in the middle of a busy city, seeing the buttes again make you realize how special this area is so close to all that development.
It feels as if you are in a part of the past that the drivers are not noticing. While the cars drive by at fast speeds, it really accentuates just how slowly things are moving up on the trail. These buttes are maintaining their proud silence and standing tall while the world is busily revolving around it. It’s kind of a nice place to stop and think for a little bit.
In this back section the trail becomes narrow but is still pretty clear to follow. As you directly approach the center of the back, you’ll come across an empty amphitheater. Built in 1933, this amphitheater used to be used for concerts and community events, although it hasn’t been operational in about 50 years.
As you continue making your way around, the trail’s vegetation becomes more lush and offers unique views of Big Butte. The green of the creosote provides a nice contrast to the red rock of the buttes … and the blue of those Arizona skies.
As you come around the Butte, you’ll be greeted again with the paved road and the rest area. Follow the trail towards the right side, seeing as now you’ll be on the other side of the buttes heading back towards the parking lot. Again, there will not be trail markers but follow the trail towards the right.
This section gradually takes you back down and you will be hiking next to the fenced off border of the Papago Golf Park. This section of the trail is less populated then the other side and offers a more secluded feeling. While the views of the buttes are now behind you, this area has a lot of wildlife for those willing to be quiet and take notice. In fact, I saw a roadrunner, which I’ve never seen while hiking before … it moved too quickly to get a good picture, though!
The trail will bring you back to the parking lot where you can look back and see the landscape view of the buttes you just encircled.
The trail is clear to see but is not well marked, as there are many other side trails that branch off. Although the area is well maintained and you will not feel lost in this small park.
From Phoenix, take the I-10 towards AZ-143 N (towards Sky Harbor). Take exit 3A for AZ-202 E for less than a mile. Exit off the Priest Dr exit and turn left onto Priest. Follow down for about a mile and a half and then turn left onto Papago Park Rd.
With recent wildfire damage and ongoing waves of COVID-19 infections and restrictions, National Forest, National Park, and other public land closures, restrictions, or social distancing guidelines may be in-effect.
If infection rates are on the rise, please do your best to remain local for your hikes. If you do travel, please be mindful of small gateway communities and avoid as much interaction as you can. Also remember to be extra prepared with supplies so you don't have to stop somewhere outside your local community for gas, food, or anything else.
Please be sure to contact the local land management agency BEFORE you head out, as these conditions are likely to change without enough notice for us to fully stay on top of them. Thanks, and stay safe!
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