The Marco de Niza trail is a great little route to hike on those days where you need a quick escape from the city grind or you’re looking for a quick workout. This moderate two mile trail follows along a portion of the ridgetop of Phoenix’s South Mountain. This is a great beginner’s hike to do with kids or dogs to wake up their hiking legs.
Marco de Niza, for whom this hiking trail is named was an explorer that made his way through Arizona into what today is known as New Mexico. Rumor has it that he traveled through South Mountain, while onto his way to discover this land. To validate this rumor there is an etching of his name marked into a portion of the mountain that can be found along this trail. In order to protect this historical marking, a barred cage surrounds it.
But the joke is on us.
As technology evolved scientists at Arizona State University determined that this etching is simply a hoax.
Marco de Niza would have created this around the 16th century. The scientists have determined that this was written sometime in the 20th century. Yep, we got pranked! But the park has left the metal bars around this area and hikers can still enjoy the novelty of it along the trail.
The most intense portion of this trail occurs right in the beginning. The trail inclines gradually with short curvy switchbacks. It’s here along this area where you can find the etching. As you approach, it looks a little strange like a jail cell protruding out of the mountain side. As you get closer you can bend down and look between the metal rods to take a peek. In English the etching reads; “Friar Marcos de Niza crowned all of New Mexico at his expense in the year 1539.”
From here, the trail takes on a more direct and straight path up to the ridgeline of the mountain. Again, this is nothing too steep but it will get your heart pumping. Once upon the top, the trail mellows out and travels along the eastern ridgeline of the mountain, taking you up and down the peaks.
Along your left side you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the surrounding neighborhoods while on the right will be the inner rolling mountain tops of South Mountain. You feel directly in between the two different worlds each side has to offer.
As you continue along, you will notice that this trail branches off in separate ways. It doesn’t matter which path you follow, it will all meet up at the same spot. If you take the path on the right, then this is a steeper area with loose gravel where you are hiking along the side of the mountain going down. If you decided to take the trail to the left, then there will be a portion that will require some slight scrambling up and/or down.
At the end this trail intersects with the Beverly Canyon trail. From here you can turn back the way you came, or turn onto Beverly Canyon and make this a longer hike. Overall this is a great trail to get a quick escape from the city, a little slice of history and also a great workout.
This trail is very clear and easy to follow. There are a few areas where the trail branches out in different directions but regardless of the path you choose it will take you towards the same ending spot.
From Phoenix, take the I-10 East and exit off of Elliot Rd (exit 157). Turn right onto Elliot for about a half a mile and then turn right onto 48th Street. Follow down for about a mile and half and then turn left onto E Pima Canyon Rd. Parking lot is located at end of this street or parking is allowed along the side.
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