The Shaw Butte Trail is a moderate 4-mile loop on North Mountain in Phoenix, AZ. It begins as a steep hike up to the summit and then gradually lowers you back down towards the base of the mountain on the return trip, offering up scenic views of the city and astonishing views of North Mountain. There also is a little slice of Phoenix history incorporated into it…
In the 1960s, up in the sky hovering over the city of Phoenix there used to lay a ritzy upscale restaurant known as Cloud 9. The clientele would flock to North Mountain for the experience of exquisite dining atop the summit while gazing down on the city. As part of Cloud 9’s charm, the guests would park at the bottom and then be picked up and driven along a paved road high in the mountain toward the restaurant.
In 1964, though, the good times at Cloud 9 came to an abrupt end. A fire broke out destroying the building — the swanky Cloud 9 would never rise again.
The days of shuffling people back and forth by car are long over and the road is now crumbling apart and returning to the landscape, but that doesn’t mean the summit doesn’t get visitors anymore — it just means they’re traveling by foot these days.
The road is now incorporated as a part of the Shaw Butte Trail #306, which goes up to the summit and then curves around the mountain top. From the starting location you can decide which way to begin the loop. Either you can begin by heading straight up the old road to the summit or you can begin by veering to the left and taking a gradual, but longer trip up to the summit. For this write up, we went straight up the road first.
Needless to say, the beginning of this hike is steep. This path has a few turns but for the most part is straight up heading towards the large antennas standing upon the summit. The path is wide and allows a lot of space for hikers.
At around, 1.3 mile you will reach the area of the trail that is closest to the towers. There is an unmarked side trail towards the left that will lead you up to the antennas. It’s a neat area to explore and be up close and personal with the antennas that so many see only from afar.
At this point, the trail now switches from the dirt road to an actual dirt hiking trail.
As you continue along, the trail begins the descent down and curves toward the right. From a distance, the path is somewhat deceiving due to a couple of side trails branching out toward other lookout points, but the park does an excellent job of placing trail markers in these locations so that hikers know where the actual trail is.
As you veer to the right, you’ll get your first glimpse of the remains of Cloud 9. It looks like half of a stone building located along a natural curve of the mountain.
As you approach closer you’ll notice another unmarked side trail that will lead up toward the top of this mound where this building sits. There is an eerie set of gray concrete stairs leading down onto a flat curved concrete surface. There are not a lot of pictures of what this restaurant looked like in its heyday, but I believe it used to be a rounded building, with patrons able to sit on a circular patio outside.
Today, hikers fill the small portion of the remaining patio to take in the view or enjoy a snack before their descent.
After passing the old restaurant, the trail begins to descend down and will lead you around clockwise around the mountain. At first the hike down is a little steep and there are a few narrow sections of switchbacks in a rocky portion of the mountain. After this section, though, the rest of the trail’s eases you down with a gradual descent. From here you get a great view of the interior of North Mountain. The views of city life vanishes behind you and now you are now hiking toward the rolling mountain tops.
As you approach the base of the mountain you’ll notice different hiking trails slithering out around you. Remember to follow the signs for trail #306 and it will take you back around to the end of the loop.
As you hike along the last portion of this trail it will be flat and steady (the complete opposite of the beginning of this trail). As you make your way around you’ll notice the parking lot toward your right and then the trail marker for the end of this trail.
The Shaw Butte Trails feels like a complete adventure. From visiting the remains of an old deserted restaurant and the feeling of leaving the city behind, it’ll feel like you hiked longer than you actually did.
A special note about this trail is that the parking lot fills up quickly. If the parking lot is full, then you can head over to the North Mountain visitor center (located at 12950 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85022). From the visitor center, there is an unmarked trail leading toward the right that will intersect with the Shaw Butte Trail #306. Follow it down a short distance and then you come up upon the beginning of Shaw Butte.
This trail is very well marked and easy to follow. At times this trail will intersect with other hiking routes, but there will be markers along the way directing you towards the correct path.
From Phoenix, take the I-17 North to exit 210, Thunderbird Rd. Turn right onto Thunderbird Right and continue driving for about 2.5 miles. Turn right onto N. Central Ave and follow down until the end. The parking lot will be located at the end of this road.