Shaw Butte Loop

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 4.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 1359 - 2149 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: 12898 N. Central Ave.
Fee: none
Attractions: Desert hike




View Shaw Butte Loop in a larger map

The Shaw Butte trail is in the North Mountain District of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. The trail forms a loop that takes it around the south and west sides of Shaw Butte where it ascends to the summit and then follows the ridge back to the parking area.


The small parking area is off of West Thunderbird Road at the end of North Central Avenue. The hours for the parking lot are 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., April through September, and  6 a.m. to 7 p.m., October through March. Parking on the city streets is prohibited and vehicles will be towed. An alternative trailhead is at the North Mountain Visitor Center at 12950 N. 7th St. where there are restrooms, a gift shop, and a few interesting displays. Parking at the Visitor Center adds about 1 mile to the total round trip distance.


Drinking water is available at the trailhead.


For this post we are hiking the loop in the clockwise direction by heading west from the parking area for 1 tenth of a mile and taking the trail that branches off on the left. There is another trail that branches to the left right at the trailhead that leads over to the Visitor Center. The fork that this post follows is a little further up the road.


For the rest of the loop take the right fork at each junction that you come to. This is the point where a branch of the lower trail and this route merge back together.


The desert at this elevation has many plants that are in full bloom in April and May. Near the summit of Shaw Butte, a thousand feet higher in elevation, many of the plants that are past blooming here are in full bloom there.


Saguaro cactus are commonly seen growing up through the palo verde trees. The reason for this as I learned it is that the birds that eat the fruit of the cactus can't digest the seeds. While they are perched in the palo verde trees they poop out the seeds. Since it is a sheltered spot of ground it is easier for the seeds to take hold and grow.


The trail has enough markers so that if you have a general idea where you are headed you can easily stay your course. The marker at this junction points left for the Shaw Butte trail but all that will do is take you to the Visitor Center. To continue the loop stay to the right. Shortly past this point the Shaw Butte trail joins up with the Charles M. Christiansen Memorial trail for about 2 tenths of a mile before splitting off on its own again.


After about 1.6 miles into the hike the trail loops more to the right and heads up to a notch in the lower part of a ridge. There are several unmarked trails in this area but for the most part you can tell which route is going to take you in a loop.


The trail cross the notch in the ridge and drops down into a semi secluded valley. Simple math shows the elevation gain for this hike to be 776 feet but that doesn't factor in the little hills like this one. The actual overall elevation gain for this particular route is around 1,230 feet using DeLormes profile tool.


After climbing out of the other side of the valley the trail passes the 15th Street junction and connects with the road leading up to the radio towers at about the 2.1 mile point of the hike. There is a small parking area at the end of 15th Street that also serves as a trailhead.


This is all that is left of the once popular Cloud Nine Restaurant built by Richard Barker and his wife Barbara in 1957. The building started out as their residence but in 1961 the Barker's opened up a dining room in the east side of the house. Customers were shuttled up the steep road from the 15th Street parking lot by Barker's sons. The restaurant had a short life though as it burnt to the ground in 1964 and was never rebuilt. The Phoenix Magazine has a well written article about the restaurant if you would like to learn more.


From the restaurant the road continues up the mountain.


An Anna's hummingbird poses for photos.


A short spur in the road leads up to the highest point of Shaw Butte where you can view a good part of Phoenix from amidst all of the microwave towers.


The nice wide road leading down to the trailhead turns the last leg of the hike into an easy stroll.


There is a Hohokam Observatory site within less than a half mile of the trailhead that is worth stopping at if you haven't seen it before.


For some the Shaw Butte Loop can be an ambitious undertaking on a hot day and for others it might be an early morning run. Most people seemed to be hiking straight up the road from the parking area to the summit and then returning by the same route. Trail runners appeared to be sticking mostly to the trails in the valley and we only saw one other person hiking the entire loop on this particular day. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.