Phoenix’s South Mountain Park and Preserve is a popular place for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding here in the Phoenix area. With over 50 miles of trails, it’s no wonder locals and tourists alike think this is one of the best day hikes near Phoenix. Today we are reviewing the hike to Fat Man’s Pass, a great hiking trail for families with older kids.
February is just about one of the most perfect months for hiking here in the Phoenix area, as temps are cool in the morning and usually don’t go much over 80 in the afternoons. My husband and I had hiked to Fat Man’s Pass many years ago before we had kids. We’ve been wanting to try the trail again and felt like our kids were old enough (10 and 12) to make the trek.
We started our hike to Fat Man’s Pass at the Mormon Trailhead (8610 S 24th Street). On a Saturday around 11:00 am it was quite crowded and the parking lot was full. There is plenty of parking on the neighborhood streets but be careful as there are also plenty of no parking signs. Note — there is no bathroom at this trailhead. So don’t throw back a venti Starbucks before hitting the trail!
The Mormon Trail starts out going uphill right away. It’s also pretty rocky so hiking shoes are a good idea. This trail is rated as moderate/difficult so keep that in mind when deciding whether to bring your younger kids. I did see quite a few littles on the trail but past a certain point the number definitely dropped.
I definitely did not expect the hike to be mostly uphill, but the trail did reward us with some spectacular views of the valley. We could see the Four Peaks, Superstitions, Camelback, Papago, downtown buildings and even as far as Cardinal’s Stadium. The incline did make the hike seem to take a lot longer, and this time it wasn’t just the kids asking “are we there yet?”
There are many spots to “pull over” to let larger groups pass or to sit and rest. We found one nice shady spot to have our lunch.
We followed the Mormon Trail to the National Trail (download a trail map here) which eventually led us to the huge rock outcrop knows as Fat Man’s Pass. Why is it called Fat Man’s Pass? Well, let’s just say a fat man will not make it through the tight squeeze created by two large boulders. As it was we needed to take off our backpacks to fit through, and we are not big people.
Once through the pass we were rewarded with a nice shaded area to sit and rest before making the return hike. The boys loved the natural smooth rock slide next to the pass. If you’re taller just watch your head on the way down!
From this point we had two choices — continue on the Hidden Valley trail and loop around back to the National Trail or double back the way we came. The map we had made the Hidden Valley route look much longer so we just went back on the National Trail.
Going back seemed to take a lot less time, I’m sure because it was mostly downhill! Overall the kids had a great time and said the hike was totally worth getting to the Pass and the slide. We definitely recommend this hike!
tips for hiking fat man’s pass
- No bathroom at trailhead
- Trail can be very crowded
- Overflow parking on street
- Bring plenty of water & snacks
- Layer clothing in cooler months
- Hiking shoes recommended
- Best for families with older kids (6+)
- Dogs allowed on leash
- Hike is moderate/difficult
The South Mountain Park and Preserve was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps during 1933-1940. Teachers Pay Teachers has lesson plans available to help teach about the CCC.
Thousands of petroglyphs left behind by the Hohokam prehistoric culture can also be found at South Mountain Park. You can read more about these petroglyphs, or I found this cool lesson plan about petroglyphs from ASU.
You can use the same Sonoran Detectives web site mentioned above to learn more about the native animals and plants, or you can download these desert plant and animal coloring pages from Sonoran Desert Kids. There is also a great free Desert Animals lapbook and unit study here.