Get a panoramic view of Phoenix—no hike needed!—at Dobbins Lookout!
We love to explore Phoenix, and Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain Park is a great find: it’s fast, fun, and free! South Mountain Park has tons of hiking trails to the summit but my favorite thing about this daytrip destination is that you can drive up to an amazing view of Phoenix!
I drive past hills crawling with humans every weekend so hiking must be the Arizona state pastime, but this California girl does not understand why anyone would willingly walk through rattlesnake country when there’s a perfectly good paved road you can drive up to reach the same summit.
If you’re a chicken like I am, or if you have kids who because of smallness or whininess may not make it to the top on a real hike, just fill your water bottles and jump into the car—the air-conditioned car—and drive up to a great view of Phoenix!
Location: South Mountain Park is about 13 miles south of downtown Phoenix. 10919 S Central Ave., Phoenix (click for Google map)
Price: Free entrance to South Mountain Park; free parking.
Hours: 5am-7pm daily (South Mountain Park entrance gate hours; trails close at 11pm.)
- Very important: Don’t try to visit South Mountain Park on a Silent Sunday! Roads are closed to vehicles so you’ll have to [gulp] hike.
Silent Sundays for 2016:
March 20 (third Sunday due to Easter)
December 18 (third Sunday due to Christmas)
Here are 3 things not to miss when you visit Dobbins Lookout in Phoenix!
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Here’s a quick video of the panoramic view at Dobbins Lookout in Phoenix!
This Is Scorpion Gulch
At the base of South Mountain, you can’t help but notice a cluster of ramshackle stone buildings, because one of them sports a sign announcing This Is Scorpion Gulch. That’s truth in advertising, folks.
There’s plenty of space to park across the street from the Scorpion Gulch ruins. It takes about 90 seconds to take a peek and a pic; hop back into the car and head into South Mountain Park.
Scorpion Gulch was a store that William Lunsford built in 1936 and operated until the 1960s. You can read more about Bill Lunsford (AKA Grandpa) and Scorpion Gulch here!
2. South Mountain Park Restrooms!
As you enter South Mountain Park you’ll find clean restrooms. It takes about 20 minutes to drive from the park entrance to the summit, at least a few minutes to explore, and about 20 minutes to drive back down. All told, you’re looking at a full toiletless hour. Got kids? Everybody tries.
3. Dobbins Lookout
- Exploring the summit of South Mountain and Dobbins Lookout can take 5-30 minutes, depending on the interests of your kids.
- Park in the big parking lot at the summit:
- Make sure to look around for chuckwallas (super cute, harmless lizards)! South Mountain has a very dense chuckwalla population, and the male chuckwallas on South Mountain have orange tails! You can read more about the South Mountain chuckwallas here! Tip: You’re more likely to find chuckwallas out doing pushups if you visit before 11am!
- The stone hut (photo below), as well as most of South Mountain Park, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. You can read more about the Civilian Conservation Corps in Arizona here!
The hut was a hit with my kids! On a clear day you can get a really cool photo of downtown Phoenix framed in the window of the stone hut! Here’s Jameson jumping into the hut through the window:
There are park benches placed around the summit where you can relax and enjoy the view of the valley. Unless you have kids. If you have kids, there is no relaxing because—hello—you are on the top of a mountain! and you’ll immediately notice that some benches here are better than others. I’d choose to park my kids on this bench:
But Jefferson wanted to climb down to sit on this bench:
Jefferson has vertigo. Yeah…that’s a No. You can’t tell from the photo, but directly in front of that bench is a death drop to the bottom of the mountain. Nope.
Not to worry, there is a perfectly safe—but unsafe seeming, which is the important thing—ledge your kids can perch on:
When we visited, I thought the entire summit of South Mountain was Dobbins Lookout. We totally missed standing on the actual Dobbins Lookout! Oops. I guess the kids did notice it but they said people were hogging it. So be prepared to wait your turn. But remember the potties are at the bottom of the mountain. Tick tock.
Just above the stone hut is a little round tower: that’s Dobbins Lookout. The very cool copper compass points to Phoenix landmarks!
- Can you visit Dobbins Lookout in summer?
Yes! If you drive up to Dobbins Lookout, the only time you’ll be out in the heat is while you explore the summit of South Mountain.
- The South Mountain Environmental Education Center is open Wed-Sat 8am-2pm. We skipped it because we’ve visited several AZ ranger stations lately; you’ll find the usual Native American artifacts, interactive education stations, and gift shop. Learn more about the South Mountain Environmental Education Center here—including the current schedule for special programs and events for families (many are free!).
Family Travel Roadtrip Rating for Dobbins Lookout: 3
1 is getting stranded with a flat tire and 10 is Disneyland.
- The kids thought they’d be bored “just looking at Phoenix” but they loved exploring the stone hut!
- We’ll go back some time since we missed a few things on the first visit that we want to do:
- Stand on Dobbins Lookout and find the landmarks that the compass points to.
- Check out the education center.
- Spot those carrot-tail chuckwallas!