Where (& How) To See Ancient Petroglyphs In Phoenix

Travelers to the Phoenix area enjoy exploring its surrounding desert for all kinds of reasons. They want to see cacti up close, look for wildlife, find unique desert flowers, and embrace the solitude of uncrowded, wide-open spaces. They also can step back in time, by thousands of years, by viewing the wealth of ancient petroglyphs found on rocks and pondering their mysterious origins.


Petroglyphs are rock carvings, versus pictographs, which are rock paintings, and there are said to be millions of them in the Arizona desert. Ancient people made the carvings as far back as 5000 BC, although the Hohokam petroglyphs, which are abundant in the South Mountain Park and Preserve, just outside the city, came later, between 300 AD and 1300 AD, local experts say.

There are more than 7,000 petroglyphs in the South Mountains, where the Salt and Gila rivers meet, and represent the largest concentration of rock art in the area where the Native American Hohokam culture thrived. Given its historical significance, the area is one of the most incredible places to visit in Arizona.

Related: Grand Canyon To Phoenix: Why This Road Trip Is Worth Taking


Desert Landscape Offers Glimpse Into Ancient Culture

Hohokam people inhabited central and southern Arizona from about 450 AD to 1450 AD, and the rock patterns they left behind likely mark the places that were important to them, as well as record activities, such as hunting. In the South Mountain Park and Preserve, fascinating rock art is found on many trails, including Desert Classic, Hidden Valley, Holbert Trail, Telegraph Pass Trail, and Pyramid Trail.

The South Mountain Park Preserve, at 10919 South Central Avenue, has the distinction of being one of the largest city parks in the country, sprawling over 16,000 acres of the desert landscape. In addition to finding petroglyphs along its trails, the park is known as a great place for horseback riding and mountain biking.

One of the most popular trails is the Mormon Trail, which offers views of the desert and the city. Three mountain ranges, the Ma Ha Tauk, Gila, and Guadalupe, are found in the preserve. Dobbins Lookout, at 2,330 feet, is the park’s highest point open to the public. It’s popular with tourists who want to enjoy panoramic views of the area. And with no entry fee, hiking here is among the best free things to do in Phoenix.

Hike These Trails To See More Petroglyphs

It’s easy to get off the beaten path in the Phoenix area. One such place is the Arizona State University Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve, an archaeological museum in the Sonoran Desert, where more than 1,500 petroglyphs can be seen on a half-mile-long trail loop in the town of Glendale, just 10 miles north of downtown Phoenix.

Visitors enter at 3711 West Deer Valley Road, and a free audio tour is offered for the petroglyph trail, which is maintained by the university’s archaeology research faculty and students. The trail is open Wednesday to Saturday. There is a general admission fee of $9.

To the east of downtown Phoenix, travelers can find petroglyphs carved along a 1.5-mile trail in the Superstition Mountains. The scenic trail also has natural pools and a waterfall. The popular Hieroglyphics Trail, which begins at the Lost Goldmine Trailhead on Cloudview Avenue, features several panels of well-preserved petrogylphs left by the Hohokam people. Local officials warn that Hieroglyphic Canyon is subject to flash floods and that the rock slabs around the pools and petroglyphs are slippery when wet.

The Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is another region where hikers will find several petroglyph displays along seven miles of trails. Spur Cross Ranch is home to plenty of desert wildlife, including coyotes, snakes, and many birds. The area’s trails vary in difficulty and length, ranging from 1.2 miles to nearly 5 miles. An admission fee is $3 is charged, and visitors can sign up for an Interpretive Ranger Talk, offered on a 2.5-mile trail that showcases petroglyphs as well as signs of prehistoric Hohokam dwellings. The conservation area entry point is at 44000 North Spur Cross Road, in Cave Creek.

Nearby Hotels Offer Pools, Golf, Children’s Areas

The area has a wide selection of hotels and resorts, located both in the downtown Phoenix area and outside of town, a short drive from the desert hiking trails, nature reserves, and parks that lure many to the region. All have pools, and several have golf courses and activities for youngsters, such as children’s playgrounds. And with its warm climate, a getaway in Phoenix is a perfect winter escape. A range of options follows.

Superstition Springs Inn

  • Cost: $
  • Address: 6347 East Southern Avenue, Mesa
  • Amenities: Pool, spa, restaurant

3 Palms Hotel

  • Cost: $$
  • Address: 7707 East McDowell Road, Scottsdale
  • Amenities: Pool, golf course, fitness room, spa, restaurant

Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix/AvondaleHealth

  • Cost: $$$
  • Address: 11460 West Hilton Way, Avondale
  • Amenities: Pool, restaurant, cafe, business center, fitness center, bar, free parking

Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton

  • Cost: $$$
  • Address: 34631 North Tom Darlington Drive, Scottsdale
  • Amenities: Pool, tennis court, spa/sauna, business center, fitness room, restaurant/bar, airport pick-up service, children’s playground

Related: America’s Oldest Petroglyphs Are 3x Older Than The Pyramids

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

  • Cost: $$$$
  • Address: 7575 East Princess Drive, Scottsdale
  • Amenities: Spa, sauna, massage room, outdoor pool, casino, restaurant, golf course, business center, children’s playground

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