Usually, a hiking trail within a city is surrounded by open space. You drive to the trail head parking lot, hike the trail and drive away. There is a great trail, though, right in the heart of downtown Tempe. You can hike it, grab some food and do some shopping or catch some entertainment without ever moving your car.
"A" Mountain is infamous as the landmark of Arizona State University, serving as a guardian to Sun Devil Stadium with its gigantic ‘‘A’’ on its side. But the mountain also has a challenging and very rewarding trail system.
"A" Mountain is part of the Hayden Butte Preserve. It is steeped in academic history.
In 1918, students of the Tempe Normal School installed a letter ‘‘N’’ on the mountain. When the school changed its name in 1925 to the Tempe State Teachers College, one side of the ‘‘N’’ was retained and the mountain bore a letter ‘‘T’’. In 1938, the letter was changed to an ‘‘A’’ as the school became the Arizona State Teachers College. In 1952, a bomb blast destroyed the letter. The current ‘‘A’’ on the mountain was constructed in 1955. It is 60 feet tall.
While there are several access points to the mountain, the main trail begins on Rio Salado Drive just east of Mill Avenue. The trailhead is right next to the historic former mill that dominates the downtown Tempe landscape.
Take a deep breath and start up the asphalt trail. It goes straight up for a couple of hundred yards. Along the way, there are a couple of resting points with benches that are a nice welcome.
The final assault of the mountain is a long staircase. The steps are tall, seemingly more so when you are fatigued.
The end result is a breathtaking view of the Valley at the top of "A" Mountain.
While hiking up and down the mountain is enough of a good hike, Chase Wiles uses it as a training run. Wiles, 23 and an ASU student, assaults the mountain several times per week for a workout.
“It’s good training,” said Wiles as he caught his breath. “You get more of a workout than on a flat run.”
The trail begins at 1,180 feet and the summit is at 1,495.