Perched atop a mountain in the South Mountain Park and Preserve is one of the best lookout points with phenomenal views of the Valley of the Sun. It’s up high, taking a good 30 minutes to drive from the entrance gate to the lookout point, mainly due to the curvy road and slow speed limit. Dobbins Lookout sits a whopping 2,330 feet above sea level, making it the ideal place to view any part of the greater Phoenix area, with views from Buckeye in the west and the Superstition Mountains to the east. These two locations are about 80 miles and 1.5 hours apart. You also get an excellent view of Phoenix’s twin skylines.
Be aware – it’s quite a popular spot, especially as sunset, not only for the great views, but also for the accessibility. You are able to drive all the way to the lookout point, so no hiking is required. We arrived to view the sunset around 7pm on a Wednesday in July, and it was very busy. At the top is a decently sized parking lot, which luckily had enough parking spaces that we didn’t have to battle or wait for one.
Dobbins Lookout is not the only draw to the preserve, as there are a multitude of trails to enjoy. In total, there are 9 trailheads to choose from, with the names and addresses easily available via the Phoenix government website: https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/trails/locations/south-mountain.
There’s also multiple abandoned buildings to explore – if you can hike your way to them. None of the buildings besides the one at Dobbins Lookout sit on or near the road, and all the roadside turnouts nearby are blocked with large boulders. Therefore, you must park in one of the few and spread out parking lots along the road and hike to whichever abandoned building you’d like to explore.
The abandoned, dilapidated buildings sprinkled throughout the South Mountain Preserve were birthed from the Great Depression, under the leadership of the U.S.’s 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His goal was to help Americans get back to work, so he launched a series of emergency programs, one of which would become known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). To apply, you had to be an unemployed, unmarried man, between the ages of 18 and 23. It was for a 6 month term, with up to 4 terms (2 years) total. It was intense physical labor, but allegedly the men didn’t mind as they were earning money, getting fed, and learning trade skills. They’d receive $30 (approximately $620 now) a month, $25 of which was required to be sent home to family.
It was a work camp that essentially functioned like the military. Each camp had around 150 to 250 men who were under the command of legitimate military personnel. They’d be awakened by a bugle at 6am and lived in barracks with strict inspections. They’d march to breakfast, have morning roll call, then they’d be released under direct supervision of the agency that they were assigned to. Despite all this, countless young men jumped at the chance to join, as it was one of the few ways to earn much-needed money after the Great Depression, while simultaneously helping build the community.
The accomplishments of these men and CCC is pretty incredible. They built 125,000 miles of roadway, strung 89,000 miles of telephone line, built 13,100 miles of foot trails, developed 800 state parks and 52,000 aces of public campground, built 97,000 miles of fire roads and 3,470 fire towers, and planted 3 billion trees. These men also helped build what we now know as the South Mountain Park and Preserve, building over 40 miles of trails, 18 buildings, 134 fire pits, water dams, and numerous other structures and features of the preserve.
If driving your way to Dobbins Lookout is not your style, you can also hike to it via Hobert Trail. It’s rated “moderately difficult” and it winds up the north face of the Guadalupe Mountain Range, which is one of the three elongated ridges that make up South Mountain (other two are the Gila and Ma Ha Tauk ranges). This trail also offers educational aspects, as you can see things like pre-Cambrian stone that’s centuries old and visible symbols sketched on the rocks by the ancient Hohokam people, nicknamed “petroglyph alley”.
Overall, Dobbins Lookout was a great quick trip to watch the sunset. We were there for probably 45 minutes, but one could easily spend all day in the South Mountain Preserve, hiking and then watching the sun go down. There’s tons of trails and other abandoned buildings to explore, however, if you do decide to hike in the summer (not recommended), make sure to bring lots of water and wear a hat. The Phoenix heat is no joke. Hike smart and enjoy Dobbins Lookout!