Latest REV: 2.17.21
South Mountain Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the world. It consists of a range of mountains thirteen miles long across the southern part of Phoenix, Arizona. Hang Gliding has been a recognized sporting activity in the park since the early 1980's.
The Arizona Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation along with South Mountain Preserve Park Rangers a long-standing relationship and an agreement in place with a set of guidelines for flight operations in the Park. The Master Plan for South Mountain Park, adopted by the City Council confirmed hang gliding and paragliding as an appropriate use of the park and specified areas for launching and landing.
City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation, along with South Mountain Preserve Park Rangers, has given permission for people to fly from designated launches and land in designated landing areas within South Mountain Park under the following conditions:
All pilots must be current members of the Arizona Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (AZHPA). Membership info here.
All pilots must read and indicate consent to both the Phoenix Parks and Recreation and AZHPA/USHPA liability waivers.
All pilots must be current members of the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) and have ratings listed below.
All H2 and P2 pilots must have an H3/P3 or higher USHPA rated site sponsor, or local instructor, present while launching and flying. This sponsor shall be a qualified pilot that has experience flying that individual site. On-site briefings from a local, qualified pilot are a requirement.
Visiting pilots can obtain a visiting pilot pass here and show the registration confirmation as proof.
"TUR" (tubulence) and "RLF" (restricted landing field) special skill endorsements are required.
No commercial operations or instruction permitted within the park.
General Rules That Must Be Adhered To By All Pilots
All South Mountain Park Rules must be adhered to.
Do not launch anywhere in the park except for in the designated launching areas. (See Images Below)
Do not land anywhere in the park except for in the designated landing areas. (See Images Below)
Park only in designated parking areas.
Do not venture off designated trails.
Know Before You Go
A current airspace map and understanding of it is critical for flying at South Mountain Park. There is a Class B 5,000' ASL restriction/ceiling above all Park terrain. If planning on flying away from Park terrain to areas other than designated LZ’s, previous XC experience and a current airspace map is required.
Phoenix SkyHarbor Airspace Graphic (simplified for soaring pilots):
Site Frequency: 151.505 Mhz, DCS code 25: Please note you must turn your DCS on, set the code to 25, and make sure it is turned on for both transmit and receive prior to arrival. Programming instructions for most popular 2 meter radios can be found here.
Phoenix SkyHarbor Airspace Chart (SkyVector.com)
Usage: Hang Gliding and Paragliding.
Season: Allowed usage year round but mid-summer conditions lead most pilots to venture to northern AZ during peak heat months.
Affiliation: Arizona Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. USHPA RRRG insured site.
Land ownership: City of Phoenix Municipal Park. Phoenix Mountains Preserve.
Other use: Open to the public for sightseeing, horseback riding, hiking, bicycling and more. Can be considerably crowded during special events and on weekends.
Silent Sundays: On the fourth Sunday of the month vehicular (motorized) traffic is closed at the main entrance gate. All other Sundays, motorized traffic is closed until 10:00 a.m. Hiking to Launch is the only option during these times.
Access: South launch is drive up, but on most flying days pilots coordinate via the GroupMe app when to stage a car or cars at the saddle (at pull out on the Summit Road and which is at the top of the Telegraph Pass Trail which can be accessed just to the west of the South LZ). The National Trail which leads to the North Launch can also be accessed from the saddle. Saddle coordinates: Google Maps
Orientation: Faces 180 degrees at 2,625' MSL.
Type: Improved, stabilized granite sloping launch.
GPS Coordinates: 33.3307°, -112.0611° Google Maps
Winds: Light surface winds are preferred as this is a thermal site. SSE to SSW 0-15 mph. Typical summer launch window happens between 10 am and 4 pm. Wind is typically too east in morning and then may swing too far west in the afternoon. The north launch may have adequate wind for launching later in the day at certain times throughout the year.
Driving Directions: Take Central Ave. south to the park entrance. Follow the two lane, paved road 7.5 miles to the top, following the signs to "Gila Valley Lookout."
Road Conditions: Two-lane paved road to launch (7 miles). 15 to 25 MPH speed limits (enforced), no passing.
Parking: Marked for up to 30 vehicles.
Facilities: Ranger station just past park entrance.
Set-up Area: East of launch. Please do not set up on launch when more than one other pilot is present.
Hazards: Unmarked power lines to the right of launch sloping down to east side of LZ. Very difficult to see. Locate them before you fly. Communications towers with guy wires behind launch. Spectators will often congregate around launch. A local pilot will brief you on setting up reasonable lines of demarcation and communicate with spectators for pilot and spectator safety.
We strongly recommend not flying over “the bowl” area which has the power lines, cliff and guy wires until you have significant altitude for obvious reasons. Due to the common occurrence of thermals joining as they ascend, sink can be minimal on many days so it is best practice to exit thermals at 4,300' ASL to make sure you have sufficient time to implement proper descent techniques and stay out of restricted airspace. Conditions can change rapidly in the desert. Please be an active pilot. Do not have final glide/approach to Landing Zone over the wash. Clear LZ immediately. Dust Devils are year round here and they show up with no notice or invitation. Pack up immediately.
Desert terrain and weather are extremely unforgiving on unprepared pilots, outdated equipment and pilots not giving extra margin of safety within their operating limitations. Adequate preparation, a sufficient understanding of Desert weather forecasting and local on-site briefing is required. Desert heat can be is oppressive (100°-115° F) May through September. Dehydration is a real possibility, and those not used to hiking in these conditions can succumb to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Desert Terrain and weather are extremely unforgiving. Give yourself an extra margin for error due to the Terrain and weather conditions.
All pilots must read the General Site Guidelines prior to arrival.
Orientation: Faces 340 degrees at 2,300' MSL.
Type: Unimproved dirt slope launch. PG and HG friendly. Hike up only.
GPS Coordinates: 33.3286°, -112.0875° Google Maps
Winds: NW to NNE 0-18 mph. Can be flown in the evenings when South Launch conditions do not shut down launching. (Note: our Holfuy weather station on the South Launch often over-reports north wind conditions due to a venturi effect where the station is mounted. A report of 25 mph NW, N, or NE wind could actually only be 15 to 17 mph on the North Launch.)
Driving/Hiking Directions: Follow road to 2.5 mile marker and park at the next pullout. The Ranger Trail is right at the 2.5 mile marker. Very good trail, moderate slope, about 30 minute hike. Follow trail to the ridge top on the east side of ravine. Launch is at trail marker. Hiking from saddle to launch via National Trail (heading west, also about a 30-minute hike). Hiking from North Side: Ranger Trail to National Trail to launch. Approximately 60-minute hike. All hiking times are estimates and dependent on your physical condition.
Set-up Area: Directly West of launch. Don't block trail or damage vegetation. Stay within set-up area.
Hazards: This launch requires a minimum sustained wind of 7 mph or a solid ability to perform light wind forward launches with a learned experienced feel of the glider. Small sharp rocks and twigs can catch lines on launch. There is limited altitude, so flying toward LZ when not climbing at launch altitude or lower is recommended and could be required due to conditions. Keep site briefing and situational awareness in mind at all times and give extra safety margin due to desert type conditions.
Due to the common occurrence of thermals joining as they ascend, sink can be minimal on many days so it is best practice to exit thermals at 4,300' ASL to make sure you have sufficient time to implement proper descent techniques and stay out of restricted airspace. Conditions can change rapidly in the desert. Please be an active pilot. Do not have final glide/approach to Landing Zone over the wash. Clear LZ immediately. Dust devils are year round here and they show up with no notice or invitation. Pack up immediately.
Desert terrain and weather are extremely unforgiving on unprepared pilots, outdated equipment and pilots not giving extra margin of safety within their operating limitations. Adequate preparation, a sufficient understanding of desert weather forecasting and local on-site briefing is required. Desert heat can be is oppressive (100°-115° F) May through September. Dehydration is a real possibility, and those not used to hiking in these conditions can succumb to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Desert terrain and weather are extremely unforgiving. Give yourself an extra margin for error due to the terrain and weather conditions.
All pilots must read the General Site Guidelines prior to arrival.
Type: Desert thermal conditions. Dust devils are year round. Typical blue thermals, high pressure, sharp edged. It is a rare treat to have consistent ridge soaring conditions at South Mountain. When we do it is usually early morning or at the end of the day and usually in Winter. Stay clear of terrain and avoid "scratching" at all times.
Restrictions: Class B airspace starts at 5,000' ASL. Please refer to the "Know Before You Go" section and Phoenix SkyHarbor airspace chart provided on this page.
Hazards: 300' radio towers with guy wires, unmarked power lines, lots of air traffic flying under the Class B. See an avoid.
Special Note on Thermal Flying:
Thermal conditions create a demand for pilots to not only have solid ground handling skills with a connected feel to their glider, but also a thorough understanding of how the local weather conditions play into the forecast models in order to be sufficiently prepared for a short launch window that demands certain launch techniques. Proficiency in high-wind-with-gusts kiting, no-wind forwards and light-wind dynamic reverse launches on shallow slopes are crucial for many of our sites and conditions.
Please be aware that strength of conditions will determine if it is better to a.) launch between the thermal cycle, when speeds are zero or light, to then fly away into the next thermal approaching the hill with ample clearance from the terrain, or b.) pull glider up and launch glider directly into the thermal cycle blowing into launch.
Many times launching during a zero- or light-wind cycle between the stronger thermals is not only a safer window, but a better plan to capitalize on the launch cycles as well as the flight plan.
It was common to see many pilots "waiting for the wind" (which is the thermal) to cycle through launch because they are not comfortable and/or proficient with forward and light wind launch techniques, only to experience a stronger cycle than anticipated once their glider was overhead.
Pilots most accustomed to launching in prevailing winds, onshore winds and lighter thermal ridge lift need local, and perhaps local professional, expertise and guidance to gain the needed insight to fly our sites safely.
Designated Landing Zones
South Side LZ: Straight in front of launch, just before the houses, visible from launch as an obvious small, circular, bare clearing in the desert.
GPS Coordinates: 33.3205°, -112.0622° Google Maps
Elevation: 1,430', 436m
Directions: Driving: Follow road to 2.5 mile marker and park at the next pull-out on left. The Ranger Trail crosses the road right at the 2.5 mile marker. Hiking from north side to North Launch: Ranger Trail to National Trail to Launch. Follow trail to the ridge top on the east side of ravine. Launch is at second trail marker. Very good trail, moderate slope, about 60 minute hike. Hiking from saddle to launch: Via the National Trail (heading west, about 30 minute hike). Hiking from north side to South Launch: Park at Five Tables or multiple parking areas close to Desert Classic Trail, hike to Telegraph Trail to National Trail to road up to launch (at least 60-minute hike).
Driving Directions: From I-10, take Pecos Rd. west to Desert Foothills Dr. Take Desert Foothills north for two miles, turn right on Granite View Dr. Drive to north end of street. Walk along rock wash to the main trail, turn left, go west 200 yards to LZ. Stay off private property and don't loiter in neighborhood longer than necessary.
Wind Sock: A white vinyl wind ribbon on a metal pole is located on the eastern edge of the LZ.
Conditions: Paved roads in residential area with schools.
Hazards: Has slight downhill slope to the south. Paraglider pilots should set up their approach so as to not have final glide/approach over the desert dry wash to the west of the LZ and plan on landing short of the LZ to compensate for the famous South Mountain Pop. Set up short to avoid getting thermal popped and floating close to the houses.Tall saguaro and cholla cactus. Desert terrain. Desert dry wash bordering west side of LZ known to produce sink.
Restrictions: Don't venture off trails.
North Side LZ: Straight in front of launch is the Kart Track. Per our agreement with the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Dept., our approved LZ is to the west of the Kart Track parking lot. Wind indicator should be installed on the edge of the LZ (check on your way up). Do not land in the Kart track parking lot, it is against our agreement and it's a very good thermal generator and has been known to kick strong thermals. A secondary bail out LZ is just to the west of the main LZ and is usable as well. Do not have final approach over the deep wash that is just south of the Kart Track. Valley of the Sun Quarter Midget Association schedule.
GPS Coordinates: 33.3388°, -112.0913° Google Maps
Elevation: 1,496', 456m
Directions: You pass the landing zone on the way to launch, a locked gate on the left side of road. Do not park in front of the gate or block the road into the parking lot. Closest parking to the LZ is the "Five Tables" area just to the east.
Restrictions: Don't walk off trails. Do not park in, use or land in the Kart Track.
Note: Pilots must familiarize themselves with this information before arriving, and this information does not replace the need for an in-person site briefing from a qualified, local pilot or instructor familiar with the area and experienced in flying the site.