Scottsdale residents have access to some of the Valley’s best hiking and recreation areas thanks to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Located on the east side of the DC Ranch area, the preserve encompasses more than 30,000 acres of land—that’s roughly 47 square miles—and currently has almost 150 miles of trails.
But the public lands don’t end at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s boundaries. It’s bordered to the north by Tonto National Forest and to the east by McDowell Mountain Park. If you’re an avid hiker, it’s possible to start out start at the Gateway Trailhead on the park’s west side and hike all the way into McDowell Mountain Regional Park.
For a more leisurely stroll, look for one of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s volunteers stationed at the park’s five major trailheads (Sunrise, Lost Dog, Gateway, Tom’s Thumb, and Brown’s Ranch). Pathfinders are on duty to suggest hiking trails and answer questions from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. on weekends through the end of September and starting at 7 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday starting in October.
The preserve is both dog-friendly and, of course, family-friendly. Dogs are welcome on a leash, and the park holds special canine hikes. Check online to learn when the next one will be held. Parents are encouraged to bring their kids, who can earn a bandana by collecting stamps in the preserve’s passport. McDowell Sonoran Preserve also holds Family Friday Sunset programs in October, November, January, February, and March.
Some of the preserve’s more popular trails include:
- Gateway Trailhead: Located on the east side of Thompson Peak Road, this trail serves as an access point to Bajada Nature Trail, Bell Pass/Windgate Loop, Gateway Loop, Horseshoe Loop, and Inspiration Point.
- Bajada Nature Trail: This is a barrier-free trail is a half mile long and easily accessible from the Gateway Trailhead. Even children in strollers can participate in the games and activities along its smooth surface.
- Brown’s Ranch: This gentle out-and-back, 3-mile hike takes you to Brown’s Ranch where you’ll find ranching structures dating back to the mid-1950s.
- Lost Dog Wash Trailhead: One of the major access points for the preserve, this trailhead begins just beyond Anasazi Elementary School and offers somewhat shorter and easier trails wandering across natural desert wash.
- Tom’s Thumb Trailhead: The natural formation Tom’s Thumb is one of the preserve’s most popular features. You can access it from this trailhead or set out for Windgate Overlook, Gardener’s Wall, Sven Slap, or Mesquite Canyon.
- Taliesin Overlook: This is a fairly easy 4-mile out-and-back that leads to a lookout over Frank Lloyd Wright’s school of architecture, Taliesin West.
If you’re not a hiker or need a little variety, you can mountain bike, trail run, rock climb, or horseback ride in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. You can also paint, photograph, and watch for wildlife.