McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trail Maps
  • How to Get to McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Distance4.5 miles (7.2 km)
Hike Time2 Hours (Total)
DifficultyEasy
Total Ascent (?)750 feet (229m)
Highest Elevation2,392 feet (729m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park ContactMcDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead
Park Phone480-312-7013

This “best of” McDowell Sonoran Preserve hike offers well-marked trails, easy climbs, nice views, and classic Sonoran desert scenery on the Gateway Loop Trail. The hike is a great intro hike to McDowell Sonoran Preserve and is suitable for all levels of hikers. And unlike Camelback Mountain, McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a peaceful oasis where you can connect with nature and unwind.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve was created in 1990 when private citizens and the city of Scottsdale realized that they had to protect this pristine nature from development. They formed the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a public-private partnership. The preserve is run by and cared for by private volunteers. Very awesome.

Getting to McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Use this trailhead address: 18333 N Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ, 85255, USA

The parking lot is huge and you should be okay to find a spot.

Gear for the Hike

You can get away with fitness gear here, but hiking gear works too. Bring lots of water, it can get very hot.

Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.

La Sportiva Spire

La Sportiva Spire GTX

Good for light and more hardcore hikes. Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.

Women’s Reviews

Men’s Reviews

Rei Flash 22

REI Flash 22 Pack

This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.

See Colors & Prices

Joby On Triee

Joby Smartphone Tripod

Make your photos stand out by using this lightweight, do-anything tripod. The Joby attaches your smartphone to trees, rocks, whatever you can find on the trail. Folds down compactly too.

See the Joby Options

Don’t waster your money on hiking gear that’s no good, I’ve done that for you already! Full HikingGuy Gear List

* No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Also → Big Sale at REI On Now:

REI SALE

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trail Maps

The trail system is well marked and there are free trail maps at the Gateway Trailhead. The Gateway Trailhead also has water, bathrooms, and volunteers who will answer questions.

Click To View Map

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Here’s what I use to navigate my hikes. I recommend a combination of paper and electronic options with backups.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS

Gaia GPS is a planning and navigation tool that you can use on your phone, tablet, and the web. I use it on my phone when I need to interact with the map and know where my position is on it. I use it at home on the computer to plan routes. You can overlay maps such as public lands to find out free places to camp. It’s a powerful tool.

HikingGuy Discount on Gaia GPS

Fenix Nav

Garmin Fenix Watch

This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.

Fenix Prices & Reviews

My In-Depth Review

Topo Map

Topo Maps & Guide Books

Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike.

I also highly recommend taking a map and compass navigation course. It’s a few hours, it’s fun, and it could save your life.

Map and Compass Navigation Basics Classes

Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike 3d map
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve hike takes the Gateway Loop trail, which climbs up to the Gateway Saddle, then back down.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike elevation
McDowell Sonoran Preserve hike has a few hundred feet of climbing up to the Gateway Saddle. It’s a climb, but it isn’t too tough.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike Directions

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike parking
From the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead has a huge parking lot. Head up to the visitors center from here.
Gateway Trailhead
The Gateway Trailhead has maps, bathrooms, and water for your hike.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
Hike through the courtyard to and over the metal bridge.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
After about 500 feet, you come to a little roundabout. Hike straight through.
Gateway Loop trail sign
At about 0.4 miles, you come to the Gateway Loop trail. Notice that there are good signs at most of the trail junctions pointing you in the right direction.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
Hike left onto Gateway Loop trail.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At 0.6 miles, hike to the right.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
The trial goes gradually uphill. At about 1.6 miles, make the sharp right to hike up the rocky path up to the Gateway Saddle.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
This is the steepest part of the trail. Take your time. The trail is rocky here but nothing extreme.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike views
As you hike your way up the saddle, look right to see beautiful Sonoran desert landscapes and views into Scottsdale and Phoenix.
Gateway Saddle
At about 2.1 miles you reach Gateway Saddle, the highest point on the hike. Catch your breath and enjoy the view.
Gateway Saddle sign
The Gateway Saddle sign is a great spot for a selfie. Don’t forget to tag it at McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Gateway Loop Trail
Hike down the Gateway Loop Trail. It’s all downhill from here.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
The trail is well marked and offers nice views as you descend.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At about 2.9 miles, stay right.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At about 3.1 miles, stay right on the Gateway Loop trail.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At about 3.6 miles, stay right.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At about 4 miles, stay right once again.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At about 4.1 miles, hike left off the Gateway Loop trail back to the visitor center.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike trail
At about 4.4 miles, hike straight through the roundabout that you came through earlier and end the hike.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

Related Guides

Keep Exploring

Phoenix Hiking