McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hike

In This Guide
  • How to Get to McDowell Sonoran Preserve
  • McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance4.5 miles (7.2 km)
Time2 Hours (Total Time)
DifficultyEasy
Total Climbing620 feet (189m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park NameMcDowell 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. Here’s what I recommend:

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

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.

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

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.

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