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)
Difficulty (?)Easy
Total Ascent (?)750 feet (229m)
Highest Elevation2,392 feet (729m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park WebsiteMcDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead
Park Phone480-312-7013
Stay In Touch - - -

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.

REI CYBER-WEEK SALE! – Thousands of items up to 50% off, including a rare $75 off the InReach Mini, Explorer, and GPSMAP 66i.
See the Sale!

La Sportiva Spire

The La Sportiva Spire boots feel like comfortable sneakers but offer the protection of hiking boots. They’re great on everything from short hikes to longer hikes of 10+ miles. You don’t want to skimp on your feet.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Opsrey Stratos 24

I test a lot of gear, and for short to medium day hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women) are consistently the best. They’re lightweight, hold a hydration bladder to make drinking water easy, have lots of pockets to organize gear, and most importantly, are incredibly comfortable. Check out the reviews; they are impressive.
Reviews & Colors Here: Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women) 

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

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 a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

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

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy and does a lot of the same things.

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

Please help! Support these free hiking guides by simply buying anything at Amazon or REI using the buttons below, at no cost to you.

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