Hiking the Trail
The Gateway Loop is Gateway’s namesake trail, and it provides a moderately challenging hike which gives the hiker a taste of the interior of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve while not requiring the hours and fitness level needed to take on the larger scale hikes emanating from this trailhead.
People who hike this trail regularly (and there are many!) often have a preference for direction, usually related to the relative steepness of one side or the other of the saddle. My personal favorite, the clockwise direction I’ve described here, is based on the views – I see less civilization in the clockwise direction and so feel like I’m on vacation! But really, taking this trail either direction is s treat.
To start this hike, embark on the one trail leaving from the massive trailhead pavilion, crossing a metal footbridge. You’ll pass turnoffs to an interpretive trail and an outdoor amphitheater the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy uses for education programs. When you come to a sign at a sort of T-junction (with the small Saguaro Loop Trail in front of you), make a left turn to take the Gateway Loop Trail clockwise.
Stay on the Gateway Loop Trail, always circling the mountain to your right, and taking care not to turn off to the left on the Horseshoe Trail a short distance after you’ve started on the actual loop. After a reasonable climb and at about 1.6 miles from the trailhead you’ll come to the turnoff to stay on the Loop Trail. If you continue straight at this point, you’ll be potentially embarking on a longer hike on the Windgate Pass Trail. Take the turn, and continue climbing to the Gateway Saddle.
And this is where it gets really beautiful. In case you weren’t already taken by the Preserve’s beauty, as you crest the Saddle you are looking towards a valley and craggy cliffs you might be surprised even exist right here within urban Scottsdale. Every time a get to that point I’m transported.
After the Saddle, continue down the other side, again hugging the mountain in the center, taking care not to turn off on any trails to your left, including the 104th street Trail which you might mistake for the route back to the trailhead. It’s not. Keep hiking past this, and you’ll come to a sign at the next trail intersection pointing to the Gateway Trailhead.
Trail Statistics and GPS
|Total Distance||4.3 miles|
|Elevation at Trailhead||1,720 feet|
|Highest Elevation||2,375 feet|
|Total Elevation Gain||731 feet|
|Trail and Trail Surface||Well maintained and signed, wide trail, dirt, loose and embedded rock, occasional unevenness|
|Facilities||Water, restrooms, shade pavilion, map, parking, horse trailer parking|
|Location of Trailhead||18333 N. Thompson Peak Pkwy., Scottsdale, AZ 85255|
|GPS Coordinates Files: click to download||GPX KML GeoJSON|
There are many hikes emanating from the Gateway Trailhead ranging from flat and wheelchair accessible interpretive trails to extremely difficult hikes with high elevation gains and long distances. If you aren’t careful about your trail navigation, you could end up hiking a harder trail or longer distance than originally planned. Assess the trail you will be attempting to hike, and have a general idea of where you’re going. Grab a map online or at the trailhead, or use your GPS device with the coordinates files provided above.
The Gateway Loop Trail is a good workout, and it may be worth hiking with a snack, especially one with salt, to prevent fatigue.
Also, always be prepared when hiking in the desert. Be aware that even in cooler temperatures, dehydration can occur. For a full discussion, read Staying Safe on a Desert Hike – but here are a few quick tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:
- Bring plenty of water. As a rule of thumb, take one liter per anticipated hour of hiking.
- Hike with a friend or group. There are many hiking groups in the greater Phoenix area – including Early Rise Hikers!
- If you are hiking on your own, let someone know where you’ve gone, and take a cell phone.
- During the warmer months, hike during the cooler hours of the day to avoid dehydration and heatstroke.
- Stay on the trail. This is the best way to avoid encountering snakes.
- When encountering any animal, give the animal space. Do not attempt a wildlife selfie!
The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy is a fount of information on all aspects of the Preserve. You can access static information on their website as well as find out about events and volunteer education sessions. The Conservancy also announces discovery hikes, wellness hikes, and education sessions held at the Mustang Library on the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Meetup site.