The McDowell Sonoran Preserve located in Scottsdale, Arizona is a treasure fiercely guarded by the locals. It’s not surprising that this is the case – the preserve is comprised of over 30,000 acres of showy upper Sonoran desert, and is, in fact, the largest urban preserve in the United States. It provides a beautiful contrast to nearby development, and with trails for every level of hiker, mountain biker, and horseback rider, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve offers a remarkably accessible escape from the hustle and bustle of the every day.

There are many possible routes to take in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and these can be put together in various ways to suit the level of challenge the hiker is looking for. The hikes I’ve described here are either a single trail, or a combination of trails, each emanating from one of the major trailheads:

Trailheads Signpost









Trail names will become live links as I publish blog posts on each one. Subscribe now (at the bottom of this page) if you would like to be notified of these posts as they become available.

Select a hike for more details including:

  • specific location and interactive map,
  • trail statistics and description of trail quality, and
  • GPS data files available for download in three formats (GPX, KML and GeoJSON).

Hikes from Tom’s Thumb Trailhead

Trail Name Distance Elev Gain Level
TTT to Marcus Landslide 3.8 miles 423 feet  Moderate
TTT to Tom’s Thumb 2 miles (4 miles return) 1,209 feet  Difficult
TTT to Gateway Trailhead via Windgate Pass 7 miles (14 miles return) 1,607 feet  Extremely Difficult
TTT to Gateway via East End and Bell Pass 7.5 miles (15 miles return) 1,723 feet  Extremely Difficult

Hikes from Gateway Trailhead

Trail Name Distance Elev Gain Level
Gateway Loop Trail 4.3 miles 731 feet  Moderate
Gateway to Inspiration Point 2.8 miles (5.6 miles return) 1,055 feet  Moderately Difficult
Gateway to Windgate Pass 3.6 miles (7.2 miles return) 1,461 feet  Difficult
Gateway to Bell Pass 4.6 miles (9.2 miles return) 1,554 feet  Difficult
Gateway – Bell Pass – Windgate Pass Loop 9.1 miles 2,180 feet  
Gateway to Tom’s Thumb via Windgate Pass 5.5 miles (10.10 miles return) 2,504 feet  
Gateway – Tom’s Thumb – East End – Bell Pass Loop 11.6 miles 3,226 feet  
Gateway to Thompson Peak via Bell Pass 6.9 miles (13.8 miles return) 3,838feet  

Hikes from Lost Dog Wash (LDW) Trailhead

Trail Name Distance Elev Gain Level
LDW – Ringtail Loop 2.8 miles 300 feet  Easy
LDW – Taliesin Overlook 2 miles (4 miles return) 344 feet  
LDW – Old Jeep Trail Loop 4 miles 497 feet  
LDW – Quartz Trail 4.4 miles (8.8 miles return) 1,054 feet  Moderately Difficult
LDW – Sunrise Peak 2.8 miles (5.6 miles return) 1,440 feet  
LDW – Sunrise Trailhead 4.4 miles (8.8 miles return) 1,357 feet  Difficult

Hikes from 136th Street Trailhead

Trail Name Distance Elev Gain Level
136th Street Spur Trail 1.6 miles (3.2 miles return) 882 feet  

Hikes from Sunrise Trailhead

Trail Name Distance Elev Gain Level
Sunrise Trail – Overlook 1.1 miles (2.2 miles return) 542 feet  
Sunrise Trail – Sunrise Peak 1.8 miles (3.6 miles return) 1,194 feet  Moderately Difficult
Sunrise Trail to LDW Trailhead 4.4 miles (8.8 miles return) 1,144 feet  
Sunrise to Andrews Kinsey (AK) Trail 4.4 miles (8.8 miles return) 1,797 feet  
Sunrise to AK Trail w Western Loop 10.7 miles 2,439 feet  Extremely Difficult

Hikes from Brown’s Ranch Trailhead

Trail Name Distance Elev Gain Level
Brown’s Mountain Loop 4.6 miles 681 feet Moderate
Brown’s Mountain / Cone Mountain Loop 5.9 miles 784 feet Moderately Difficult

Hike Levels

Easiest Easiest
Easy Easy
Moderately Difficult Moderately Difficult
Difficult Difficult
Extremely Difficult Extremely Difficult

For more detailed information about the meaning of the hike levels, have a look at About the Hike Levels.

Further Information

Note that elevation gain is cumulative. For information about my methodology in obtaining and displaying trail statistics, read About the Trail Data.

An overview of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and its trailheads can be viewed on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trailhead Map.


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