Apr 072017

Great Hiking in Scottsdale

So many trails, so little time

Outdoors enthusiasts can find many options in and around Scottsdale. With 330 days of annual sunshine, Scottsdale is perfect for outdoor activities. Many people know about the world-class golf courses and resorts of the area, but there’s so much more. There is an incredible array of hiking and biking trails, from very easy to extremely difficult, that include amazing scenery, flora, and fauna. There are more than 400 miles of trails in the Scottsdale area for hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding and nature appreciation. This was a big part of what made our decision to relocate to Scottsdale very easy.

Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve

McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trails

182 miles of Scottsdale’s trails are in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the largest urban preserve in the Americas. We have a lot more of them to explore, but here’s what we’ve tried so far.

Granite Mountain Trailhead (31402 N. 136th Street)

Bootlegger Trail – Moderate (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Bootlegger Trail accessed from the Granite Mountain Trailhead in northeastern Scottsdale

Distant mountain views from the Bootlegger Trail

We just took part of this trail for the first time over the past weekend and fell in love with it. It’s well worth the drive north to far northeastern Scottsdale even for a short hike here. There’s gorgeous scenery and blooming flora in the springtime to admire as you travel along the narrow sandy paths with giant boulders and rocky hillsides in view. We stopped several times to take in the great views from high points overlooking the desert where we had just been walking toward the eastern mountains.

As we started out, we stopped to look at an old fallen saguaro that showed its woody interior and bark base. There we spoke to a fellow hiker who warned us that the rattlers were out and he had seen two along the way. We didn’t personally see any on our 3-mile walk, but kept our eyes peeled and ears open for rattlers and other desert critters. Further along the trail than we went, it’s said that you might run across a desert tortoise. Hope to see one of those on the next hike.

Bootlegger Trail at the Granite Mountain Trailhead in northeastern Scottsdale, Arizona

Bootlegger Trail at the Granite Mountain Trailhead

Fun tip: It was also kind of fun driving the very wavy section of 136th Street between Rio Verde and the trailhead. You’ll be tempted to drive faster than the 25 mph limit to make the ups and downs more exciting, but don’t!

Lost Dog Wash Trailhead (12601 N. 124th Street)

Lost Dog Wash Trail connecting with Ringtail Trail – Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

We accessed the 2.2-mile Ringtail Trail from the Lost Dog Wash Trail, but it can be directly accessed at the Ringtail Trailhead (12300 block of N. 128th Street). It’s perfect for an easy one-hour hike with interesting twists and turns. There are a few spots where you want to watch out for slippery sand or rocks as you walk. Pay attention when you see signs warning you stay on the path to keep the natural environment intact and they make it easy to differentiate the washes from the paths. There are some nice views of the valley to the south and west from points on the trail, so take a few minutes to enjoy the vistas.

Blooming cactus flowers can be seen throughout the Sonoran Desert in spring

The beauty of blooming cactus flowers in spring

Bonus trail tip: The Kovach Family Nature Trail is a fun and educational ADA accessible trail ideal for families with young children. It is located just beyond the trailhead building.

Gateway Trailhead (18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway)

Gateway Loop Trail – Moderate (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

The Gateway Trailhead is the largest in the Sonoran Preserve. We chose the Gateway Loop Trail hike of 4.5 miles. It has a lot of ups and downs over rocky terrain and there are significant elevation changes. We loved it! Because of the rugged terrain, occasional uphill climbs, and inclinations to stop to see the view, the 4.5 miles might take a little longer than if you were out for a power walk. Views of the valley to the north and east are expansive. Families and individuals of all ages, sizes and conditions were on this trail — some taking it more slowly than others.

Quartz Trailhead (10215 E. McDowell Mountain Ranch Road)

Quartz Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Quartz Trail with the McDowell Mountains in the background

Quartz Trail with the McDowell Mountains in the background

The entire Quartz Trail runs for 4.9 miles, but we were on just a short section that cut through washes adjacent to McDowell Mountain Ranch residential areas. Although homes in the vicinity are often visible and nearby in many parts of the trail you’ll find that the trees, saguaro, and deep washes provide plenty of the desert experience. The trail is very popular with mountain bikers.

Sunrise Trailhead (12101 N. 145th Way)

Sunrise Trail –Difficult (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)

Mr. TWS heading uphill on the Sunrise Trail in Scottsdale

Mr. TWS heading uphill on the Sunrise Trail

We took about half of this 5.8-mile trail. Gorgeous views and narrow, winding paths with steady climbs make this a fun trail. Accessed from Sunrise Trail, it begins running adjacent to a residential area, but quickly leads deeper into the desert and up the mountainside. The portion of the path we took was a good workout, but I’ve heard it gets more challenging as you move along and over the mountain ridges to connect with trails leading to the Lost Dog Trailhead (mentioned above).

Stay tuned for more about our Scottsdale area hikes.

For important tips about having safe and happy experiences on the Scottsdale hiking trails, Experience Scottsdale has a  Hiking and Trail Guide that you can download for great information and tips about hiking in the desert.

  16 Responses to “Our Top 5 Scottsdale Hikes … So Far”

  1. You are going to be extremely fit after exploring all the hiking trails in Scottsdale. The views are fabulous. The flowering cactus would be a great incentive though I’m not too sure about the rattlers!

  2. Hi there! Are you based in Scottsdale? Are you in Mesa? I hope we can meet before I leave for Australia on May 2. Have you tried the Superstition Mountain Trails? Love those spring flowers in the desert!

    • No, I haven’t been on the Superstition trails yet, but I’ve heard they’re amazing. Probably won’t be able to meet up before May 2nd, but definitely would love to meet you when you get back from Australia. Have a fantastic time.

  3. Beautiful. I’ve only been on one of the easier McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trails and I really enjoyed. There is certainly lots of hiking in the preserve.

  4. Although not a “pro” hiker, I do like to occasionally hike and this post was perfect for when i visit Scottsdale. I will take your work that you did NOT speed on the wavy section of 136th Street!

  5. Nothing better than hiking in Scottsdale. Our favorites are Brown’s Ranch and Pinnacle Peak!

  6. Love the desert and this area, Cathy. Thx for the great pics and revising my memories of exploring Scottsdale. Would love to return!

  7. I haven’t been over to McDowell at all, but it looks like I’ll have to get there some day. Of course, there are so many great hikes out by the Superstitions, it’s hard to find time for more! Looks like you are enjoying life down there!

    • Now I definitely have to get hiking the Superstitions. Yours is the 2nd comment about them. I know that I love looking at them when I visit my sister in Apache Junction.

  8. You have lots of time to hike Scottsdale trails- the rest of your lives. Enjoy desert living! Love the cactus flowers.

  9. Outstanding. I have loved my hikes in the Phoenix area, thinking Camelback and another strenuous one. I would love to return to the region for a lot more hiking, when the weather is pleasant of course!

    • Looking forward to a hike on Camelback. I know that I better be ready for the challenge before I set out. Still time to get hiking here before the real heat arrives.

  10. […] you checked out our top 5 Scottsdale hikes (so far) in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve? Ready for […]

  11. […] strollers. If you and your companions are in the mood (and prepared) for more challenging hiking, other moderate and difficult trails can be accessed at this […]

  12. So I am curious. I am traveling to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in November alone (a all kids are in college now what do I do kind of trip) and I am wondering if I can feel okay going hiking alone on the types of trails you are describing.
    Any advice for a novice-solo traveler?

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