Scottsdale is known for its incredible weather, thriving economy, safe suburbs, and some of the best public schools in Arizona. But another hard-to-miss perk of living in Scottsdale is the city’s easy access to the Sonoran Desert, and its many opportunities for camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation. Below are a few of the best (and most convenient) trails to hike near Scottsdale.
Black Mountain Trail
Located north of Scottsdale, Black Mountain Trail is one of the Cave Creek area’s most well-known hikes—and it’s definitely a workout. Rated as “hard”, this out-and-back trail is best suited for experienced hikers. The elevation gain is just about 1200’ and the trail is 2.2 miles in length. Parking can be tricky due to its popularity, so it’s a good idea to wake up and hit the trail early. However, once you’ve seen it, it’s easy to understand why this trail is beloved by locals and visitors alike. Your trek to the top is rewarded with stunning 360 degree panoramic views at the summit, and if you’re feeling adventurous, start your hike early to catch the sunrise. Dogs are allowed as long as they remain on a leash.
McDowell Mountain Preserve
Add McDowell Mountain Preserve to your list of Scottsdale locations to explore. Located just a few miles outside the city, this preserve provides an accessible and scenic respite from city life. The preserve is home to magnificent geography, luscious cacti forests, and a diverse array of wildlife—as well as award-winning facilities for its visitors. Choose from any of the major trailheads that are located in this 30,580-acre preserve of the Sonoran Desert. There are more than 225 miles of trails in the preserve, some of which are included below.
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead is located approximately one mile north of the intersection of Alma School Road and Dynamite Boulevard. Rated as moderate, the loop totals just over 14 miles, with plenty of options for beginning to advanced hikers. The trailhead features interpretive exhibits about the human history of the area and serves as a central access point to the vast network of trails in the area. In addition to hiking, Brown’s Ranch is a popular place for cyclists, mountain bikers, and equestrians.
Gateway Loop Trail
If you’re not up for a 14-mile loop, the Gateway Loop Trail is a great option. Spanning 4.4-miles, this trail is rated as “moderate”. Gateway Loop Trail is an especially popular place for families with young children, in part due to the games and activities found along the Bajada Nature Trail. Kids of all ages are able to experience the Gateway Loop Trail, and older children can appreciate the challenge offered by the interior trails. Plus, this trial comes complete with convenient parking, restrooms, and shaded picnic areas. Depending on what season you come, there’s a chance you’ll see some of Arizona’s beautiful wildflowers in bloom.
The Tom’s Thumb Trail is a steep, challenging, and scenic route that climbs more than 1,200’ in 2.3 miles. As one of the most popular Scottsdale hikes within McDowell Mountain Preserve, this hike takes you through a wonderland of massive boulders and provides excellent views of Tom’s Thumb, which is considered to be one of the most recognizable staples of the preserve. The legendary Tom’s Thumb consists of a 200’ granite dome that’s perched high on the ridgeline above downtown Scottsdale. It’s one of the highest points in the range and a favored spot for experienced rock climbers (though it has routes for climbers of all skill levels). The hike was the first trailhead on the north side of the McDowell Mountains and remains a favorite to this day.
This North Scottsdale gem is a solid choice for a workout. Located in McDowell Mountain Preserve, Inspiration Point is a 5.6 mile out and back trail that’s beloved for its scenic, sweeping views of the city below. Once you’ve reached the summit, you can take in the impressive 2,714’ elevation, complete with stone benches that allow you to sit for a bit and take a well-deserved rest. The first half of the hike will be in shade, but it’s still a good idea to go first thing in the morning to stay out of the midday heat. Dogs are welcome to use the trail, but be sure to keep them on a leash.
Lost Dog Wash Trail
An old jeep tour route, Lost Dog Wash climbs a low ridge into the McDowell Mountains. This trailhead is one of the major access points for the southern McDowell Mountain Preserve. An award-winning trailhead, Lost Dog Wash offers breathtaking views of surrounding Scottsdale landmarks. You can look forward to seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, as well as other notable mountains such as Camelback and Pinnacle Park. The trail itself, which only gains about 380’ in elevation over five miles, is a moderate undertaking and consists of mostly rocky terrain. The trailhead, however, offers some shorter and easier trails that weave around and across a natural desert wash. It’s a popular choice for families, in part thanks to the great amenities, including parking, restrooms, shade ramadas, hitching trails, directional signage, and access to water.
Granite Mountain Trailhead
If you’re looking for a fun and relatively easy hike that the whole family can experience together, head out to the Granite Mountain Trailhead. The trailhead features ample parking, as well as equestrian staging, and expansive access to pristine areas in the McDowell Mountain Preserve’s northern region near Granite Mountain. It’s worth noting that you’ll need to fill up on water and use the restroom before arriving, as this trailhead doesn’t have any water or bathrooms. When it comes to landscape, you can expect to see crushed granite terrain with dramatic rock formations and amazing saguaro fields over the 2.7 miles of the hike. Be sure to stop by the educational displays where you can learn more about the natural habitats of the area.
Balanced Rock Trail Loop
If you’re up for an adventure, then pack up and head out to Balanced Rock Trail Loop. Located right outside of Scottsdale, this popular trail is just over five miles in length, rated as moderate, and primarily used for hiking, running, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Balanced Rock is situated in the newly-opened Brown’s Ranch web of trails. Even in a terrain filled with granite sculptures, this mushroom-shaped rock stands out. Feel free to bring your furry four-legged friends along for the fun, but remember to be courteous and keep them on a leash (and bring extra water!)
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