Editor’s note regarding COVID-19: Please be cautious and courteous of fellow hikers by maintaining a safe distance (at least six feet) between yourself and others at all times including on the Sonoran desert trails. I was extremely disappointed to find on my most recent hike that social distancing was not being practiced by many. Please follow CDC guidelines and instructions of your local authorities in all activities during this pandemic crisis.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
Desert hiking tips
Check out our tips about what to wear and put in your backpack for hiking in the desert. For other 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.