Trailhead Preserve at McDowell Mountain

Reviewed By: Andy
The Trailhead Preserve at McDowell Mountain is an excellent hiking trail system just a little ways off of Hwy 101 and Pima Road. I originally hiked this trail system a few years ago on a visit and found it to be as easy or difficult as you choose. There is ample parking at the center when you arrive and there are restrooms and water fountains before you head up. Always bring lots of water with you! There is a nice complex at the base which was pretty much closed due to Covid but had some informational signs around the building.

It is best to check the map before heading out since there are a number of loops. There is a map of the trails which can help give you an idea of how strenuous you want your hike to be. If your intent is to get some elevation and views, then plan 2 - 2.5 hours (round trip total) to get far enough up the trail to get those wide views of Scottsdale. Near the base is a discovery trail which is almost entirely flat. You can wander this loop and see the different flora identified with small signs as you loop out and back to the center. My hike choice was the Tom Thumb Trail which looked pretty easy. It is not that easy, and I moved here from high elevation. As with any desert hiking, bring more water than you think you will need, wear good quality hikers or trail sneakers and bring some sun protection. If it is going to be in the 90s or higher then go out early in the morning. Around holidays this trail can get quite busy as well, so your pace can be slowed simply by navigating traffic in some of the narrower sections of the trail. The trail itself starts out pretty smooth and then gets a bit rougher the higher you go up. There are a few areas where you need to pay attention (especially if getting tired) that you don't roll an ankle or slip. There are also occasional mountain bikers that may come zipping through at any point and you should step aside for them. I really could not imagine losing it on a bike and tumbling through 50 yards of cacti.

In complete disclosure, we did not make it all the way to the Thumb on any of the three hikes we took. We did get very close, but there is a point where you just say, "Well this is a great view, can't get too much better, now lets go get a beer." My Google Fit on my phone said we hiked 5.4 miles round trip on our last hike from the parking lot, and I would say there was only about a 1/4 mile further to the Thumb had we shown the minimal grit required. The video says 2.2 miles so I have no idea why my phone thinks I went so much further except maybe I did not take the shortest route when leaving the Gateway.

Doing a small amount of research before writing this review, I realized the Sonoran Preserve is huge. The area from the South Gateway entrance just introduces you to a small portion of the terrain that can be hiked. There are alternate entrances to the park and enough trails that you could spend weeks in the preserve. For me, if the variety of rock and cactus are all the same through the majority of the preserve, then I don't need to explore it all. I want to see the landscape, get some exercise, and lastly have burnt a few calories so that glass or two of port at the end of dinner are pre-paid!

Here is a short video made by City of Scottsdale...

*** Note if you plan on biking, electric bikes are not allowed. Motorized wheelchairs are allowed.