Sonoran Preserve Hiking Secrets | RTX Traveler Magazine

Set your own pace with an easy stroll or a vigorous trek through the hills and deserts surrounding Scottsdale. From the Sonoran Preserve to Pinnacle Peak and beyond, there’s plenty to discover.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Sonoran Desert meets the base of the McDowell Mountains just east of Scottsdale in a nature preserve consisting of more than 21,400 protected acres featuring more than 60 miles of trails. A number of shorter hikes are easily accessible from Scottsdale and can be a great way to explore the desert during a vacation to the area. Even just a short time in the preserve will reveal a desert that is not at all barren and desolate as you may expect if you’re not from Arizona. Instead, you’ll find the preserve is thriving with a wide variety of plants and animals, some that you may not find anywhere else in the world.

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For a more social and educational visit to the preserve, the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy provides a number of resources to point visitors in the right direction and enhance their experience. Most mornings, Pathfinders who work as volunteers for the Conservancy can be found at four of the major trailheads to provide information about the various trails and determine which is right for you. Trailside Naturalists are available at the Gateway Trailhead certain days of the week to answer questions and share items that can further enhance visitors’ experiences.

Organized family events, guided hikes and wellness activities are provided by the Conservancy at no cost to preserve visitors. These hikes are led by experienced and knowledgeable volunteers known as Stewards who have a passion for the conservation of this ecological treasure and educating people about it. Hikes focus on a range of topics including a general overview of the preserve and more specific subjects like birding, geology, wildflowers, wildlife habitats, life cycles of specific desert plants and even an edible tour with samples of food made from the plants seen on the hike.

The hikes change seasonally, so check out for information on the schedule of events and guided hikes, or pick up the quarterly activity guide at any of Scottsdale’s tourism brochure centers for details. The majority of these hikes can be enjoyed by all ages and levels of hiking experience.

scottsdalehike-webPinnacle Peak

Pinnacle Peak Park in North Scottsdale is one of the area’s most popular and easily accessible hikes, though it is not one of the easiest. The parking lot at the trailhead gets full quickly, as does street parking just outside of the gates. The trail itself is 3.5 miles total (1.75 miles out and back), and the while the elevation gain is approximately 1,300 feet with many ups and downs and switchbacks along the way. The trail is well-marked with informational signs about plants and wildlife as well as markers every quarter of a mile.

If you’re winded after reaching the Grand View lookout point a half mile from the trailhead, then you may want to stop there as the remainder of the trail is a bit more difficult than the first part. About another quarter of a mile on the trail is Owl’s Nest lookout which is another good stopping point for families with small children or anyone else who may not want to make the entire trek.

The rewards of this moderately strenuous hike are 360 degree views of the Sonoran Desert, McDowell Mountains and pristine golf courses that are spectacular, with visibility of up to 100 miles on a clear day. Allow 2-3 hours for this hike depending on your speed and activity, and be sure to bring plenty of water. Reward yourself afterwards with a brick oven fired pizza and homemade gelato from LAMP, one of the area’s best reviewed restaurants.

Other Outdoor Adventures

For a more in depth outdoor experience, check out all that Arizona Outback Adventures has to offer. Enjoy a half day or full day of guided hiking, mountain biking, kayaking or rafting, or rent a bike for your own two-wheeled excursion.
Camelback Mountain is another iconic Scottsdale hike, with both the Echo Canyon and Cholla trails leading to the summit. While the hike is relatively short, the elevation gain is steep. This moderately difficult climb is perfect for a stunning sunrise or sunset view of Scottsdale and Phoenix.

Desert Hiking Tips:

  • 87176756 webBe sure you have proper hiking shoes for all trails. Blisters on your feet are a quick way to put a damper on your vacation.
  • Bring plenty of water. Plan for 12-16 ounces per mile and wear sunscreen, even if it seems cool for a morning hike. Hats and sunglasses are recommended too. The sun is strong and it heats up quickly.
  • Know your trail etiquette. Study signs at each trailhead to see who else you might encounter and know when and how to yield. Hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, runners, horseback riders and rock climbers often share the same trails.
  • Check in. If you’re hiking alone, or even with others, it’s a good idea to check in with the trail stewards or visitors center, or sign the trail log before you head out.
  • Stay on the trail. Trails are well-marked and that is partly to protect the sometimes fragile plant and animal habitats just a few feet from the path.

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