The Scottsdale area is blessed with many great wilderness preserves nearby, including some located right inside the incorporated cities within Maricopa County. All feature hiking trails to suit all fitness levels - from relatively flat strolls for casual hikes to trails guaranteed to give even the strongest a good workout.
Visitors from out of town, and even some locals, frequently ask our store staff about a few good places to go hiking, so we've put together our top 10 suggestions for good hikes that are all a short drive from central Phoenix and also have a Phoenix Trail Map section that will include these hikes and others. Some of our favorites are the trails you can hike in and around the McDowell Mountain Regional Park area:
16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr.
MMRP Arizona 85255
Ph: 480-471-0173 Fax: 480-471-3523
- 365 days a year
Nature Center Hours
Mon - Sun: 8 am - 4 pm
Admin. Office Hours
Mon - Fri: 8 am - 4 pm
From central Phoenix, take Loop 202 east to Beeline Highway (SR 87). Continue northeast on SR 87 to Shea Blvd. Travel west on Shea Blvd. to Saguaro Blvd.; turn north. Continue through Town of Fountain Hills to Fountain Hills Blvd; turn right and travel four miles to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park entrance.
Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multiuse trails, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. A stroll through the park will allow visitors to likely see deer, javelina, birds, and coyotes.
Park Trails range in length from 0.5 miles to 15.3 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Those looking for an easy hike should try the North Trail at 3.1 miles. Those looking for a good workout for themselves or their horses should try the Pemberton at 15.3 miles. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Here are the primary trails:
Trail Name Miles KM Use
Bluff 2.2 3.5 km Shared use
Chuparosa 0.5 3.5 km Hike/Bike only
Coachwhip 2.6 4.2 km Shared use
Dixie Mine 5.6 9.0 km Shared use
Granite 3.5 5.6 km Shared use
Hilltop 0.5* 0.7 km Hike only
Lousley Hill 1.2* 2.0 km* Hike only
North 2.9* 4.7 km* Hike/Bike only
Nursery Tank 0.6* 0.9 km* Barrier-free
Pemberton 15.4** 24.8 km** Shared use
Rock Knob 0.6 0.9 km Shared use
Scenic 3.5 5.6 km Shared use
Shallmo Wash 1.7 2.8 Shared use
Sonoran 0.8 1.3 Shared use
Stoneman Wash 4.3 6.9 Shared use
Tonto Tank 2.7 4.3 Shared use
Tortoise 0.7 1.1 Hike/Bike only
Verde 1.2 2.0 Hike/Bike only
Wagner 1.1 1.8 Hike/Bike only
Windmill Continues into Scottsdale Shared use
From the Windmill Trail, you can access the McDowell Preserve in Scottsdale. See the bottom of the page for more information on that area.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45' RV and is a "Developed Site," with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table and a barbecue fire ring. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. The south loop of the campground also offers handicapped-accessible restrooms. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at http://www.maricopacountyparks.org/.
Large groups can reserve one of three campgrounds within McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Group Campgrounds can be reserved for a fee and requires a commitment of six units to utilize the facility for dry camping.
Group Campground - 3-acre parking area can accommodate 30 RV units for day use or overnight camping. Restroom with flush toilets and hot water showers, a covered ramada with 6 picnic tables, a large barbecue grill, and a large fire ring for campfires.
Four Peaks Staging Area - This is a primitive area which is ideal for overnight camping groups with horses or mules.
Youth Group Area - For Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other youth groups. Large parking area with port-a-jons, water, picnic tables, flagpole, and large fire ring. This area is ideal for overnight scout camping trips.
Here's what one online reviewer had to say about the Park:
Just outside of Fountain Hills, at the eastern base of the McDowell Mountains, you'll find this showcase of Sonoran Desert beauty. The park has over 50 miles of trails, great views of mountains and valleys, and is also an excellent area for watching desert wildlife. Vehicular entrance fee is $6 and the park roads lead to several trailheads. You're well advised to stop by the visitor center first and ask for special events, such as guided walks or stargazing, or for finding out which trail would be best for you. My friend and I arrived early in the afternoon and we were advised to try the 5-mile Scenic Trail, which takes you to varying elevations, none of which are too challenging, and which turned out to be aptly named. The vistas of the mountains and valleys were gorgeous! Periodically we had to stop, sit down and take in the beautiful scenery. Be warned, though - if you take your dogs on the trails or the picnic ramadas, it is best to keep them on a leash so they won't stray away from you. A ranger there told us the story of a lady who brought her poodle to a picnic ramada and let the dog run freely, only to witness a coyote dash out of a nearly shrub, grab the little dog and run away with it. Yes, wildlife here is wild indeed. Make sure you take the necessary precautions for desert hiking: bring sufficient drinking water, wear sunscreen and/or a wide-brimmed hat, and make prudent choices regarding which trail to take. And don't forget to bring your camera; you'll be glad you did.
Do consider the extreme weather potential before heading out on a hike here around McDowell Mountain Regional Park or anywhere in the Scottsdale area, especially if you are a first-time visitor. The best time to hike is October through April when temperatures are moderate or even cool in places. Between May and September though, it can be brutally hot, so head out at sunrise before things really get cooking!
Either way, make sure you're properly outfitted with the right shoes, hiking socks, snacks, day packs and other hiking gear before your next outdoor adventure. Just stop by LowerGear - your local wilderness supplier in Tempe, easily reached near the intersection of 101 and 202 east of the ASU campus.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park is just one of our top 10 favorite hiking spots in the Scottsdale area. We have trail and hiking information on the other 9 at the links below (with their general location vicinity). Click on the listing for more information on that hiking area.
Estrella Mountains (west Phoenix / Goodyear)
Cave Creek Regional Park (north Phoenix / Cave Creek)
Camelback Mountain (north-central Phoenix)
Papago Park (east Phoenix / southwest Scottsdale)
South Mountain (south Phoenix / Ahwatukee)
Usery Mountain (east Mesa)
Lost Dog Wash (north-east Scottsdale)
Piestawa Peak (north-central Phoenix)
Dreamy Draw (north-central Phoenix)