McDowell Sonoran Preserve – Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona offers a lot of delightful surprises to those who love outdoor activities. This area, which is dominated by desert and mountainous landscapes truly challenges your physical prowess. Endowed with a picturesque geography, cacti forests and rich with diverse wildlife, McDowell Sonaran Preserve is set in a 30,000 acre Sonoran Desert. It is a kind of place that you can have a memorable outdoor experience. On your journey, you will most likely see some of 500 species of animals, which include birds, mammals and reptiles; not to mention the 2,000 plants that thrive in the desert environment.

If you are looking for trails to explore, the McDowell Sonaran Preserve can give you a lot of those and some wonderful extras. The preserve boasts about 120 miles of multi-functional trails that are also non-motorized. These trails can be accessed from six main trailheads, which include Brown’s Ranch, Gateway, Fraesfield, Tom’s Thumb, Lost Dog Wash and Sunrise.


If you access the Fraesfield Trailhead and the Brown’s Ranch, you will reach the northern section of the preserve, and get incredible views of Pinnacle Peak and the renowned massive boulder formations. Tom’s Thumb and the Gateway lead you to the middle part of the preserve, while Sunrise Trailhead and Lost Dog Wash brings you to the southern point. If you are looking for a real challenge, then make your way to Tom’s Thumb.

Take note that you can always tackle the trails on your own, however, if you sign up for the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy tour, expert guides can help you to relocate some of the awesome hidden spots of the reserve. On top of that, the guides can also reveal interesting information about the preserved trails such as desert plants, makeshift shelter and native rituals.


Guided hikes are varied and cater to different hiking levels and preferences. They even offer discovery hikes that suit kids and families. The hikes organized by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, are usually scheduled in between mid-October through April. But there are also special holiday hikes, which take place from late November to early January. It is also possible to arrange a private guided hike for groups. Local adventure companies also offer their services for other action-packed activities like rock climbing, mountain biking and off-road driving.

Rock climbing has been increasingly popular in the preserve partly because of its difficulty level and the culture of support among climbers. Climbing in McDowell Sonoran usually means following an organized plan, trekking designated trails, using fixed bolts and ropes, and drilling granite rock.

Mountain biking in McDowell Sonoran Preserve is never a bore as the terrain is rugged enough to give you the ride of your life. To the real biking daredevils, taking on the Double Bypass route is the real tough one, as it makes you climb 1,600 feet to reach the Bell and Windgate oases.


If you want a more laidback activity, why not try bird watching? It may not be as rigorous as the other activities, but it is equally fascinating as there are many species of birds that roam the McDowell Sonaran Reserve. Visiting this area makes it even more important to bring your camera for some extraordinary photo opportunities.

About Author:

Arie Boris has extensive travel industry experience, including business and sales development for commercial aviation, the International emergency assistance & travel insurance industry and a national association of travel agents. He was a contributing editor to several print and Internet travel publications, including Fieldings’ Worldwide Cruise Guide and was part of the start up team for CruiseCritic. He has written over 400 cruise ship reviews. Arie also produces and hosts Cruise Gourmet Voyages, a variety of fundraising & theme group cruises for various charitable and arts organizations. He has produced theme cruises for a variety of special interest groups including opera, comedy, spiritual retreats and fan clubs for TV shows like Dark Shadows and Dancing with the Stars!