Most folks define mountain biking also as off-road or trail biking. In the Pinnacle Peak area, particularly the northern part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, there are sandy dirt trails that dip into dry washes and gently roller coaster through the Sonoran desert past geologically interesting buttes and huge boulder outcroppings. Some of the advantages over hiking is that you get to see so much more territory and feel the wind in your hair. It’s fun.
If you are visiting and don’t have a bike, there are a few ways to go about this. Just rent a front suspension mountain bike for less than $100 for three days (hourly too) at Arizona Outback Adventures, conveniently located at Frank Lloyd Wright and the Loop 101. 866-455-1601. If you don’t have an SUV for transport, they deliver too.
Pinnacle Peak and the surrounding bouldery environs are an off-road biker’s paradise. Trails range from super easy to extremely advanced. You can bike the Pinnacle Peak area year round, although you’ve got to get up early to beat the heat in the summer. It’s wonderful to ride in the morning after a good August monsoon rain though, as the air is clear and spiced with creosote and puddles attract desert creatures. We like to bike when it’s 65- 75 degrees and just shift schedules depending on the time of year. Topo Map
Exploring The McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is on track to become the country's largest urban nature preserve, voted in lovingly by residents who agreed to tax increases in order to protect this unique high Sonoran desert wonderland.
Currently at more than 27,800 acres, the goal is to eventually acquire 36,400 acres, or 57 square miles. Scottsdale residents passed two taxes to protect the beautiful desert. There will soon be 150 miles of paths, also open to hikers and horseback riders who enjoy the expansive open spaces, unique Sonoran desert topography, great rock formations and towering saguaros.
The latest purchases on the north side now connect the entire preserve, from Maricopa County’s McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills to the Tonto National Forest, making for a recreation and wildlife corridor that encompasses seven hundred thousand acres. Pinnacle Peak is situated perfectly between the northern and southern portions of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, with access to all in minutes.
Where to Bike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The northern region of the Preserve is more manageable than the southern, mainly because you aren't traversing a mountain, but riding around smaller buttes. The northern section is generally better suited for beginners. Serious riders too will find plenty of single-tracks and even some small mountainy buttes to climb.
The northern area offers an opportunity to see the lush beauty of the high Sonoran Desert. There is much modern and ancient history including Brown’s Ranch and Cathedral (Metate) Rock. Other fascinating geology includes the Amphitheater and Balanced Rock.
The southern region, with trails near DC Ranch, feature more difficult, rocky terrain as well as more hikers. Hardcore riders can take Bell and Windgate trails up and over the McDowells and connect into McDowell Regional Park. These are best accessed from the Gateway area, off North Thompson Peak Parkway, one-half mile north of Bell. This area sees a lot of hikers, so please yield to all users.
Read on for more information below.
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead
Only a mile and a half from Pinnacle Peak and Four Season's, the new Brown’s Ranch Trailhead is a wonderland of trails. There are a few washes where you can just walk your bike if you are out of practice.
Take paved Alma School Rd. north of Dynamite, where you wend through Troon North neighborhoods before ending arriving at the beautiful new Brown's Ranch Trailhead facility. Trails for all fitness levels spider out from there, many of which spill into Brown's Ranch, a once-thriving cattle ranch, now part of the preserve. You can still see some of the foundations from the old ranch.
Area cattle operations were established by E.O. Brown in 1916 and run by sons until the 1960’s. Archaeological surveys in the area have found evidence of human presence perhaps 8,000 years old! Archaic, Hohokam and Yavapai people used area boulder rock shelters for seasonal hunting and seed gathering camps.
A highlight of this area is the huge boulder outcrop known as Cathedral Rock (Metate Rock to us bikers), where you can see several deep bedrock mortars in the granite formed from centuries of grinding seeds and nuts for flour.
Adjacent is an area known as the “amphitheater”, where you will likely experience a strong sense of the past, as you envision ancient people calling council in the natural granite ampitheater bowl. .
Some areas of the trails marked easy can be a challenge, so just hop off if you are not comfortable. We call it “bhiking”….it means you don’t have to worry so much about a tough patch that exceeds your riding capabilities. In fact, hanging onto a bike and using the brakes to go up a steep hill can actually help you hike up a rugged area.
We’ve seen gila monsters, rattlesnakes, leaping mule deer, desert tortoises, coyotes, bounding jackrabbits and javelina on these trails.
136th St. – Granite Mountain
From Four Seasons Resort - Ride to Tom's Thumb
Another option (for road bikes too) is to head out right from the resort and turn left on Jomax, which takes you to 118th St. Go right and turn left on to Ranch Gate Road and ride to the Tom Thumb (seriously difficult) and Marcus Landslide trails (easy). Check out this map: Ride to Tom's Thumb Trailhead from Four Seasons Resort. If you have a road bike you'll want to lock it up at the trailhead facility and hike, but if you have a mountain bike there are all kinds of trails and dirt jeep roads to explore.
Dirt Roads Around 128th St. & Tom’s Thumb
There are miles and miles of easy to rough jeep roads around Tom’s Thumb trailhead on the north side of the McDowell’s. Tom’s Thumb trail is steep and not bikable for most people. However even a short ride up the trail will reveal fantastic otherworldly rock formations. The desert is returning after the devastating Rio Fire in the nineties. See above, From Four Seasons, Ride to Tomb's Thumb for a map of the area.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
The other primary area for mountain biking in the outer Pinnacle Peak vicinity is the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, featuring the Pemberton Trail. It’s a beautiful drive down Rio Verde Dr., then south to the park on McDowell Mountain drive. It's about 20 miles from Pinnacle Peak.
The Marcus Landslide Triail now hooks up with the The Pemberton Trail, for a 15 - 20 mile ride downhill (many rugged ups and downs), where someone should pick you up at the Park. From the McDowell Mountain Regional Park you can park and ride the 15.3-mile loop. The whole loop isn’t for beginners since it’s long and there are sandy washes and a few other rough patches.However, there are a lot of side trails where you can cut off and return to the starting point. The first seven miles of the trail are a gradual ascent. This area is lower in elevation and also more fire-scarred, resulting in hotter temperatures and less lush Sonoran desert than the Pinnacle Peak area.
Also the park's competitive loop is great for intermediate riders and there are several races during the year. The loop is roller-coastery, consisting of a short, technical and a long loop. Riders can enjoy outstanding views of the Four Peaks, Superstitions, Mazatzals and McDowell Mountains.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping and is the only location near Pinnacle Peak that offers camping.
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Road bikers find the loop around Pinnacle Peak the perfect scenic workout. Park at the General Store at Pinnacle Peak and Pima then head up Pima to Happy Valley and left at Alma School. (Or stay on and go up to Jomax)…then left on Dynamite and left on Pima and you are back. Or, incorporate a jaunt to Cave Creek if you are harder-core.
Another option is to park at the General Store at Pinnacle Peak and Pima and head north on Pima to Happy Valley. Take a right and go all the way up the saddle of Troon Mountain. You can ride all around this area, on pavement with few cars...that rewards with sweeping views of the McDowell's and Four Peaks. Know that you are in an area where there was a large pre-historic Hohokam village. Check back for more info on road bike riding in this special area.
Now if you are a pro, take the 70 mile route of the Tour De Scottsdale (or do the Tour itself in November!) This incredible ride heads down that long Rio Verde and the rider will be wowed by scenery all the way as the route pops up to Carefree and back south, finally circling all the way around the McDowell’s.
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