Beautiful Desert Trails in the Scottsdale Area
Pinnacle Peak Park
The 150–acre Pinnacle Peak Park is the most popular hiking destination in the valley because of the expansive, spectacular views and accessibility. Pinnacle Peak is a distinctive granite summit that rises 600 feet from the desert floor and can be seen from much of the Valley. This City of Scottsdale park has free access and parking.
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The 1.75 mile trail (3.5 round trip) is beautifully groomed and accessible to hikers of all abilities. There are also areas of the park designated for experienced rock climbers. The bouldery topography and lush upper Sonoran Desert is home to many desert creatures such as bobcats, gila monsters, desert tortoises, and of course the diamondback rattlesnake. But not to worry, it’s virtually impossible to happen on one of these snakes unexpectedly on the trail and they won’t suddenly leap at you. In warmer months it’s likely you’ll see one sunning on the trail and you may have to wait for a moment while it moseys across.
The Pinnacle Peak Park trail is a moderate hike with an elevation gain of approximately 1,300 feet. The trail through is smooth with a number of ups and downs over the course of the 1.75 mile trail (each way). The elevation at the trailhead is 2,570', the high point is 2,889' elevation, and on the north side hikers can descend to 2,366'. At a moderate pace, it takes about two hours to do the trail out and back.
Pinnacle Peak is a wildlife sanctuary. You will most likely see gamble quail, jack rabbits, cactus wrens, antelope ground squirrels, scampering lizards and maybe a road runner. There are larger mammals that live in or travel through the park, including coyotes, javelinas, mountain lions, bobcats and even the smallish mule deer! Best chances are at dusk and dawn….which are also the opening and closing hours of the park, so timing is crucial for viewing larger wildlife. It’s quite a sight to see a deer bounding in the desert or a little herd of pig-like javelinas, grunting through the lush foliage. Critters love the many cracks and crevices amongst the boulders, where they can hide.
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The trail winds its way up the bouldery mountain, past giant saguaros, giving way to panoramic views of the McDowell Mountains, Four Peaks, Granite Mountain and Cone mountains…as well as the lovely Four Seasons Resort at Troon North and yes, those expensive homes at the base. While not a remote wilderness experience, it’s still a wildly scenic and nice workout or a slow stroll.
While the Pinnacle Peak Trail does not lead to the actual summit, rock climbers with equipment can access the peak of the Peak from the trail at the designated climber’s technical area.
The Grandview lookout has stone benches which is a great rest stop before the trails drops down to switchbacks on the north side. Lots of non-hikers turn around here. The trail is not a loop, but like much of beautiful Arizona, you are treated to an entirely different view going the other way.
There’s a large parking lot, but during peak weather and times you may have to park a bit further down the road and hoof it to the visitor center and trailhead. You’re there to hike right? But before you begin, check out the bulletin board at the information center. The rangers post the wildlife recently seen.
Pinnacle Peak Park is in an area of upscale homes, golf courses and a resort. It’s a great place to meet outdoorsy singles it seems.
Visitor amenities include water, restrooms, picnic tables, a ramada for large groups and an information center with maps and plant list.
No dogs allowed except for service dogs assisting the visually impaired.
- Friends of Pinnacle Peak Park Website
- Pinnacle Peak Park on the Official Scottsdale Website
- Trail Map on Wikipedia
- Experienced climbers will find this infomation on the Mountain Project website helpful
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The preserve is a wildlife, nature and archaeological sanctuary that encompasses most of the McDowell Mountain range, stretching for over 10 miles. No roads cross the McDowell’s, which are bounded by Rio Verde Blvd. on the north, McDowell Mountain Park and Fountain Hills on the East, the eastern Shea Blvd. corridor on the south and DC Ranch on the west. Pinnacle Peak is considered part of the northwest side of the range, but sits uniquely separate.
The McDowell's with bouldery peaks up to 4,200 ft. have many trails, mostly fairly difficult to extreme. Now the McDowells can be accessed all the way across the crest of the range.
The city of Scottsdale has made its share of the McDowells a preserve, and has set up a wide trail network. In addition, the preserve includes lands just north of Pinnacle Peak, characterized by a series of small mountains and some of the richest Sonoran uplands in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas.
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead
An extraordinary network of new groomed, winding trails opens up the Northern Preserve to hiking and biking adventures. More accessible than the rest of the preserve which blankets the McDowell Mountains, the northern portion has smaller individual mountain with bajadas in between. This will become one of the premiere recreational desinations in the Valley. First up near the entrance is a trail that climbs east up and over the crest to link with 118th St. Most casual hikers are probably going to favor the wheelchair-accesible Jane Rau Trail loop, next up off the main trail, that gently climbs to a stunning rock formation overlooking the Brown's Ranch Valley.
The main trail continues on leading down to Brown’s Ranch, a smooth and easy descent. Scores of side trails begin to spider off, including one that goes up Brown's Mountain itself! Brown’s Mountain, is one of two dormant volcanic sites in Scottsdale.
Brown’s cattle operation was established by E.O. Brown in 1916 and run by sons until the 1960’s. Archaeological surveys have found evidence of human presence in the area dating to 8,000 B.C.! Archaic, Hohokam and Yahapai peoples used boulder rock shelters for seasonal hunting and seed gathering camps.
Take a right at the sign for Brown’s Ranch and you can still see some old foundations and cistern. Continue up the trail to Cathedral Rock if you have the energy. Read More about the new Brown's Ranch Trail
Tom's ThumbTrailhead & Marcus Landslide Trailhead
These spectacular new trailheads are officially open. This area is a fantastic McDowell Sonoran Preserve destination for denizens and visitors of Pinnacle Peak and is the best vantage to discover the more remote, quieter, northern side of the McDowells. The Tom Thumb trail itself is steep in areas, but the less abled will enjoy the lower terrain which is comprised of huge boulder formations and excellent high Sonoran fauna.
In addition, the Marcus Landslide trail is accessible here, a geologically fantastic 2 1/2 hour loop to the second largest landslide discovered in Arizona. The trail is easy and wends through house-sized boulders. It's easily hikable and mountain bikeable, although if you start up at the trailhead it's all downhill.
It’s a beautiful drive to get there too, whether you wend through Troon Village off Happy Valley, left on 118th and watch for signs on the right....it stays paved all the way, or you may prefer the dustier rancher’s route off Dynamite at 28th St., where the McDowells lay out before you in all their purple blue spendor.
Tom's Thumb trail is about 4.5 miles round trip. During the journey you will climb a little over 800 ft., with 1350 ft. of accumulated gain. You need good knees. Bring lots of water and hike with someone as there have already been rescues since opening last October. The trails are very well manicured however, and is easy hiking for the more experienced and able. Expect to take four hours on the slow. You can also travel just a short way up the trail to sweeping views to the north and east.
DC Ranch Gateway Trailhead
The Gateway is Scottsdale's and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s largest trailhead, offering breathtaking views, mountainous trails and an all-access trail for those with disabilities. This offers the most access to the McDowell’s and Preserve via a myriad of trails, which are found here on the west side of the range, in the DC Ranch area, just south of Pinnacle Peak.
The wheelchair-friendly Bajada Trail is paved and barrier-free. It is designed to be educational, with interactive stations scattered through the half-mile loop.
It is easily accessible, located east of Thompson Peak Parkway, one-half mile north of Bell Road. It has 200 parking spaces, restrooms, water fountains, shade ramadas, a dog station and an equestrian staging area, along with 16 trailer parking spaces, water troughs, hitching rails and another shade ramada just for riders and their horses.
- Don’t go hiking in the summer unless it’s very early morning. Every year people must be rescued from metro area trails due to heat exposure.
- Don’t be the tall thing in the desert during summer monsoon thunderstorms.
- Always carry plenty of water, no matter the season. Camelbacks hold enough for a half day hike.
- Be sure to wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Watch your footing on trails. Better than tennis shoes are sturdy, hiking boots with good traction and ankle support.
- Cell phones work in much of the Preserve.
- Let someone know where you are going.