Insider Tips From Local Experts

Scottsdale Stories

Gateway to the Sonoran Desert

If you’re craving the feel of a new trail under your boots, make a beeline for Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. At 30,500 acres (and growing), it’s the largest urban preserve in the nation. But that’s not the only thing that makes it a must-see for outdoor enthusiasts. Here are some fun things to do in the Sonoran Desert.


Hiking the Preserve


With 10 trailheads and approximately 225 miles of shared-use trails, Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve has an option for you no matter what your level of fitness or hiking experience. Take an easy stroll along the ADA-accessible Bajada Nature Trail or burn off that extra margarita on the steep Sunrise Peak summit trail.


Mountain Biking

Hiking and Biking

If you prefer your fun on two wheels, most of the Preserve’s trails are open for mountain biking and offer thrilling rides filled with rolling tracks, steep climbs and fast descents.


Rock Climbing 

Rock Climbing

Challenging ascents and stunning views reward rock climbers in the Preserve. Popular spots include Tom’s Thumb, Sven’s Slab and Granite Ballroom.


Cacti & Critters

Desert Hiking

Spend even a little time in the Preserve and chances are good that you’ll spot a saguaro, find some wildflowers and get a glimpse of our local wildlife. The most frequently sighted desert residents include Gambel’s quail, jackrabbits, geckos and cactus wrens.


Free Admission

Hiking Rock

All the fun we just described above is yours for free! The Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset daily, year-round, and admission is free. (Note: Some trails deep in the Preserve connect with trails from other regional parks that request nominal fees at self-service pay stations).


 Easily Accessible Trailheads

Hiking Bridge

The Preserve is located along Scottsdale’s eastern edge at the base of the McDowell Mountains and is accessible via 11 trailheads conveniently located around the city.

If this is your first visit to the Preserve, consider joining one of the free guided hikes and naturalist programs offered each month by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. These family-friendly programs cover topics including birding, wildflowers, area geology and desert critters and provide a great introduction to the magic of the Sonoran Desert. 

Nicknamed the “People’s Preserve,” the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the direct result of citizen-driven and –funded efforts to protect Scottsdale’s signature McDowell Mountains and the surrounding desert landscape. We love our Sonoran Desert, and we can’t wait to share it with you!