Insider Tips From Local Experts

Scottsdale Stories

Leave No Trace Exploration

The Sonoran Desert in and around Scottsdale is a breathtaking natural environment that invites adventure and discovery. To help protect the desert’s uniquely fragile ecosystem, we encourage you to follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace exploration. While Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry trekking and camping, these principles can be applied anywhere you want to explore!


1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Hiking family at trailhead

Adequate planning helps you explore the Sonoran Desert safely, while both enjoying yourself and minimizing your impact on the land.

  • Review these safety guidelines for hiking and exploring in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Research the rules and regulations for the trail or wilderness area you'll visit.
  • Plan according to the weather forecast and prepare for potential extreme weather, unexpected hazards and emergencies.
  • Know your fitness level and abilities and those of your companions; choose your adventure accordingly.
  • Bring enough water and food for everyone in your party, including pets.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Family Hiking

There are more than 235 established trails in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve and many more in the surrounding area. Using established trails reduces the chance that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape.

  • Stay on established trails and do not shortcut trail switchbacks.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Camp only in designated areas (Note: camping is not allowed in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve).

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Litter Sign

Keep the Sonoran Desert pristine for everyone by not littering and properly disposing of all trash and human waste.

  • If you pack it in, pack it out! This includes food scraps and wrappers, used tissues and toilet paper, empty water bottles, etc.
  • Use the toilet facilities at established trailheads before heading out. Otherwise, deposit solid human waste in a cathole dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from any water source. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Bring baggies to carry out used toilet paper and hygiene products.


4. Leave What You Find


Allow everyone to enjoy a sense of discovery in the Sonoran Desert by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects as you find them.

  • Examine and photograph interesting finds, but do not remove them.
  • Do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts or remove them from their site.
  • Refrain from building rock cairns.


5. Minimize Campfire Impacts


Wildfires are destructive and devastating events in any natural setting, the Sonoran Desert included. That’s why it’s critical to follow all regulations (including fire bans) and use established fire rings and barbecues only where permitted.   

  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use down and dead wood from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.


6. Respect Wildlife

Desert Wildlife

The Sonoran Desert is home to thousands of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. While it’s exciting to see desert creatures in their natural habitat, respecting them and their space ensures your – and their – safety.

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed wildlife. Feeding animals damages their health, alters their natural behaviors, (habituates them to humans), and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Do not get between mothers and babies of any species.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, etc.


7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Hiking Friends

Last but not least, be courteous to your fellow explorers. You’re all out in nature for the same reasons, and being kind ensures that everyone enjoys their time in the magnificent Sonoran Desert!

  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises. Use earbuds to listen to music, but make sure you can hear what’s happening around you.
  • Control your pets at all times.
  • Yield to other users on the trail: downhill traffic yields to uphill traffic; runners and hikers yield to horses; bicyclists yield to everyone.
  • Before passing another trail user, politely announce your presence and proceed with caution.

These principles were established by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and built on work by the US Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. For more information, including the science behind these principles, visit the Leave No Trace website.

Thank you for doing your part to ensure that Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert is protected for all to enjoy!