The Best Hiking Trails In Scottsdale, Arizona

McDowell Mountains at sunset | © Harald Nagel/WikiCommons
McDowell Mountains at sunset | © Harald Nagel/WikiCommons
Photo of Alexia Wulff
9 February 2017

Scottsdale is more than a desert town; once named a top hiking destination by National Geographic, this city, known for its luxurious spas and pristine golf courses, is surrounded by hills of magical mountain lands, rock formations, and over 320 miles of hiking trails. Whether you’re an avid hiker looking for a grueling all-day hike or a nature lover wanting to simply peruse along the cacti-filled lands of Arizona, here is a guide to experiencing six of the best hiking trails in Scottsdale.

Lost Dog Wash Trail, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Located just outside of Scottsdale, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is home to over 100 miles of trails across its 30,000 acres of preserved lands. For the most scenic views in Scottsdale, go for the Lost Dog Wash, an old Jeep tour route-turned-hiking trail that climbs well into the mountains with panoramic views of the valley, Camelback Mountain, and Pinnacle Peak. The trail is about five miles long, there and back, but because it only reaches less than 400 feet in elevation, it’s considered an easy-to-moderate hike.

Camelback View | © Dru Bloomfield/Flickr

Pinnacle Peak Summit Trail, Pinnacle Peak Park

For a more challenging venture, head to Pinnacle Peak Park in northern Scottsdale, known for its granite formations, rich wildlife, hiking trails, and rock climbing. For first-timers, make your way up the Pinnacle Peak Summit Trail to the top of the mountain where you’ll be treated to stunning views of the valley at 1,300 feet high. With a wide and smooth trail at only a roundtrip distance of 3.5 miles, the Summit Trail makes for a moderately-difficult hike, so even the middle-of-the-road experienced hikers are welcome to join.

Gateway Trail Loop, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

One of the most popular trails in Scottsdale, the Gateway Trail Loop is made for those looking for a tranquil walk through the desert – peruse through the preserve along an easy 4.5-mile-long loop that brings you back to where you started, the perfect option for families. The Gateway Trail is also an access point to many other trails, so those who need to get their sweat on can break off into another region of the preserve.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale AZ | © The Real Cloud2013/Flickr

Echo Canyon Summit Trail, Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain plays host to two popular hiking trails: the Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Summit Trail. For picturesque city views, opt for the Echo Canyon Summit Trail, meant for the more experienced hiker. Starting at the ‘camel’s head,’ climb the mountain to its summit where you’ll be rewarded with stunning scenery of Scottsdale and the surrounding desert lands – and a hefty workout.

Camelback Mountain | © J. Miers/Wikicommons

Tom’s Thumb Trail, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Tom’s Thumb Trail is one of the region’s most challenging trails. Climbing 1,300 feet in just 2.5 miles, this one is perfect for working up a sweat; however, it’s marked by boulders and steep grades, so save this one for the well-versed hiker. Head to the top where you’ll see a lovely view of Tom’s Thumb, a 150-foot-tall famed granite rock formation, along with beautiful views of the preserve below. Plus, if you’re a rock climber, this is the trail for you with many formations to climb along the way. For an easier hike, opt for the Quartz Trail, perfect for bird-watching and wildflower views – this one’s only two miles long.

Tom's Thumb | © Eoin Coates/Flickr

The Sunrise Trail East, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Another strenuous hike, the Sunrise Trail East hikes up 1,100 feet in elevation in just two miles. Many sections are very steep, so it’s not meant for the casual hiker; however, it does take you up to Sunrise Peak, one of the few peaks in the preserve with a trail that goes directly to the top. Here, take in the panoramic views of the McDowell Mountains, granite rock formations, and blooming wildflowers in the spring. If you’re in the mood to burn some calories without the crowds, this is your jam.

Arizona wildflowers | © wplynn/Flickr