Windgate Pass, McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead, Phoenix - Scottsdale - Mesa, Arizona

Windgate Pass - 7.6 miles

McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead

View on the descent from Windgate Pass

View on the descent from Windgate Pass

Round-Trip Length: 7.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 1,715' - 3,031' (3,031' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,316' net elevation gain (+1,585' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Windgate Pass - 7.6 Miles Round-Trip

Windgate Pass is located 3.8 miles from the Gateway Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The pass spans a broad saddle between McDowell Peak (3,995’) and The Lookout (3,858’).

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

This popular multi-use trail climbs through diversely vegetated bajadas into the sparsely covered uplands of the Preserve. Visitors will enjoy excellent views and route extensions to Tom’s Thumb (3,925’) and Bell Pass (3,204’):

The trail moves quickly in the lower bajada to the Gateway Loop – Windgate Pass Trail split (.4 : 1,775’). It bends northeast over a wide, shallow canyon with good views and active wildlife.

The trail undulates past the Horseshoe Trail (.6 miles : 1,802’) and second Gateway Loop split (1.55 miles : 2,163’), then climbs steadily past the Desert Park (2.25 miles : 2,275’) and Tom’s Thumb trails (2.65 miles : 2,535’) into the upper canyon.

Conditions are variously rocky and rugged leading to the Inspiration View Point spur (2.85 miles :  2,695’). The spur scrambles up to an outcrop with nice views.

The trail continues on long, level intervals with short steep bursts up to Windgate Pass (3.8 miles : 3,031’). Exceptional east-facing views range across McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the Four Peaks Wilderness and Superstition Mountains.

Those seeking a longer hike may continue east on the Windgate Trail around the backside of McDowell Peak to Bell Pass, which leads back to the Gateway Trailhead to form a more varied (and less crowded) 9.6 mile loop.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N33 38.964  W111 51.499 — 0.0 miles : Gateway Trailhead
  • N33 38.959 W111 51.126 — .4 miles : Gateway Loop split (Windgate - Bell)
  • N33 39.112 W111 51.090 — .6 miles : Horseshoe Trail split
  • N33 39.296 W111 50.760 — 1.0 miles : Rolling climb over wide, shallow canyon
  • N33 39.550 W111 50.366 — 1.55 miles : Gateway Loop split #2
  • N33 39.795 W111 50.159 — 2.0 miles : Trail levels along upper canyon wall
  • N33 39.962 W111 50.096 — 2.25 miles : Desert Park Trail split
  • N33 40.020 W111 49.778 — 2.65 miles : Tom's Thumb Trail split
  • N33 40.074 W111 49.671 — 2.85 miles : Inspiration View Point spur
  • N33 39.998 W111 49.368 — 3.2 miles : Long, level intervals in upper canyon
  • N33 40.071 W111 48.874 — 3.8 miles : Windgate Pass

Worth Noting

  • The Gateway Trailhead sees heavy traffic, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
  • Be mindful of rattlesnakes and remain on designated trails at all times to avoid negative encounters. Gila monsters, tarantulas and scorpions also inhabit this terrain.
  • Many open spaces in the lower and mid-bajada are filled with combseed, a low-growing annual plant that may appear like manicured putting greens in the height of a wet spring.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be on a hand held leash at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

The Gateway Trailhead is located off of Thompson Peak Parkway in Scottsdale, AZ.

From Highway 101, take the Bell Road exit and travel 1.65 miles east to Thompson Peak Pkwy. Turn north on Thompson Peak Parkway for .55 miles, then right into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Continue .2 miles into the main lot.

Contact Information

McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

16435 N Scottsdale Rd. Suite 110

Scottsdale AZ, 85254


Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Going clockwise to Windgate to Bell Pass seems harder than going up Bell Pass and over to Windgate to Gateway TH. Bell Pass is rocky and eroded more so now since our rains; it’s dicey going down Bell Pass. I have done it both ways. I prefer up Bell Pass to Windgate. Good luck!"
Tes  -  Windgate  -  Date Posted: January 5, 2019


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