Desert Park Loop, McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead, Phoenix - Scottsdale - Mesa, Arizona

Desert Park Loop - 5.5 miles

McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead

The Desert Park Loop

The Desert Park Loop

Round-Trip Length: 5.5 miles
Start-End Elevation: 1,715' - 2,285' (max elevation)
Elevation Change: +570' net elevation gain (+680' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Desert Park Loop - 5.5 Miles Round-Trip

The Gateway Trail and Desert Park Trail form a lightly used 5.5 mile loop through the northwest corner of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. While Gateway is among the busiest trail corridors in Scottsdale, few follow this particular route. 

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The Desert Park Trail passes through residential areas with mild grades and terrain ideal for running and biking. The following description begins on the Gateway Trail and travels counter-clockwise:

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 steepens up the south canyon wall to the Desert Park Trail (2.25 miles : 2,275’).

The Desert Park Trail branches NW across the canyon to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve boundary (2.4 miles : 2,255’) and drops gently into an adjacent canyon. Bikes and runners will enjoy smooth track and light crowds on this fast stretch.

You’ll level through teddy bear cholla gardens (3.5 miles : 1,988’) into a green corridor that crosses a golf course and residential area. The trail is intermittently vague but intuitively followed through and across several washes.

Follow consecutive signs for the Gateway Trailhead (5.03 miles and 5.12 miles) that lead back into the Preserve to complete the loop (5.5 miles). Look for birds, rabbit and other small mammals on this final, attractive segment.

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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
  • 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 : Steady climb up south canyon wall
  • N33 39.962 W111 50.096 — 2.25 miles : Desert Park Trail split
  • N33 39.992 W111 50.224 — 2.4 miles : Exit McDowell Sonoran Preserve
  • N33 40.129  W111 50.704 — 3.0 miles : Descend into adjacent canyon
  • N33 40.177 W111 51.111 — 3.5 miles : Teddy bear cholla garden
  • N33 39.975 W111 51.530 — 4.0 miles : Travel through residential corridor
  • N33 39.571 W111 51.772 — 4.65 miles : Travel through residential corridor
  • N33 39.268 W111 51.782 — 5.03 miles : Follow sign left for Gateway
  • N33 39.220 W111 51.711 — 5.12 miles : Follow sign right for Gateway
  • N33 38.964 W111 51.495 — 5.5 miles : Gateway Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • The Gateway Trailhead sees heavy traffic, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
  • Lighter crowds and smooth surfaces on the north side of the loop are ideal for runners and bikes.
  • Portions of the loop pass through private residential areas. Remain on designated trails at all times.

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

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