McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hiking & Bell Pass

Written by Mare Czinar Category: Health & Fitness Issue: October 2011

For a good workout and amazing views close to suburbia, try Bell Pass Trail. Although there are many access points and loop options, here’s one that works well if all you want to do is an out-and-back hike to the Pass. 

From the trailhead on 104th Street, head north on the closed road for 0.2 miles to the Levee Trail junction. Turn right (east) and go 1 mile to the Paradise Trail junction. Go left (north) on the Paradise Trail for 0.2 miles to the Gateway Loop junction. Turn right (east) and follow Gateway Loop for 0.2 miles to the Bell Pass Trail turnoff. From here, it’s 2 miles to the Pass.

This route is almost entirely flat up to the Bell Pass junction. After that, the ascent starts gradually and doesn’t get unduly steep until the last half-mile. The Pass itself is a narrow saddle straddling Thompson Peak (the one with the antennas) and McDowell Peak – the two most prominent peaks when viewed from Scottsdale. This sweet spot features views of the Mazatzal Mountain range and the confluence of the Salt and Verde rivers. The trail continues another 1.3 miles from the pass and connects to both the Prospector’s Trail and Windgate Pass Trail, which returns hikers back to the visitor’s center.

Length:  7.2 miles roundtrip
Rating:  difficult
Dog rating: ••  (dogs must stay on leash)
Elevation:  1,704-3,204 feet
Distance from Phoenix: 35 miles
Getting There: From the Loop 101 freeway in Scottsdale, take the Bell Road exit and go east on Bell Road to 104th Street. There’s a small parking area (room for about 16 cars) on the north side of the street. If this lot is full, exit and turn right, then turn right again on Thompson Peak Parkway. The trail system’s visitor’s center is on the right.

Information: or

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