McDowell Sonoran Preserve Hiking & Bell Pass

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

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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