Hike of the Week: Bell Pass-Windgate Pass near Scottsdale

Mare CzinarJanuary 16, 2024
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Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale 

Whether used as a training hike for epic backpacking trips or as a challenging day hike, the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop satisfies both the urge for a good workout and the desire to wander among the scenic wonders of the Sonoran Desert.  

The hike begins at the famously busy Gateway Trailhead in the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve with a short walk on the popular Gateway Loop. Beyond this 1.6-mile segment, the Bell Pass Trail veers off and begins its uphill slog with a relentless series of ups-and-downs through cholla and ocotillo that tops out at Bell Pass. 

In the shadow of 3,969-foot Thompson Peak, the breezy pass showcases views of Four Peaks, the Verde River, the town of Fountain Hills and an overview of the route snaking through a valley below. The Bell Pass trail continues north to connect with the Windgate Pass trail where it swings left and ascends to the eponymous 3,031-foot viewpoint.  

With the major climbing complete, the last leg of the circuit descends along an edgy singletrack, passing by 2,714-foot Inspiration Point before reconnecting with Gateway Loop for the final 1.6-mile hike back to the trailhead. 

LENGTH: 9.5-mile loop 

RATING: difficult 

ELEVATION: 1,720 – 3,204 feet 

GETTING THERE: 

Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Pkwy., Scottsdale. 

From Scottsdale, exit Loop 101 at Bell Road. Go east to Thompson Peak Parkway, turn left (north), and go less than a mile to the Gateway Trailhead on the right.  

FACILITIES: restrooms, water, interpretive signs 

HOURS: sunrise to sunset daily 

FEE: none