Miles of scenic trails and stunning views of the desert landscape will take your breath away at the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. Encompassing more than 30,500 acres, this protected habitat is home to a variety of wildflowers and bird species, making it one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America.
The conservancy is comprised of several trailheads, namely:
- Brown’s Ranch. This trailhead showcases interpretive exhibits on the human history of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It also provides access to the area’s vast network of trails and natural attractions like Balanced Rock, Cathedral Rock, Brown’s Mountain, Cholla Mountain, and Granite Mountain.
- Gateway. Prized for its outdoor amenities and indoor trails, Gateway is a barrier-free trailhead. Kids especially love the games and activities that can be enjoyed here.
- Lost Dog Wash. A major access point to the Preserve, Lost Dog Wash features relatively short and easy trails that wind through and around a gorgeous desert wash. Extensive vehicle and equestrian parking is available.
- Sunrise. This neighborhood access point leads to Sunrise Trail, which goes all the way up the mountains to Sunrise Peak. From there you can enjoy spectacular views of the McDowell Mountain range.
Tom’s Thumb and East End. This trailhead was the first to be established on the northern part of the McDowell Mountains. It gives hikers access to highlights like Mesquite Canyon, Windgate Overlook, Sven Slab, Gardener’s Wall, and the Windmill Trail.
Things to do
- Go on a steward-led hike and admire the beauty of the desert. The Conservancy’s private guided interpretive hikes of the Preserve can be done in small and large groups. Stewards will guide you safely through the trails and discuss all cacti, blooms, and migratory birds you encounter along the way.
- The abundance of wildlife makes it ideal for birdwatching. Here you’ll find as many as 100 species of birds, from the common raven to the red-tailed hawk. They’re most active in the mornings and evenings, so come as soon as the gates open. For a complete list of birds that can be seen in the Preserve, click here.
- Go on a self-guided wildflower hike. Roam the Preserve and identify the colorful blooms you find on the trails. Wildflowers in various colors and sizes can be found here, including the Mexican gold poppy and owl’s clover. Helpful identification guides can be purchased at the Conservancy and at the Preserve’s trailheads.
- Learn more about the Sonoran Desert by joining classes on Ecology, Desert Surfaces, and the Human History of the McDowells. The Conservancy also organizes camping trips for adults, where you can participate in guided hiking trips and presentations by desert experts.
- If you’re into trail running, you’ll find narrow single-track trails that are ideal for those who need a good cardio. The Preserve’s steep climbs and fast descents are also perfect for mountain biking.
- It’s an excellent spot for horseback riding and rock climbing. Most of the trails are open for equestrian use, while climbers follow a prescribed rock-climbing plan that complies with park regulations.
For more information on the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, visit their website.