Bell Pass - Windgate Pass Loop, McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead, Phoenix - Scottsdale - Mesa, Arizona

Bell Pass - Windgate Pass Loop - 9.6 miles

McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead

Prickly Pear cacti grows in large stands near Bell Pass

Prickly Pear cacti grows in large stands near Bell Pass

Round-Trip Length: 9.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 1,709' - 1,709' (3,178' max elevation at Bell Pass)
Elevation Change: +0 net elevation change (2,134' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Bell Pass - Windgate Pass Loop - 9.6 Miles Round-Trip

Bell Pass is located 3.5 miles from the Gateway Trailhead between McDowell Peak (3,995’) and Thompson Peak (3,969’) in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This moderately-strenuous trail rises gently in a lush bajada before climbing steeply to the pass.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Bell Pass offers a comparable experience to Windgate Pass, but is shorter with more elevation gain. Visitors will enjoy diverse vegetation and great views along the Bell Pass Trail:

The Gateway Trail moves quickly to the Gateway Loop split (.4 miles : 1,782’) and bends SE on mild grades up the bajada. It passes the 104th Street, Crossover and Paradise trails en route to the Gateway Loop – Bell Pass Trail split at the base of the foothills (1.5 miles : 2,008’).

The Bell Pass Trail moderates for the next .5 miles in the upper bajada before curling northeast up the canyon below Thompson Peak (2.0 miles : 2,143').

The trail climbs steeply for the next 1.5 miles on switchbacks to Bell Pass (3.5 miles : 3,178').

Bell Pass is a small, open saddle with views that extend east over McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the Four Peaks Wilderness and Superstition Mountains. Weavers Needle is clearly identifiable along the mountainous horizon.

The Bell Pass Trail continues on a mild downhill grade along the backside of McDowell Mountain to the Prospector Trail split (4.0 miles : 2,900'). Views of the Superstition Mountains, Four Peaks Wilderness Area and McDowell Mountain Regional Park are excellent. 

The Bell Pass Trail continues north and drops in elevation, crossing densely vegetated bajadas for .9 miles until it dead ends into the Windgate Trail (4.9 miles : 2,580'). Turn Left (west) onto the Windgate Trail to begin the relatively steep and exposed ascent to Windgate Pass.

Upon reaching Windgate Pass (5.8 miles : 3,016'), visitors are again rewarded with sweeping views to the east and west. The sparsely vegetated pass spans a broad saddle between McDowell Peak (3.995') and The Lookout (3,858').

The Windgate Trail drops from the pass undulating through heavy concentrations of basalt boulders, strewn across the area by volcanic activity during the Tertiary period.

The trail becomes step and rocky as it passes by the intersections for Inspiration Point, the Desert Park Trail and the Gateway Trail before completely  leveling out near the Horseshoe Trail Split and returning to the Gateway Trailhead. 

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N33 38.962 W111 51.497 — 0.0 Miles: Gateway Trailhead
  • N33 38.959 W111 51.125 — 0.4 Miles: Turn right onto Gateway Trail
  • N33 38.861 W111 51.091 — 0.55 Miles: 104th Street Trail Intersection
  • N33 38.705 W111 50.882 — 0.85 Miles: Crossover Trail Intersection
  • N33 38.771 W111 50.419 — 1.35 Miles: Paradise Trail Intersection
  • N33 38.817 W111 50.216 — 1.5 Miles: Turn right onto Bell Pass Trail (leave Gateway Trail)
  • N33 38.803 W111 49.771 — 2.0 Miles: Steep ascent towards Bell Pass
  • N33 38.962 W111 49.403 — 2.5 Miles: Switchbacking up canyon towards Bell Pass
  • N33 39.142 W111 49.032 — 3.0 Miles: Bell Pass now visible, 0.5 miles and 500' remain
  • N33 39.299 W111 48.805 — 3.5 Miles: Bell Pass - 3,178'
  • N33 39.475 W111 48.490 — 4.0 miles: Cross Prospector Trail Intersection
  • N33 39.891 W111 48.089 — 4.9 miles: Turn left onto Windgate Trail
  • N33 40.072 W111 48.876 — 5.8 miles: Windgate Pass (3,016')
  • N33 40.001 W111 49.396 — 6.4 miles: Large basalt outcrop with great views
  • N33 40.076 W111 49.672 — 6.75 miles: Split to Inspiration Point
  • N33 39.963 W111 50.097 — 7.35 miles: Cross Desert Park Trail split
  • N33 39.548 W111 50.365 — 8.0 miles: Cross Gateway Trail split
  • N33 39.114 W111 51.091 — 9.0 miles: Cross Horseshoe Trail Split
  • N33 38.962 W111 51.420 — 9.6 miles: Back at Gateway Trailhead - End Trail

Worth Noting

  • There is no fee to enter the preserve.
  • This is a popular trailhead that sees heavy use, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
  • The Gateway Trailhead is a popular launch pad for Mountain Bikers who can access trails in McDowell Mountain Regional Park and Fountain Hills from Windgate Pass and Bell Pass.

Camping and Backpacking Information

No camping allowed - the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is day-use only.

Fishing Information

No fishing is available at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Rules and Regulations

  • Preserve users must remain on designated and posted trails to prevent damage to flora and fauna.
  • No camping in the Preserve.
  • No fires and no smoking in the Preserve.
  • Plant material (dead or alive); sand, gravel, rocks or soil; and any item of archaeological significance, may not be removed from the Preserve.
  • The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve is open for archery hunting.  Hunting with firearms is prohibited.  Rules and regulations for hunting are established by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.  For information, visit:
  • Dogs must remain on a leash at all times in the Preserve, and on established trails (just like their owners!).   Animal waste must be picked up and disposed of in a trash receptacle.

Directions to Trailhead

The Gateway Trailhead is located off of Thompson Peak Parkway in Scottsdale, AZ.

From Highway 101, exit on Bell Road (#14) 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


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