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

Gateway Loop - 4.4 miles

McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Gateway Trailhead

The Gateway Loop

The Gateway Loop

Round-Trip Length: 4.4 miles
Start-End Elevation: 1,715' - 2,367' (max elevation)
Elevation Change: +652 net elevation gain (+745' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Gateway Loop - 4.4 Miles Round-Trip

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is located in a transition zone to the Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran Desert, an ecotone with higher annual rainfall (up to 12.5”) than nearby parks such as South Mountain, Camelback Mountain and Squaw Peak. This additional rainfall contributes to the Preserve’s unique diversity and lushness.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Large bajadas extend from the McDowell range into the Phoenix Valley, which form as loose soil and rock are washed down from the mountains and pile up at their base.

These loosely pack, well-drained soils create ideal growing conditions for many Sonoran plants, whose roots are typically shallow but radiate far from the plant to capture percolating rain water.

Saguaro, barrel cactus, cholla, ocotillo, palo verde and mesquite are primary constituents that thrive across the Preserve. Resident wildlife includes rabbit, deer, javelina, quail, roadrunner, raptors and snakes.

The Gateway Loop Trail explores the bajadas and foothills of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This popular route offers a compact introduction to Sonoran desert ecology with route extensions to Bell Pass and Windgate Pass:

The trail rises gently on a wide, groomed path to the Gateway Loop split (.4 miles : 1,782’). Turn right towards Bell Pass for counter-clockwise travel, and generally better light.

The Gateway Trail bends SE on mild grades through the bajada to the Gateway Loop – Bell Pass Trail split at the base of the foothills (1.5 miles : 2,008’).

The Gateway Trail turns uphill on a steep, winding climb to Gateway Saddle (2.3 miles : 2,367’), which spans a ridge separating the two sides of the loop.

The trail tilts sharply downhill on a rugged, twisting path to the Gateway – Windgate Pass Trail split (2.8 miles : 2,158’). It continues on a rolling descent above a wide, shallow canyon to complete the loop (4.0 miles). Retrace your steps back to the trailhead (4.4 miles).

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N33 38.964 W111 51.499 — 0.0 miles : Gateway Trailhead
  • N33 38.959 W111 51.126 — .4 miles : Gateway Loop split
  • N33 38.772 W111 50.420 — 1.3 miles : Paradise Trail split
  • N33 38.817 W111 50.214 — 1.5 miles : Gateway Loop - Bell Pass Trail split
  • N33 39.036 W111 50.002 — 1.9 miles : Steep, twisting climb to saddle
  • N33 39.269 W111 50.110 — 2.3 miles : Gateway Saddle (2,367')
  • N33 39.548 W111 50.371 — 2.8 miles : Gateway Loop - Windgate Pass Trail split
  • N33 39.296 W111 50.760 — 3.35 miles : Rolling travel in the upper bajada
  • N33 39.112 W111 51.090 — 3.8 miles : Horseshoe Trail split
  • N33 38.956 W111 51.124 — 4.0 miles : Complete Loop
  • N33 38.960 W111 51.490 — 4.4 miles : Gateway Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • The Gateway Trailhead sees heavy traffic, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
  • South Mountain, Camelback Mountain and Squaw Peak are in the Lower Colorado River Valley, the most arid subdivision of the Sonoran Desert (7.5 – 9.5” of annual rain). These parks support less diverse and abundant plant communities.
  • Those with time should consider the paved nature loop at the trailhead, which offers useful information on the area’s wildlife, ecology and natural features.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be on a hand held leash at all times.

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

Trip Reports

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