Bicycle Culture

Cycle: Cruising the Scottsdale Greenbelt

For the majority of the mid-twentieth century, the City of Scottsdale was bisected by floods that channeled along the Indian Bend wash. What were called the 99-year floods became almost annual occurrences throughout the 1970s.

But the landscape changed when Scottsdale residents and the Army Corps of Engineers put their heads together to envision a cool, 15-mile stretch of multiuse pathway that links four parks and Tempe to North Scottsdale.

Be warned: this path is not for everyone. The route's ultra-slick surfaces and high traffic of walkers, runner, rollerbladers and what-have-you make this an ideal ride for the casual or recreational cyclist but completely inappropriate for anyone looking to blaze a workout.

The wash was originally designed to be a large concrete canal akin to the Los Angeles River to direct storm floodwaters south to the Salt River bed, now Tempe Town Lake. Instead an alternate plan of grass ways in the form of public parks, a string of public/private golf courses and connecting bridges was approved by residents and constructed between 1976 to 1980.

As part of the wash reconstruction, the Greenbelt and Pima multiuse paths were put in to link central Scottsdale to McCormick Ranch, later extending south to the Tempe Town Lake project and north to booming North Scottsdale developments. The pathway is not as uninterrupted or long as the Arizona Canal pathway through Phoenix, but its lush surroundings, twisty pathways and easy access to tasty break spots make it one of the Valley's iconic relaxing rides.

To take full advantage of the entire route, start your ride at Tempe Beach Park near the Tempe Center for the Arts. Access is easy either from the Mill Avenue light rail station or the TCA parking lots. Cross the lake by way of the newly opened Pedestrian Bridge and head northeast along the lakeside path, wrapping around the marina.

The path turns north once under the 202, immediately rolling past a nature habitat and rest area. Continue north, keeping an eye out for points where the path makes sudden bends to access tunnel underpasses below major roads such as Curry, McKellips, McDowell, Thomas and Indian School. Be careful entering and riding through these underpasses as they are unlit and can fill with sand and dirt from storms.

The path will split at McKellips Lake. Either direction is fine as the pathway reconnects and then splits again at Vista Del Camino Park. When in doubt, stay left. Vista Del Camino Park quickly transitions into El Dorado Park at McDowell Road, marked by a skate park that is often home to some of Scottsdale's best BMX trick and trials riders. Take the path to the right of the skate park and continue heading north past playgrounds and football fields.

The chain of parks ends at Murray Lane, turning into a chain of golf courses. The lone overpass for the entire ride comes at Osborn. It's a sneaky steep bridge so either gear up or build your momentum to get up and over it.

Midway between Osborn and Indian School Road is a little bend with an access path the runs between some park-side condos. Be very careful through this bend as the path is super slick and the concrete sticks up at a few seems. This is an easy spot to lose a tire and some leg skin.

The underpass for Indian School Road is also the gateway to Indian School Park, the cornerstone public recreational facility of the greenbelt project. Stay left around the lake and follow to an access tunnel that runs below Hayden Road to the main park.

At this point there are three options: go right through the underpass and take the newest section of pathway on the east side of Hayden, go straight and continue along the west side of Hayden, or go left and cut through the neighborhood to grab a mid-ride treat at Scratch Pastries in the Miller Plaza.

The next main spot along the path is Chaparral Park. Cyclists have to cross Hayden and/or Chaparral Roads regardless to get across and both are busy traffic ways so be mindful of those turning right with cell phones in their ears.

Once through the park, cross Hayden at the light Jackrabbit Road and continue winding north along the path towards McCormick Ranch. The path will bend right through another golf course back towards Hayden. Follow the path to the left along Hayden, across Indian Bend Road to McCormick Parkway and go left to where the path again splits from the sidewalk along another manmade lake.

The path meanders north-ish past lakes and fountains through McCormick Ranch and back to Hayden before cutting underneath Hayden for the final stretch to Shea Boulevard. This stretch of the path is known as Pima Path and runs below the residential ground level, under the 101 loop through the Scottsdale Healthcare Shea campus.

The path runs under Shea and then winds around one last strip mall before going under 92nd Street and rising to its end. Feel free to take in a glimpse of the McDowell Mountains before turning around to head back to Tempe. Tucked within that strip mall just next to the path is a Sweet Republic Ice Cream shop for that last sugar and carb jolt to get you back with a giddy smile.

Trip Distance: 30 miles (15 each way)
Trip Duration: 2-3 easy riding hours
Difficulty: Easy, but beware of super slick curves and lots of others on the pathways.
Route Map:

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Jason Franz
Contact: Jason Franz