Not all Phoenix fun comes with dim lighting and fancy cocktails. Sometimes, there's nothing better than endorphins, sunshine, and sweat. Lover of all things outdoors, The Outsider explores the more natural side of Phoenix.
In a city that insists on getting longer instead of taller, preserved land is a precious commodity. The McDowell Mountain Sonoran Preserve is one of the few places in metro Phoenix that remains undeveloped and -- minus a few footprints -- in its original state.
TheGateway trail head
is at the corner of Bell Road and Thompson Peak Parkway.
The Gateway Access Area is the central starting points for dozens of trails. The armada entrance has a map, bathroom, shade and water fountains where visitors can plan, prepare and recuperate. We decided to try the Gateway Access Loop -- a 3.6 mile rocky, loop.
Free! Just takes the gas to get you there.
Wear your running shoes and bring some water.
In case you haven't noticed, the McDowell Mountain Reserve is built around the McDowell Mountain (i.e. all trails lead up some kind of mountain). On most of these trails you'll be running on an incline, which can be difficult.
Running up this large, hilly mass has some serious quad burning potential. Lucky for us, the Gateway Loop is rated "easy" (NOTE: if you're taking into consideration that this is a mountain, then this trail is easy). Still, we took it at an easy 9:40 min/mile pace and ended up panting -- loudly.
Phoenix isn't well-known for its natural scenery. Sedona is; Tucson is; Shoot, even Flagstaff is. But Phoenix is often overlooked. There are some places in the metro Phoenix area that are worth a second glance and the McDowell Mountain Sonoran preserve is one of them.
The Gateway Pass Loops features prickly pears, jumping cholla, bushes, and boulders. It's a great place to really experience some desert vegetation, and you're almost guaranteed to see a lizard or two. As the trail continues to incline and the starting point starts to look like a gingerbread house, the view becomes increasingly more breathtaking -- not I'm-on-top-of-the-world type breathtaking -- but more like wow-that's-a lot-of-mountain type breathtaking.
Ups and Downs:
Besides the challenge of maneuvering loose boulders and rock, the trail isn't very technical which makes it very enjoyable and a good starting point for any runner. The incline gets a little rough in the middle, but it's doable for most fitness levels. There's a lot of jumping cholla so if you bring a furry friend, be sure to keep him leashed and close-by.
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Our only complaint is the gaggle of 40-something-year-old women who refuse to share the trail with anyone but their wiener dogs. If you're looking for a peaceful, more romantic experience, start running early and run on a weekday.