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Gateway Loop Trail Overview

The Gateway Trailhead is one access point into the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy in Scottsdale and is my favorite “Gateway” into the treasure trove of great trails and vistas in the McDowell Mountains. The Gateway Trailhead provides great accessibility for a quick hike or trail run at the end of the workday (and is a great alternative to the super-populated Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak). Although the Gateway Loop Trail is the most often traveled trail from this trailhead, there are many other shorter trails that originate at the same place that are appropriate for all ages and ability levels (including the handicap accessible Bajada Nature Trail). For the more adventurous, it is possible to reach Sunrise Peak (19 miles round trip), Thompson Peak (14.6 miles round trip), and Tom’s Thumb (11.6 miles round trip) from the Gateway Trailhead, although there are certainly closer trailheads to each of those respective destinations!


The Gateway Loop Trail is 4.5 miles long and has 650 feet of elevation gain, which makes for a great moderate hike. The pin on the below map marks the trailhead parking area.

The Conservancy’s trailheads and all trails within its boundaries are open from sunrise to sunset. Plan accordingly for getting your vehicle in and out of the trailhead parking area (there are 320 parking spaces plus 12 parking spaces for equestrian trailers). I have OCD tendencies and typically complete the loop trail in the clockwise direction, but depending on timing for the hike, sometimes I switch it up to maximize sunrise/sunset views or to minimize the sun being directly in my eyes.

Remember that pedestrians and cyclists both yield to horses and cyclists yield to pedestrians!

Gear and Gadgets

You can get by with minimal gear on this hike, assuming you are just doing the loop. A “light” version of my Day Trip Gear Guide recommendations will be fine. If setting out from the Gateway Trailhead for Sunrise Peak, Thompson Peak (7.3 miles one way from Gateway Trailhead), or Tom’s Thumb, tend towards the full version of my Day Trip Gear Guide recommendations. Either way, be sure to bring plenty of water! In the winter months, sometimes I get by without bringing any along for the Gateway Loop Trail, but in the summer I always bring at LEAST one liter along pending time of day.

Further Reading

Leave No Trace Principles

Outdoors and Wilderness First Aid

McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Website

McDowell Mountain Sonoran Preserve – South Map