Gateway Loop Trail

The Gateway Loop Trail- A BEAUTIFUL Scottsdale Hike

Conveniently located in Scottsdale near all the city has to offer is the Gateway Loop Trail. This trail is a moderate hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve perfect for visitors and local hikers looking to get out and experience some mountain views.

The Gateway Loop will lead you up a moderate climb, over to a saddle with distant views of the city, then back down and around to the trailhead. Along the way you’ll get to witness plenty of desert vegetation and most likely a furry friend or two since it is very popular among pet owners.

This guide covers all of the Gateway Loop trail details, the best time to hike, and more trail options located in and around Scottsdale. After reading you’ll understand why this trail is one of the best hiking trails in Scottsdale!

Gateway Loop Trail Stats

Hiking Distance | 4.30 miles
Difficulty | Moderate
Elevation Gain | 622 feet
Total Time | 1.5-2 hours
Permits/Fees | Only for groups, photography, and special uses- see more below.
Trailhead | Gateway Trailhead
Dogs Allowed |
Yes, dog friendly.

About McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Entry Fee | Free entry!
Hours | Sunrise to sunset.
Permits/Fees | Special Use Permits are required for group hikes/rides, professional photography, events, etc. Visit this website for more info.
Dogs Allowed | Yes, the park is dog friendly.
Camping | None allowed.
Activities | Hiking, trail running, biking, and horseback riding.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve covers roughly 36,400 acres of protected desert habitats and holds a network of different trails within it for public use. These trails are non-motorized and can be used by hikers, trail runners, bikers, and equestrian riders. The trails within provide great desert mountain views and experiences!

The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and operating hours will depend on the time of year. I suggest checking the sunrise and sunset times online before your visit since the trail is gated off. If you arrive too early you won’t be able to get in and if you end your hike too late you may be locked in!

If you want to shoot any professional photography or videography a Special Use Permit is required. Same goes for any large group hikes/bikes, guided tours, and events.

Dogs are allowed in the park but strict guidelines are put in place for pet owners. They are mostly for the safety of the dog, so I whole heartedly agree with them! Besides the typical trail guidelines like packing out their poo, the preserve does not allow dogs on the trail if it is 90 degrees or hotter. I never take my dog, Monty, out hiking if it is 85 degrees or more and suggest this as a rule of thumb!

Map of my tracked Gateway Loop Trail hike.

Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app like Gaia GPS.

You can download my Gateway Loop Trail hike and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your trusty device for ease of mind!

Gateway Loop Trail and sunrise.
Sunrise at the beginning of Gateway Loop Trail.

When To Hike Gateway Loop Trailhead

Hiking in Scottsdale is safest and most comfortable during the months of November-April. The temperatures will be favorable and you don’t have to get a super early start if you don’t want to. Hiking outside of these months can be dangerous due to the high temperatures. The desert heat and sun are no joke! I don’t suggest hiking during the summer months, but if you must then I encourage you to begin right at sunrise and make it quick.

Luckily the Gateway Trailhead is stunning during sunrise. You can time your hike right as the sun is peaking over the mountains and capture the beautiful lighting and sun rays. My photo (pictured above) was taken right at the beginning of the trail!

If you choose to hike during the summer your dog should not be accompanying you!

New to hiking? Check out my Hiking For Beginners guide to brush up on some skills!

Gateway Loop Trailhead.
Gateway Loop Trailhead

Hiking Gateway Loop Trail

Your hike will begin at the Gateway Trailhead which is extremely easy to find. Map your directions from here and your GPS will lead you directly to the large parking lot.

You’ll walk under a shaded structure with restrooms and a water fountain. Just beyond this area you’ll pass over a metal bridge which marks the beginning of the hike. This location is a great photo op if you time it for sunrise because you can catch the sun rising behind the mountains!

Once past the metal bridge you’ll continue to hike along a well maintained path that is covered with quarter-minus. The pleasant trail don’t last for long, though, for it eventually turns to typical rocky desert.

Which way should you hike the Gateway Loop? Either way you’ll have to climb some elevation, but I think counter-clockwise is a little less elevation gain and easier. If you don’t mind a little more difficult of a hike then choose clockwise!

There are multiple intersections along the Gateway Loop but the McDowell Sonoran Preserve does a great job of placing signs along the way. They list the trails, directions, and distances so it is extremely difficult to get lost here.

At the second intersection you’ll have to decide whether you want to hike clockwise or counter-clockwise. I chose clockwise as I naturally do on loop hikes and continued on.

Not long after you veer clockwise and you’ll begin to gradually climb elevation. It isn’t too difficult but is very rocky so you may want to bring your hiking poles if you typically use them.

Hiking clockwise from the Gateway Saddle.

Just when you may be questioning how much further the incline goes on for, you’ll hike upon another intersection where you’ll turn right, keeping on the Gateway Loop Trail. From here the the trail goes up one more semi-steep incline and then levels out until you begin hiking downhill.

The last bit of the trail that loops and connects to the trailhead is rocky, but easy-going. It could be considered the most boring part of the trail because it is mainly flat and the mountain views grow distant behind you.

I was one of the first on the trail but once I returned back near the trailhead all of the late morning hikers were passing by. It can get pretty busy here, hence another reason why I love being an early bird and one of the first to be on the trail!

View heading towards Gateway Loop Trailhead, hiking clockwise.

Final Thoughts On Gateway Loop Trail

There are several great hikes in Scottsdale but the Gateway Loop Trail is one of my favorite shorter hikes to get out and enjoy the fresh air. It is extremely easy to access, park, and begin hiking. If you didn’t notice- my absolute favorite time to arrive at this trailhead is sunrise. I’m obsessed with the glow of the sun rays behind the mountains!

I like to recommend this hike to anyone visiting Scottsdale or beginner hikers because it isn’t too difficult or long in miles. It can easily be completed within two hours and provides a pleasant experience in the desert mountains.

Of course my dog, Monty, loves this one too! We’ve completed several hikes embarking from the Gateway Trailhead and he’s done very well hiking in this area.

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I’d love to hear from you!

Are you putting Gateway Loop Trail on your itinerary? Or have you hiked it before? Share in the comments below.

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