The McDowell Mountains are located just twenty miles from Downtown Phoenix, and for those who want to do more than admire them from afar, they are ideal for recreational pursuits and day trips. McDowell Mountains hiking is especially popular, with horseback riding and mountain biking being other favorable possibilities. There are over 40 miles of trails in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, with the North Trail being ideal for those who are looking for light hiking. The Pemberton Trail can offer a more strenuous experience. There are trails of all grades winding their way over and around the McDowell Mountains, and most are multi-use and open for exploration throughout the year.
The McDowell Mountains rise up on the northeastern side of Scottsdale, separating this upscale city and tourist destination from the smaller city of Fountain Hills. The Scottsdale side of the chain has been designated as a preserve, and it's where the bulk of the trails can be found. The tallest peak in the McDowell Mountains is the 4300-foot East End Peak, and it is outside of the park boundaries. The peaks that can be found in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park range in elevation from 1,600 to 3,000 feet.
For those who plan on enjoying some time in these picturesque mountains near Phoenix, the park can be reached by way of McDowell Mountain Road, and the drive in is part of the pleasure. This highway is one of the best stretches of road in the region for scenic drives, and it is also popular with cyclists and motorcyclists. Once McDowell Mountain Regional Park visitors pass through the gates, paved roads are in place to connect them to trailheads, picnic sites, and campgrounds.
For anyone interested in doing some McDowell Mountain Park camping, there are two campgrounds to choose from. They include a 76-site campground that boasts barbecue grills, full hookups, and restrooms. The other campground is a wilderness or backcountry campground that is popular with backpackers. McDowell Mountain Park camping is ideal for park visitors that don't want to leave at closing time, and there are sites for larger groups should you be traveling in numbers.
Whether you are enjoying some McDowell Mountains hiking, biking, or horseback riding, stopping for a picnic can always be part of the plan. There are two main picnic areas, and together, they offer more than 80 sites. The picnic facilities include restrooms, playgrounds for the kids, picnic tables, and barbecue grills.
It is worth noting that guides can be hired for anyone who wants a bit more information on their McDowell Mountains hiking trips, and these guides can focus their tours around a variety of topics. Some offer insight into the park's Native American ruins and petroglyphs, while others discuss the flora and fauna. Hiring a guide is required for visits to the archaeological sites, and this helps to protect them from vandalism and theft.
The McDowell Mountain Regional Park is open every day of the year. Gates open at 6 a.m., and while the park closes at 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday visitors currently inside can stick around until 10 p.m. Stargazing is one of the most popular nighttime activities, and anyone who wants to get in touch with their inner Galileo can always hope to enjoy one of the various stargazing events that are held at the park. Other annual events and special activities can also be added to the McDowell Mountain Park itinerary, and they include organized mountain bike races and reptile feeding sessions at the Visitor Center.