Hidden in the Arizona desert near Scottsdale is the largest urban preserve in the U.S. For some, it’s a second backyard while for others it’s a world waiting to be explored.
Spanning across Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountains and surrounding area, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve offers 35,000 protected acres of beautiful desert landscape, where visitors can immerse themselves in the natural wonders of towering cacti, native wildflowers and plants, blue skies and wildlife that call the preserve home.
Volunteers of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy have worked with the city of Scottsdale to expand the preserve from a 200-acre green space to the largest U.S. urban preserve, which is currently 36 times larger than the size of New York City’s Central Park.
Nicknamed the “People’s Preserve,” the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is home to an abundance of outdoor activities, including trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as opportunities for rock climbing and camping. There are over 225 miles of shared-use trails that visitors can explore on their own, however the preserve also offers guided hikes and biking excursions that provide a deeper background into its history and landscape.
Visitors can also attend many lectures at the preserve, which talk about the history of the McDowell mountains, the impact that urbanization and preservation activities have had on the natural area, as well as hacks for surviving in the desert.
About 1 million people visit the McDowell Sonoran Preserve each year. While there is always something to see at the preserve, the best time to get out and explore its natural landscape is in the late fall and early spring when temperatures range between low and mid-70 degrees. Visitors can take advantage of the lovely weather, as well as the many educational hikes, wildlife walks, and other activities that the preserve offers.
For more information and resources, including a list of guided hikes being offered, a detailed map of the trail system and how you can help support the preserve, visit mcdowellsonoran.org.