Hiking Arizona: Bell Pass-Windgate Loop in Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve


I try to do 2 -3 hikes in the moderate to difficult range every week totaling 12 – 15+ weekly miles. Truth be told, I am not always consistent. In fact, I only hiked one day last week. Yesterday a few of my friends were meeting at the Gateway Trailhead in the Scottsdale McDowell Mountain Preserve to do a 9.6 mile loop hike. For the most part, I really do not like the long hikes, but I wanted to get some miles in this week. The plan was to meet them to hike out to the Bell Pass Scenic Overlook, a pretty tough 3.6 mile uphill hike, then I would turn around and return to the trailhead for a respectable 7.2 mile hike and they would continue on from there to complete the rest of the loop.

True to form, I arrived late so I started out hiking on my own. I caught up and hiked with them for a while, then returned to a brisk pace and hiked by myself until I reached the Bell Pass Scenic Overlook. I was feeling pretty good when I got there. It was perfect hiking weather, right around 70 degrees, so after a 20 minute break I decided to continue on and do the full loop hike.

The hike begins on the Saquaro Trail. This trail is rated easy and is basically flat with only a 55 ft elevation gain. Approximately .4 miles in you come to an intersection for the Gateway Loop Trail, turn right. This trail is rated difficult, but the section you will be hiking on is not hard at all. Continue on for 1.2 miles until you will come to an intersection with a sign for the Bell Pass Trail, turn right. The Bell Pass trail is 3.2 miles, rated difficult with a 1202 ft elevation gain. The scenic overlook is 2 miles from the beginning of the trail. This trail starts off fairly easy as well. The incline will be gradual at first. As you are hiking along you will probably think “Difficult? Nah, this is a piece of cake”.

Hiking the Bell Pass Trail

Hiking the Bell Pass Trail

Hiking the Bell Pass Trail

Don’t be deceived. The trail will continue to gain elevation and will get steeper and steeper. As you keep pressing on your heart will be beating faster and faster, your breathing will become labored, and your legs will be burning with pain. You probably will want to give up. Don’t do it! The views are breathtakingly amazing and totally worth it, I promise.

Bell Pass Scenic Overlook

View from the Bell Pass Scenic Overlook

View from the Bell Pass Scenic Overlook

View from the Bell Pass Scenic Overlook

View from the Bell Pass Scenic Overlook

See, it was totally worth it, right? The Bell Pass Scenic Overlook is a great place to stop to rest and decide whether you want to turn around and go back the way you came or continue hiking another 6 miles to complete the loop. Be aware that if decide to continue hiking from this point there is no shortcut to get back to the trailhead. 

The Fountain Hills fountain can be seen from the Bell Pass Trail 

If you make the decision to keep going from there, you will be traveling downhill for 1.3 miles to the end of the Bell Pass Trail. Once you have reached this point the loop is halfway complete. You will turn left here and begin on the Windgate Pass Trail. The Windgate Pass Trail is 3.1 miles rated difficult with a 858 elevation gain. In comparison to the Bell Pass Trail, it really is not difficult at all.  Most of the elevation gain is in the first .9 mile. When you get to this point you have arrived at the second overlook at Windgate Pass.

Windgate Pass

View from Windgate Pass 

After hiking another .9 miles on the Windgate Pass Trail you will come to a sign for the third and final scenic overlook, Inspiration Point. You can take the trail up the hill to the overlook where you will find a bench to stop and rest again and take in the views, or you can continue going straight. Great news…from Inspiration Point there are only 2.9 miles remaining and it is all downhill!!

Inspiration Viewpoint

View going down the Windgate Pass Trail

1.3 miles after the Inspiration Point sign you will come to another sign marking the intersection for the Gateway Loop Trail. DO NOT turn left (unless you want to add a few more miles) keep going straight 1.2 miles, then turn on to the Saquaro Trail for the final .4 miles to the trailhead.

YAY, you made it!! Be sure to take a minute to pat yourself on the back for completing this very difficult hike!!

To get there: Take Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd to Thompson Peak Parkway. Just north of Bell Road you will see a sign for the entrance. The actual street name to turn on is Carla Way even though the physical address for the trailhead is 18333 Thompson Peak Pkwy. Follow Carla Way to the parking lot. The are maps, restrooms, and a water fountain at the trailhead.

DISTANCE: 9.6 miles
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: approximately 2,176 feet.
RATING: Difficult. This hike is NOT recommended for beginning hikers.
DURATION: 3.75 – 5 hours, depending on how fast you hike
TRAIL STYLE: Lollipop loop
DOGS: Yes, if leashed
FACILITIES: Bathrooms and water fountain at the trailhead
2-3 Liters of water, plenty of snacks, and a camera

This entry is cross posted on Phoenix NE Valley: Real Estate, Lifestyle & Living



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About the Author
Michele Guss

Michele Guss is a REALTOR with Realty ONE Group, serving the Phoenix East Valley. Originally from Washington, D.C. (and still loves her Redskins!), now an AZ girl and an avid hiker. When she is not providing world-class service to her real estate clients she can often be found hiking, climbing and crawling over, on and through trails in Arizona's mountains and deserts.

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