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Wednesday, January 4, 2017



McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Windgate Pass
In the highly competitive, (oft embellished) sphere of hiking lore, there are precisely two loop circuits in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve that have earned the title of “epic”.  They are the Tom’s Thumb-East End-Bell Pass Loop and the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop. Both are beautiful. Both will kick your butt. Before tackling the 13-mile, 2,205-foot Tom’s Thumb slog, you might want to do a warm up trek on the later. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the “measly” 1,484 feet from the circuit’s base to its highest point bellies the fact that the mountain’s dips and dives reclaim much of what you gain, multiple times. There’s a 600-foot loss between the two passes alone.  These two ambitious circuits are staples on the training programs of hikers preparing for Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trips or long distance hauls on the Arizona Trail.  
Bell Pass
Whether you have eyes on bigger prizes or are just looking for a challenging day hike, the Windgate-Bell Pass Loop satisfies both the urge for a good workout and the desire to wander among the scenic wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The hike begins at the famously busy Gateway Trailhead. A brief walk over a metal bridge leads to the first leg of the circuit which follows one of the preserve’s most popular routes: Gateway Loop. Beyond this 1.6-mile segment, the crowds begin to thin out where Bell Pass Trail veers off and heads uphill. From this point, a relentless series of ups-and-downs through cholla and ocotillo tops out at Bell Pass.
Sonoran Desert beauty
In the shadow of 3,969-foot Thompson Peak, the breezy pass showcases views of Four Peaks, the Verde River, the town of Fountain Hills and an overview of the route snaking through a valley below. This mile-long descent ends at the Windgate Pass Trail where you’ll turn left and earn back all the lost elevation to reach another wide saddle with equally gorgeous vistas.  With the major climbing complete, head down the opposite side of the pass knowing that it’s mostly a downhill trudge.

From the trailhead, follow the main access path and Saguaro Trail 0.4 mile to the Gateway Loop junction. Head right and follow Gateway Loop 1.2 miles, connect with Bell Pass Trail and hike 2 miles to the scenic mountain pass. From here, continue 1.3 miles and veer left onto Windgate Pass Trail and climb 0.9 mile up to the pass. Next, descend 2.5 miles to the Gateway Loop junction and follow the signs back to the trailhead.
LENGTH: 9.6-mile loop
RATING: difficult
ELEVATION:  1,720’ – 3,204’
Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Rd. Scottsdale, 85255.
City of Scottsdale:
McDowell Sonoran Conservancy:

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