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An Insider's Hiking and Photography Guide from a Scottsdale Native
Jul 16, 2019
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An Insider's Hiking and Photography Guide from a Scottsdale Native
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An Insider's Hiking and Photography Guide from a Scottsdale Native

I can promise, you won't want to spend your upcoming trip to Scottsdale entirely indoors.
I consider myself extremely lucky to live in the heart of the majestic Sonoran Desert. As an Arizona native, over the years I have been on my fair share of hiking trails. No matter where your skill level may currently be, there's an endless list of beautiful paths perfect for hikers and desert photographers alike. It's nearly impossible to find a trail on any of the below Preserves mentioned that you won't end up falling in love with.
One of the best things about living in Arizona are the sunsets, and there is no better place to witness such a marvelous end to the day than sitting on a mountain top. The colorful painted sky, view of the surrounding city and the peaceful quiet of nature are the perfect mix to end any day.
I began working at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in 2015, and one of the many assets that drew me to this property were the stunning views of all of my favorite mountain tops. Over the past 10 years, I've spent a good majority of my free time hiking and running various trails in the Scottsdale and Phoenix area. Whether participating in cross country, Ragnar Trail relays or just getting out in nature with my loved ones, these mountains have become my playground.  
I invite you to walk in some of my favorite footsteps for an outdoor adventure, and hope to help you in capturing a moment you'll want to revisit for years to come!

Best Hiking Near the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

MCDOWELL SONORAN PRESERVE

With more than 30,500 acres and over 200 miles of sightseeing trails, the Preserve stays open sunrise to sunset with onsite parking free of charge.
Bringing your furry friend along with you to explore? Not to worry, all of the McDowell Mountain trails are open for your four legged companion to join in on the fun. Just be sure to pack enough water for both of you.

Kovach Family Nature Trail

The majority of this short and laidback trail floor is stabilized granite complete with a few concrete sections, providing the perfect walk for families of all ages and abilities looking to explore the outdoors. Along your journey, you'll find fun informative signs featuring unique plants and animals who call the Sonoran Desert home.
Difficulty: EasyDistance: 0.6 milesElevation Change: 0 feet

Gateway Loop Trail

This can be a great family trail for kids with hiking experience, keeping in mind this trail is lengthy. Blanketed with gorgeous wildflowers during spring, you're likely to spot wildlife yearlong on this trail. Keep your eyes open for viewpoints throughout the hike, as most of the breathtaking views of Scottsdale can be found during the ascent. The saddle viewpoint at the top provides for a nice flat resting point before making the journey back down.
Difficulty: ModerateDistance: 4.5 milesElevation Change: 715 feet

Tom's Thumb Lookout Viewpoint

A challenging out and back hike, this trail will be steep with loose gravel throughout. Filled with narrow and rocky pathways, the lookout at the top makes the difficult trek up worth it. The top of Tom's Thumb is hands down the best viewpoint in the McDowell Mountains. Be sure to bring plenty of water, and don't forget to take notice of the gorgeous granite landscape on your climb.
Difficulty: DifficultDistance: 5.1 milesElevation Change: 1,374 feet

PIESTEWA PEAK

A favorite Preserve for a handful of Arizona hikers, this trek is known to have a lot of foot traffic. Being mindful of your fellow hikers, you won't want to miss the sights from the top.

Summit Trail

A quick but strenuous out and back trail. This path is steep with a jagged rock landscape. You'll wind through multiple switchbacks and some modified steps to help you reach a rewarding 360 degree view of the Phoenix metropolitan area. If you have flashlights or headlamps to bring with you, you can catch one of the most beautiful views of our infamous Arizona sunsets from the top before descending back down.
Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult Distance: 1.2 milesElevation Change: 1,151 feet

CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN

Find some unbeatable views from the top of this mountain, but keep in mind your limits! The trails on this mountain have a much higher level of difficulty than the others listed above. Whether taking Cholla or Echo Canyon trail, I would advise even advanced hikers to proceed with caution. Open sunrise to sunset, note that dogs are not allowed on these trails.

Cholla Trail

Looking for those famous Arizonan awe-inspiring views? The saying is true, nothing worth it is ever easy and you'll have to be willing to put in some work to get there. I recommend steering clear of this trail if you're afraid of heights. Your shoe traction will be your best friend on this trail, as there will be areas with loose gravel. Plan between 2 and 3 hours for completion, but be sure to allot extra time for pictures of the phenomenal views you'll catch along the way.
Difficulty: DifficultDistance: 2.6 milesElevation Change: 1,161 feet

Echo Canyon Trail

Intense and difficult, a dirt path leads you up to a steep 1.25 mile climb to get to the summit. Prepare for an adventure climbing over large boulders, this out and back trip will take between 2 and 3 hours. As this has become a very popular Arizona hike, I recommend trying this one during the weekdays.
Difficulty: DifficultDistance: 2.4 milesElevation Change: 1,423 feet

Desert Photography Tips

A broad stretch of land and sky complete with spectacular mountain views, the Sonoran Desert is filled with rich imagery. When capturing this majestic scenery, don't be afraid to think outside the box while still using the common rule of thirds in your photography. Make a Cholla Cactus your focal point, and show the mountains off in the distance to provide an alluring sense of depth. Tell a story with your images, capturing your footprints in the shot. Let the natural layers of the landscape flow all the way through your photo from start to finish. Keep your eye out for textures, and use the lighting of the sun to your advantage. There are plenty of vibrant colors to play with during any time of day. As always, don't forget to look after your camera and be wary of dust to avoid a scratched lens. Secret tip, don't forget to capture our famous Saguaro in silhouette form with a soft sky glow just after a sunset.
Stay safe out there! Three things to always remember-be on the lookout for wildlife, watch the weather and always be sure to pack extra water.
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