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Explore / nature / lower elevations

McDowell Park

2 Cool Lizards travel guide

To the NE of Phoenix and just north of Fountain Hills, 21,099 acre McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers picnicking, camping and over 50 miles of multi-use trails that are open to hiking, horseback riding and biking. It is also home to a Pump Track (bicycles). McDowell Park is part of the Maricopa Regional Parks system.

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The drive to McDowell park from north Phoenix was half the fun. McDowell is not as heavily used as some of the parks further into the city of Phoenix, and is definitely worth the drive out to see. One route is through Fountain Hills; another route is from Happy Valley and I-17 over the north end of Phoenix.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Phoenix We took the route out east from Happy Valley, through various turns (see "Directions" below), to Dyamite and out east on Dynamite. This route took us through a mix of old horse ranches and new homes. Wild desert alternated with large, beautiful homes that were nicely tucked in amongst the cacti and other desert plants. The area was dotted with a few strip malls. The area becomes very pretty east of Scottsdale as the city is left behind. This is where the homes really spread out, with lots of natural area between the homes.

Mountains pop up on the horizon just beyond Troon North Golf Club. Eventually, Dynamite becomes Rio Verde Drive, and the road goes through washes, which can flood during rain (such as the summer monsoon). East of 132nd Street, on the north side of the road, is Fraisfield Trail Head, and the "Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve", another beautiful area to explore. Out beyond 154th Street we saw more horse ranches, plus cow crossings. The area became more open and "wild", yet we could see houses tucked into the desert here and there. At 168th street the road starts a decline in elevation and eventually runs out at a "T".

Go right at the "T" onto Forest Road. DO NOT ENTER DURING RAIN was a sign that greeted us. The road dips for washes for approximately 1 mile. It then goes through a beautiful neighborhood with many views of the mountains. Four miles from the beginning of Forest Road is the right turn to McDowell Park Road. DON'T MISS THIS TURN. We missed the turn and went straight ahead. It was onto a dirt road that led onto the Yavapai reservation. We saw beautiful pecan trees and other sights but no park, and had to turn back to the beginning of that road.

McDowell Park Road will curve around to the south. Follow the road to the park entrance. The trip from I-17 and Happy Valley to the park entrance took us spproximately 1 hour (subtracting the extra tour we got of the Yavapai Reservation). By the way, we learned that the pecans and citrus grown on the Yavapai land are wonderful, and are for sale when harvested around the time of November.

nursery tank trail McDowell Park
Nursery Tank Accessible Trail
visitor center McDowell Regional Park
Visitor's Center
McDowell Regional Park
Road in McDowell Park


16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr.
MMRP, AZ 85255
Phone: (480) 471-0173
Fax: (602) 372-8596

Located just NE of the Phoenix area, north of Fountain Hills. From the east loop of Hwy 101, take Shea Blvd exit. Go east on Shea. Turn left (north) on Fountain Hills Blvd. It will take you on a scenic drive through Fountain Hills. Turn right on Palisades to go to Fountain Park or continue north on Fountain Hills Blvd., which will become McDowell Mountain Road. Turn left on McDowell Mountain Park Drive to enter park. Stop at the self serve fee station to pay park fee.

OR from north Phoenix, take Happy Valley Road east, go right (south) on 7th Street, go left (east) on Deer Valley, go left (north) on Cave Creek, then go right (east) on Dynamite. Dynamite turns into Rio Verde Drive. Go Right on Forest Road. Go Right onto McDowell Mtn. Rd and watch for park.

We have travelled both routes and prefer the route out Dynamite because of the interesting terrain seen along the way.

Resources: List of mammals, reptiles, insects and other desert critters Town of Fountain Hills

accessible travel

McDowell Mountain Regional Park women restroom on Thom Thumb Accessibility
Nursery Tank Trail is barrier free (see photo above). An accessible picnic and parking area is located next to the trail. The nearest restroom is accessible, but not large. Most of the restrooms in the park are of the older style. They have accessible stalls, but they are not much wider than regular stalls. Only two miles away is a larger type restroom, on Thom Thumb Drive, for anyone needing extra space, such as space for an assistant. See photo at right. Just north of the Visitor's Center, turn left (west) on Thom Thumb Drive. Go past Rock Nop Loop. Watch on the right for a larger restroom facility (the park is converting over to this type of restroom). The women's side has one regular stall and one larger accessible stall. For even more space, both men and women can use the men's side which has only one large stall (plus a urinal). Neither is lock-up, so if a woman and her assistant are using the men's side, someone might want to keep watch at the door. The ranger suggested the men's side if a person needs assistance due to extra space.

The Visitor's Center has an accessible restroom with larger space, such as the one shown above. It is a 2 stall facility; the accessible stall is large with the toilet positioned in the left hand corner. There is a bar on the back wall and on the wall next to the toilet.

Fountain Park in Fountain Hills has a very nice 2 stall restroom with a large accessible stall. The toilet is in the right corner; a bar is next to the toilet and on the wall behind the toilet.

travel with children Children
Restrooms are provided throughout McDowell Mountain park. Nursery Tank Trail is barrier free, making it a good choice for strollers or baby buggies.

A children's play area, complete with playground equipment, is near Nursery Tank Trail.

Snacks and water can be purchased at the Visitor's Center (check the link below for hours of operation).

The large restroom on Thom Thumb Drive (see Accessible Travel above) has shower facilities and drinking fountains, and is the larger style of restroom, but it does not have a changing table.

A competitive bike track has been built for both competitions and practice. For children and adults.
For more information, watch the video:

Nearby Fountain Park in Fountain Hills has a very nice 2 stall restroom with a large accessible stall that is equipped with a baby changing table. This park also contains a very nice play area.
travel with pets Pets
Dogs must be kept on a 6 foot leash while in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. This is for the pet's protection, as well as that of other trail users and the environment.

Fountain Park in Fountain Hills provides trails for walking leashed dogs, plus doggie bag stations for picking up after your pet.

Drinking fountains for obtaining water are located at the large restroom located on Thom Thumb Drive (see "accessible travel" above.

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