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BULLEThiking archive
Hiking Archive Photo
On Lost Dog Wash Trail, teddy bear chollas' spiny branches glow in the sunset, giving them a deceptively soft, fuzzy appearance.

© Greg Binon


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Lost Dog Wash
There aren't a lot of places in Metro Phoenix where you can disconnect from the city. This trail in the McDowell Mountains is one of the few.

By Jen Wolfe

No one seems to remember how Lost Dog Wash in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve got its name, although, it's a good bet that at some point, someone lost a dog there. This much is certain: You'll definitely lose the feeling you're in the city in this vast expanse of Sonoran Desert cradled by the McDowell Mountains.

Lost Dog Wash Access is part of a growing network of trails on a 16,000-acre preserve within Metropolitan Phoenix. The access area has plenty of parking, ramadas and an up-close look at a rare crested saguaro.

As you head out on the Lost Dog Wash Trail, city noises instantly fade into the desert, replaced by bird song and the soft swish of the wind through the bushes and trees. If the breeze is strong enough, you'll even hear it moan through the arms of the saguaros. Dawn and late afternoon are the best times to hit the trail. That's when you'll likely encounter wildlife such as deer, javelinas, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, lizards and birds. Don't be surprised if a lone coyote crosses the trail ahead of you and pauses to wonder why you're trespassing on his territory.

"We've seen all types of native animals in the preserve, except mountain lions," says Scott Hamilton, the trails planner for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. "We know the lions are there because we've moved several trails to skirt evidence of their habitation. But they're shy, illusive creatures, and my team and I have never spotted one, although, we've had reports from hikers who say they have."

Lost Dog Wash Trail is a gentle uphill hike that meanders and dips through a beautiful wash. As the path climbs, it reveals majestic views. At the summit (a saddle between Thompson Peak and a southern unnamed peak), be sure to stop at Taliesin Overlook for a 360-degree panorama of the Metro Phoenix area.

From the overlook, there are several options. One is to turn around and hike back down Lost Dog Wash Trail to the trailhead — a round-trip of roughly 4.5 miles. Or, partway down, you can link up with Ringtail Trail and cross over to Sunrise Trail for a 5.3-mile hike. Another option is to continue from Taliesin Overlook on Quartz Trail to the Quartz/104th Street Access area (5 miles), but you'll need to park cars at both ends or be prepared to trek all the way back.

The current trail system strings together McDowell-Sonoran Preserve, McDowell Mountain Regional Park and the Tonto National Forest. The goal is to eventually increase the size of the preserve to 36,400 acres. "The idea is to allow a corridor of migration for animals from the river to the preserve and back," Hamilton says, "as well as provide some superb hiking for nature lovers just minutes from the city."

Trail Guideclick to expand

Map of Area

Getting There: From Phoenix, go east on State Route 202 to State Route 101, and go north on SR 101 to the Shea Boulevard Exit. Go east on Shea Boulevard for approximately 4 miles to 124th Street, turn north and drive to the end of the street. Lost Dog Wash Access Area is clearly marked.
Length: 4.5 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 380 feet
Travel Advisory: If you're heat tolerant, you can hike this trail year-round, although it's best to hike in early morning or later in the evening during the hot summer months. Be sure to carry plenty of water.
Additional Information: 480-312-7722 or www.scottsdaleaz.gov/preserve
Leave No Trace Ethics:
  • Plan ahead and be prepared.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly and pack out your trash.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Respect wildlife and minimize impact.
  • Be considerate of others.
  • >> Back to Hiking Archive


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