I rarely ever get out to the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. It’s one of the newer bits of municipal open space in Phoenix, but it’s a bit far from me. Last time I was here, it was also shorter on mileage than I’d like.
In February of 2021, I went back for another look. This time, there were trails south of the major road that leads to the trailhead. I consulted Trailforks and formed a plan of attack with a goal of at least 20 miles.
Let’s walk through it to see what you need to know.
Busy at the Parking Lot
The mid-morning on a Sunday parking situation at the main Phoenix Sonoran Preserve trailhead is pretty brisk. So either go earlier or later, as the season’s weather allows.
The trailhead also has a decently equipped bathroom. I was full on water, so I didn’t bother checking the water fountain situation. Sorry!
As a reminder, I was rolling on a singlespeed hardtail with a 100mm suspension fork. That’s my kind of bike, and these trails are well-suited for it. There are a few super-steep trails that will favor a geared bike, and some chonk on the other side that will be better with a full-suspension bike.
Getting Started at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
My ride plan required me to cross Dove Valley Road, which features vehicles regularly traveling at Talladega 500 qualifying speeds, or as close to them as they can get.
Once I got across, I had to follow a dirt road south. And it’s here where you’ll run into a navigational challenge: You need to veer east of a fence about a mile into it so you can connect to the trails. This is currently not marked with a sign.
On to the Real Trails
I spotted more than a few branching bits of singletrack. I made a left onto Cactus Wren, which took me up a steady climb. The trail had an overall nice flow, and I soon had some nice views.
Cactus Wren eventually meets a trail called Great Horned Owl. If you continue south, it’s nice and rideable on any bike. Turn west, though, and this will get steep and rocky.
How steep? Think 300 feet in .2 miles steep.
As you continue on Great Horned Owl, watch for a right turn. If you miss it, you’ll find that it’s barely even a trail anymore. You’ll push your bike up a steep, rubbly mess — about 200 feet in .2 miles.
Great Horned Owl will connect to Valle Vista, which is a stupid amount of fun. I stayed on it, eschewing Desert Tortoise (which I’ll check out next time) until I hit the Dixie Mountain Loop, where I turned left. I might go right next time, not sure.
By the way, opting against the turn onto Desert Tortoise also resulted in a steep, loose, rocky climb. Not as bad as the others, but still tough.
Anyway, I stayed on Dixie Mountain Loop until it became Bobcat, which I took to the end near Dove Valley Road.
Headed Back Toward the Trailhead
I had plenty of options for the route back, including going back the same way I came. I was a bit rankled that my most-direct option was a green trail called Dixie Mountain Bypass. It’s a non-technical trail that climbs slightly heading back the way I wanted to go.
Let me pause with a recommendation for trail runners. This trail will make you very, very happy. It looks, at least to me, like trail running perfection. If you run it, let me know if I was right on this one.
Anyway, it was more fun than I expected from being a fairly straight green trail. You can get a singlespeed into a nice groove.
I soon wound up back at the beginning of the proper trails, where Cactus Wren got me started. I doubled back a little for more mileage, and wound up on the aforementioned steep climb that is Great Horned Owl.
Room to Improve for the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Most importantly, I also found a singletrack route back toward the trailhead. This does not appear on the Trailforks site or app. I can only conclude that is because the people in charge of such things at the City of Phoenix are trying to prevent additions to the trail network.
And I get it. You don’t want rogue trail builders doing stuff to mess things up. But most of the time, rogue trailbuilders get busy because they’re frustrated by inaction. I suspect that’s the case with the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The south side of the trails are a gem, but the interconnections with the other parts of the network are abysmal.
It’s entirely possible, also, that they might get worse. Why? Developers. And 1,400 more red tile roofs. (If I learned anything from watching copious amounts of Scooby Do, it’s that developers are a scourge. Half a decade as a full-time news reporter reinforced what I learned from the crew of the Mystery Machine.)
I don’t see the addition of homes doing much to help trail connectivity here. Here’s a data point to support that: The unmarked trail I rode back to the road originally went under a bridge. That has since been blocked off my city signs choked with passive voice and bureaucratic prose warning that the area is closed and blah blah blah. That tells me that this wonderfully made and fun connector trail is probably an open secret. The city knows it exists, but it might cost them too much in resources and potential blowback to do anything with it.
Once I got back to the trailhead, I puttered around a bit to bump up my mileage and climbing. The Sidewinder was a nice climb that was entirely rideable on a singlespeed. I didn’t think much of the section of the Apache Wash Loop that I used. I was also less than impressed with the trail manners of some other users.
My totals came out to 24 miles with 1,600 feet of climbing.
Wrapping Up a Good Ride
I had a great time riding these trails. Now that I’m familiar with the lay of the land, I can get even more fun out of my next visit.
If you haven’t ridden at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve yet, get out there. You’re certain to have fun. If you consider anything less than 25 miles too short, definitely put in some time on the Sidewinder after you’ve gotten your fill of what’s on the south side.
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