Brown’s Ranch is one of my favorite places to hike in the greater Phoenix area. It’s located in the North Area of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Chock full of beautiful views, ample trails, and gorgeous vegetation – it’s well worth the short drive to get there. Plus it has a really nice trailhead with parking, water, and restrooms (33.7608057, -11.8436212). It’s not that far out of town, but you feel like you’re in the middle of the desert. It’s amazing!
While my in-laws were visiting, we took them out for a hike up there. We set out to do Maverick Trail, but ended up looping around a bit to shorten up the hike and also to stop by some of our favorite spots.
The shot below is what you’ll see from the parking lot as you approach the building at the trailhead.
This is the history board that you’ll see on one wall of the building. If you’ve got a minute – stop and read the boards. There is some fascinating history on them. I’m a sucker for a good historical sign.
On the other side is water and restrooms. As you can see from the shot below, the trails at Brown’s Ranch are popular with bikers and hikers and horseback riders are also frequent visitors.
Perhaps one of my favorite niceties is the doggie water/waste disposal station on the side of the building. Nothing cooler than a doggie water fountain! But please remember to pack water for your canine companion while you’re on the trail. This is an awesome spot to stop on your way in and out, but you’ll need water for the trails.
To access Maverick Trail, we started down Brown’s Ranch Road. It’s sort of like the Main Street of Brown’s Ranch with trails shooting off of it like side streets.
There are lots of easy, smooth trails at Brown’s Ranch – we brought the whole family – including our tiny dog Roo who is only a beginning hiker.
Looking off to the left as you walk down Brown’s Ranch Road you’ll see lots of old rusty bits of ranch equipment. It’s interesting to see the remains of what was once a working ranch.
We continued on Brown’s Ranch Road towards Maverick Trail.
The trail is smooth and flat – great for kids, pets, and beginning hikers. It’s also a hot spot for horses and mountain bikers. Watch out for horse droppings!
Looking left from Brown’s Ranch Road you’ll see a great view of Brown’s Mountain.
Looking right you’ll see a view of Cholla Mountain (that’s the direction we headed as we veered off on Maverick Trail.)
At this point we turned onto Maverick Trail from Brown’s Ranch Road.
Here we’re looking backwards to Brown’s Mountain from Maverick Trail.
I know I’ve said it before it before, but I’ll say it again – I adore saguaros. And Brown’s Ranch is chock full of really fabulous ones. Look at how gorgeous this one is below!
We also stumbled across a few active pack rat nests and a few deserted ones (like the one below.)
Perhaps one of the coolest cacti out there is the Christmas Cholla. It has pencil like stems with bright red fruits. I’ve never experimented with eating them (too much work!), but I’ve heard tell that they taste a lot like strawberries.
Here’s a close up shot of the fruit…beware the glochids! I wasn’t quite careful enough and spent the next bit of hiking picking them out of my palm. If you decide you want to pick some, the best way is to use the pliers from a multi-tool, so you don’t get any thorns in your hands.
We opted to veer off Maverick Trail to hit up the Amphitheater so we took this little shortcut on Cholla Mountain Loop Trail.
Another amazing saguaro – just look at those arms!
Here’s a shot of Cholla Mountain a little closer up.
The Amphitheater is definitely worth a little side hike. It’s a very cool rock formation that sits at an elevation of 2855 feet. It’s a great spot to climb around on the rocks or take a snack break mid-hike. We love going there and climbing up on one of the rocks to sit and look at the views.
Here’s a shot of the main rocks that make up the formation – although there are more rocks to climb on as you turn to the left. One of my daughters is in the lower left corner of the picture to help you get an idea of how large the rocks really are.
After we had fun climbing the rocks at The Amphitheater we hopped back on the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail heading towards Watershed Trail.
We continued on towards Maverick Trail and Powerline Road #2.
Since the day was creeping away from us, we ended up taking a shorter route back to the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead via Powerline Road #2.
I stopped to admire this saguaro because it had been severed but the rigid “bones” inside of it weren’t cut off along with the top. I’ve never seen one get broken in quite the same way.
From Powerline Road #2 we looped back to Brown’s Ranch Road and the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out – this is why it’s called Powerline Road #2 (there is also a #1 on the far side of the Ranch.) It’s a very gravely trail with large powerlines running the length of it.
The path we took was a little loopy – we hit Brown’s Ranch Road, Maverick Trail, a small section of Cholla Mountain Loop Trail, The Amphitheater, a small section of Watershed Trail, and finally Powerline Road #2. All told our hike was about 4.5 miles and took us about 3 hours with small children and dogs along with the grown-ups.
It’s a gorgeous place to check out when you’re in the Phoenix area! The City of Scottsdale has awesome online trail maps available for this area so you can map out your path ahead of time. Or stop by the building at the trailhead and grab one there.
Other Nearby Parks and Trails:
- Quartz Trail, McDowell Sonoran Preserve – Scottsdale, Arizona
- Boynton Canyon Vortex – Sedona, Arizona
- Red Rock State Park – Sedona, Arizona
- Tonto Natural Bridge State Park – Payson, Arizona
- Tuzigoot National Monument – Clarkdale, Arizona