7.8 Miles

1,512 feet

Pretty Hard

A+ Views

Bell Pass Hike Overview

The Bell Pass hike is pretty tough, especially if it’s hot out. It is up all the way until the pass, with the last 0.5 miles being pretty steep. The views are excellent. This is McDowell Sonoran Preserve hiking at it’s finest! 

Map & Elevation Profile

Total distance: 7.85 mi
Max elevation: 3226 ft
Min elevation: 1714 ft
Total time: 02:33:19

Map for the Bell Pass Hike

Get this map! The Green Trail Maps are super nice maps because they are easy to read, have good color coding, distances and elevations, and are usually up to date.

mcdowell mountains green trails map get outdoors get happy

McDowell Mountains Greentrails map

You definitely won’t regret having this map for your McDowell Sonoran Preserve hikes!


Plug in ‘gateway trailhead’ and Google maps will take you right there. Parking is free and there’s lots of it!

Bell Pass Hike Trail Notes

The Bell Pass hike was a lot harder than I imagined. In my mind, I would be doing a moderate hike to an area of the McDowells that I haven’t visited yet.

After arriving later than intended (8:45 am), it was already 90f. The first part on the Gateway trail is easy going. It’s a rocky trail with a gradual incline. After turning off onto the Bell Pass trail it starts to climb. By the last mile, it really starts to climb. During the last half mile, I was on the struggle bus! It gets steeper and steeper as you approach the pass. There is a bonus though. Every time you need to stop to catch your breath you get to look at great views of Camelback, Piestewa, Estrellas, the Whitetanks, Lookout, and more. When high enough you can even see downtown Phoenix!

At the pass, you are greeted by wonderful views. The Tonto National Forest and the Four Peaks on one side and Phoenix and it’s glorious mountains on the other.

I cannot wait to do the Bell Pass hike and get to spend time up at the pass. The views are amazing! While up there, I fantasized about how in the winter I am going to take the whole day to do the big loop through Windgate pass.

While at the pass, I noticed that I only had about half a liter of water left (started with 3 liters). This is not enough and I should have brought more. After hiking and camping a bunch in West Texas and Big Bend, I learned this good rule of thumb that should have applied here to this hike:

When hiking in the desert, double whatever amount of water you think you need. You always end up needing more than you think!

The views heading back down are great. Be prepared for a knee buster!

So, is the Bell Pass hike worth it?

Yes! I definitely want to hike it again when the weather is cooler.

Other hikes close by

Also starting from this trailhead is the Gateway Loop hike. It’s shorter with not so much elevation and tons of great views. For something more chill, mosey on up to the Fraesfield trailhead and try the Whiskey Bottle Trail hike.

Get more inspired to get outside:

Hike to the Lookout, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Why hike to Tom’s Thumb with you can hike to the Lookout? The views are even better, the trail is fantasic and there are less people!

Dispersed Camping Fire Control Road (NF-64), Payson, AZ

The dispersed camping along Fire Control Road (NF-64) in Payson, AZ, is great! There are quiet sites with great views. Read more here!

Piestewa Vs Camelback? Which Should You Hike?

Piestewa vs Camelback? Not sure which one you should hike? Read this article to help you decide. Hint: they both have pros and cons!

Natural Tunnel Via Dirt Road Trail Hike, South Mountain Preserve

Hiking to the Natural Tunnel via the Dirt Road Trail starts out lame (you’re on a dirt road) but quickly turns into a sweet hike. Learn more!

Latigo Chuckwagon Loop Hike, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Latigo Chuckwagon Loop Hike is the best hike starting from the Brown’s Mountain trailhead. It is not as busy and has great views!

Sunrise Trail Hike, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The Sunrise Trail Hike has a lot to offer: some elevation but not too much, SUPERB views, and not too far outside the city! Read more here.

Forest Road 2076 Hike, Tonto National Forest

The Forest Road 2076 hike starts out pretty lame but then opens up to huge views as you hike out of the wash. Plus you most likely won’t see another soul!

136th St Express Trail Hike, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The 136th St Express Trail Hike is easy, high on the solitude scale and has mountain views in all directions. Great for those more chill days!

136th St Express/Cow Poke Loop Hike, McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Create a scenic 4 mile loop with the 136th St Express/Cow Poke Loop Hike. It’s beautiful over here and there are fewer people too!

15 Practical Ways to Motivate Yourself to get Outside

It happens to everyone! Sometimes our motivation to get out and enjoy nature is low. That’s ok, here are 15 practical ways to motivate yourself to get outside!