Phoenix, Arizona offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails for all skill levels. There is a different trail here for every day of the year. My 365 Phoenix Hikes project is an endeavor to connect our stunning geography with the great surrounding neighborhoods. Trails are around every corner. Let’s get outside!
Every Phoenix resident needs an opportunity get outdoors and see the Sonoran Desert up close. That’s what I enjoy about the Kovach Family Nature Trail in Scottsdale. It’s easily accessible to everyone because it’s essentially flat.
The result is a loop trail that the elderly, physically disabled, moms with toddlers and the visually-impaired can use to explore our desert environment without difficulty. It’s in the shape of a figure-eight and is about a half-mile long.
The trail can be completed in 10 minutes at a brisk pace, or 30 minutes at a more leisurely stroll.
The Kovach Family Nature Trail is also an interpretive trail which means that it is dotted with educational signs. These 13 plaques give visitors an opportunity to learn about the connections between local plants, animals and indigenous history. Learn about the mountains in the surrounding McDowell Sonoran Preserve that were formed millions of years ago.
From the parking lot to the end of the trail, all surfaces on this groomed path meet accessibility guidelines. Finely crushed gravel, pavement, concrete, and two grated metal bridges easily accommodate strollers, walkers and wheelchairs. The compacted surface is as firm and stable as any trail that I have hiked in the Valley.
While it is a level path compared to other uphill hiking trails around Phoenix, the surface of the Kovach Family Trail rolls gently. The average slope on the trail is 3.0% and the maximum incline is 5.7%. Width of the trail varies from 53 inches to 80 inches. There are no trail obstructions, holes, steps or large rocks.
What you will see on the Kovach Family Trail
More than 260 types of mammals, reptiles and birds have made their homes in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The atmosphere around the trail is buzzing with activity regardless of the time of year that you visit. On a recent mid-April afternoon, I noticed several tiny lizards scurrying around the trail between the groundcover bushes. Gila woodpeckers overhead were busy keeping other birds away from their nests high in the saguaros.
The trail is thick at every turn with palo verde, saguaro cacti, mesquite and ironwood trees. Closer to the ground, you will notice drought-tolerant species like the jojoba, creosote and the triangle-leaf Bursage. If you are visiting shortly after a soaking rain, you can’t miss the tall ocotillo’s leafy green sprigs and brilliant red blossoms high above.
A trail for kids too
This is a great first trail for your toddler to experience the Sonoran Desert landscape. Older children will enjoy getting close to the plants and learning how to identify them. Over 30 plants are labeled along the trail with markers that give details about each species. Remember, don’t touch the Jumping cholla cactus.
Kids won’t tire on this trail like they could on other more vertical hikes. Plus, the car is only a few hundred feet away when they are ready to pack it in.
History of the trail
The terrace and southern slope of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve where the trail is located was formed during the end of the last Ice Age. The rocks throughout the preserve were formed over 2 billion years ago.
There is a historical account of arrowhead points found nearby. A trail marker indicates that these tools were likely made by a band of hunter-gatherers who inhabited the area 1,700 to 3,500 years ago.
More recently, the trail opened in March 2015. It is part of a network of over 200 miles of hiking trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The trail creation and maintenance is a partnership by the local Kovach family, the City of Scottsdale and The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.
Handicap accessible restrooms are available at the trailhead here. A filtered water faucet for water bottles and a separate water fountain allow you to stock up before you hit the trail. Bring plenty of water especially on hot afternoons. There is lots of shade under the canopy at the trailhead shelter.
Need to rest for a spell? Three shaded stone benches will accommodate you along the trail. There is also covered seating at the trailhead building for groups and presentations.
Parking is plentiful and easy. Six of the 99 vehicle spaces are handicap accessible. A little further away from the entrance is a dirt lot for horse trailer and bus parking. A horse hitching post and bike rack are located just beyond the trailhead shelter.
Pets on the trail
Dogs are permitted in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. However, they need to be restrained on a leash 6 feet in length or less. Additionally, plan to pick up after your pets immediately. There was one pet waste bag kiosk located between the trailhead shelter and the Kovach Family Nature Trail.
Temperatures over 90F can be lethal for dogs. Canines can’t dissipate heat through perspiration like humans. Signs of heat strong in dogs include heavy panting, thick saliva, and difficulty breathing. Pack a water source for your pets too.
Directions and hours
The entrance to the Kovach Family Nature Trail is located at the Lost Dog Trailhead in Scottsdale. From the Loop 101, head east on Shea Boulevard to 124th Street. Turn left (north) on 124th Street. Proceed 3/4 mile to the gated entrance of the preserve. Ample parking is located just beyond the gate.
Alternately, for turn-by-turn directions, point your GPS to this street address: 12601 N. 124th Street, Scottsdale, AZ.
Upon arrival, walk through the trailhead shelter building. Turn right and proceed 100 feet down the concrete sidewalk to the beginning of the Kovach Family Nature Trail.
The Lost Dog Trailhead Shelter building is also the western terminus of the Sunrise Trail. Read about my review of the Sunrise Trail Hike.
Trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are open sunrise to sunset. That means that the opening and closing times vary slightly depending upon the day of the year. The entrance to the Lost Dog Trailhead is gated and is closed promptly at sunset. I’ve been locked in before on an evening hike. Make sure to plan accordingly.
If you have been putting off a hike, there really are no more excuses now that you know about the Kovach Family Nature Trail. It’s a great place to start. This trail is also a solid option for out-of-town guests who aren’t confident about their untested hiking prowess.
Make time soon to walk, stroll, roll or toddle down this path in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I think that you will enjoy it just as much as I did while learning something new about our great parks and preserves.
The Kovach Family Nature Trail gets my vote for the most accessible hike in the Phoenix metro.
When you hear the word ‘disabled,’ people immediately think about people who can’t walk or talk or do everything that people take for granted. Now, I take nothing for granted. But I find the real disability is people who can’t find joy in life and are bitter. – Teri Garr, American actress known for her roles in Young Frankenstein, Mr. Mom and Tootsie