Crested Saguaro on Coyote Canyon Trail McDowell Sonoran Reserve

Coyote Canyon Trail


Mileage: 5.8
Elevation gain: 424 feet
Time to complete: 3-4 hours
Stars: ★★★½
Difficulty: 1/5 (Ratings explained)
Well-groomed trail, little elevation gain

No question about it, an ultra rare and unique double-crested saguaro cactus is the star of the Coyote Canyon Trail. The trail is easy and well-defined as it meanders through the northern region of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It’s pleasant, but it’s nothing particularly spectacular. . . until you get to the crested saguaro, that is.

Trail Description

The saguaro cactus, by any measure, is a rare and special plant because it only grows in one region of the world: the Sonoran Desert, which includes southern Arizona, part of Mexico, and a little bit of California.

Even more rare is the elusive crested saguaro cactus, a saguaro with a growth defect that causes it to “bloom” into the most remarkable fan shape.

But what’s rarer than rare? A double-crested saguaro that has split into two different fans. Wanna see one? So did I, and that’s why I decided on this hike.

136th Street Express Trail

I decided to do this hike as a loop, so I set out on the 136th Street Express Trail, thinking it was the shortest trail to the cactus. Because the trail parallels the road (hence the name), your peaceful hike is interrupted by the sound of cars. Grrr. It also felt a little annoying to me because it seems like it twists and turns for no reason other than to not go straight. Waste of time. . . get me to that cactus!

Dove Valley Trail

This trail is not much different than the one you just left, but it’s quieter because you head away from the road and deeper into the preserve. Yay! You’ll have nice views of Granite Mountain to your left.

View of Granite Mountain from Dove Valley Trail

The trail gets more sandy toward the end, but that means you’re almost to the next junction.

Coyote Canyon Trail

This is the trail you’ve been waiting for. I had read that this trail passes through a granite slot canyon, so I was excited to find out what that meant. Well, it ended up being more like a wash with some mostly vertical granite walls, but nothing too special.

Granite wash on Coyote Canyon Trail

It was about this time that I realized I had forgotten to look for the crested saguaro, and I hoped I didn’t already miss it.

Double-crested Saguaro

As I kept going, I eventually saw it in the distance in all its glory. I arrived at its base at the junction with Desperado Trail.

Double-crested saguaro on Coyote Canyon Trail
Super rare double-crested saguaro cactus

I spent a weirdly long time there. Glad no one was watching.

To complete the loop, continue on the Coyote Canyon Trail. The closer you get to the mountain, the more weird and wonderful the rock formations are. This is why I decided if I ever go visit that cactus again, I’ll just go this way. Forget the road.

Granite Mountain Loop Trail

When you get to the the Granite Mountain Loop Trail, go left along the base of the mountain. There’s a scenic view marked on the map, so I thought I’d check it out. Kind of a letdown, honestly, with all the houses in the view, but you can see the mountains in the distance.

Scenic Overlook on Granite Mountain Trail

Bootlegger Trail

At the junction with Bootlegger Trail, go left. This trail is filled with all kinds of cool boulder formations, including this one you could walk into.

Cool boulders on Bootlegger Trail

Follow this trail all the way back to the parking lot.

Map & Directions

Location McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, Arizona

Take Loop 202 to the Pima exit in North Scottsdale and go north to Dynamite Boulevard. Turn right and continue as the road turns into Rio Verde Road. Turn left on 131st Street and follow it to the turn for Granite Mountain Trailhead.

Fees/Passes None

Trailhead Facilities Flushing toilets, but no water to drink or wash hands

Download KML or GPX

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Disclaimer Outdoor activities have inherent risk, and we will not be able to tell you all the risks you may face. You are responsible for your own safety, so prepare as well as you can and know your limits. Follow this guide at your own risk. And have fun!

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