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Phoenix Area Campgrounds Part 1 – McDowell Mountain Regional Park

For years, when we traveled out west, we completely avoided the Phoenix area. Sprawl, traffic, crowds, pollution – not our idea of great camping opportunities. But then we heard from other RVers about a county park near Scottsdale called McDowell Mountain. Nearly impossible to get into but well worth the effort, everyone said. It is now our all-time favorite park. Just outside Phoenix. Who knew??

This was our third year at McDowell but we also stayed at Usery Mountain, Lost Dutchman, and Cave Creek. Over the next few posts, I’ll share our take on each, starting with McDowell.

Why we LOVE McDowell Mountain Regional Park:

If you stay at McDowell, and enjoy it, you are an active person. This park has miles of trails which you can access directly from your campsite. It is so cool! No driving required to get to fantastic trail runs, hikes, and mountain bike trails that are a complete blast. Not only are the trails fantastic, but there are no off-road-vehicle trails in the park. Why is that important? That means that there are no off-road-vehicle-riders camping in the park!! (For those of you not familiar with the desert, off-roaders are like jet-skiers. I know, I know – that is such a snobby comment. Off-road vehicles look like they would be a lot of fun. But they are extremely noisy, they stink, and they create a thick, gritty, perpetual cloud of dust because they always travel in packs.) So the campground is quiet, so quiet. We’ve never had obnoxious neighbors there, ever.

campground view

Mitch enjoys road-biking around McDowell as well. The roads have challenging hills, good shoulders, and not a ton of traffic. There are so many cyclists that most drivers are courteous and seem accustomed to sharing the road.

The town of Fountain Hills is about 5 miles from the park – an easy drive if we need groceries or lunch out. It is a beautiful, perfectly manicured town where, I’m guessing, code enforcement officers are plentiful. As you might deduce from its name, it is known for its fountain in the center of town which shoots off every hour to a height of 330 feet. It seems strange that a desert town is known for a fountain but it is quite a sight.

fountain

The back-in campsites are spacious (the pull-thrus are a little strange – basically a divot along the road). Each site has a large, raked area of gravel/sand with a picnic table, grill, and fire ring and an asphalt pad. The bathrooms are spotless although a little drafty. If it’s a cool day, there is no way to get dried off fast enough. The desert views are amazing. The Phoenix pollution provides breath-taking (get it??) sunsets. And if you sleep with the windows open, at some point during the night, you will be serenaded by coyotes.

The McDowell trails deserve one more mention. They rank the trails from beginner to expert – much like ski trails. I can’t speak to the expert ones, but, for someone like me, from flat, flat southern Delaware where you’d have to drive at least two hours to find a hill, the beginner and intermediates are so much fun! They are mostly smooth and fast, no crazy technical rocky areas. However, you have to pay attention because there are dips and gullies and if you fall, you will most likely get up looking like a pin cushion. The ups are not straight up. You get some breaks. But the downs are like riding a roller-coaster. I think I was smiling, giggling, or yelling “whoo hoo!” the entire time. Seriously fun stuff!!

jackass

This is a resting spot called Jackass Junction where a number of the trails come together. I guess the guy on the roof had to wait for his friends a little too long.

On to Usery Mountain Regional Park next! Mitch is working on a cool video collage of all the parks. Stay tuned…

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