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The mountain biking at Brown’s Ranch really surprised me – in a good way! I thought it would be ‘boring, cross-country desert riding’, but the trails in this Scottsdale network are actually really fun and engaging.
Not only do they have a ton of flow, but the trails are also built around interesting features like rock slabs, rock spines, rock rollers, rock gardens… you get the point, but the rock features are really cool!
Brown’s Ranch is also stunning with great desert views (especially if you pedal up and over Brown’s Mountain), incredible Sonoran desert vegetation (watch out for the chollas), and glimpses of shy desert creatures.
If you’re planning a mountain bike trip to the Phoenix area, definitely put a day or two in at Brown’s Ranch – you won’t regret it. In this post, I share everything you need to know for a great day (or days) out on the trails.
Where is Brown’s Ranch?
The Brown’s Ranch trails are located north of Phoenix in what is technically Scottsdale. It’s part of the Greater McDowell Sonoran Preserve, but it’s separate from McDowell Mountain Park, another popular place to mountain bike in Scottsdale.
There are a number of parking areas for Brown’s Ranch, but the main ones are:
Brown’s Ranch Mountain Biking FAQs
Before I dive into the details of mountain biking at Brown’s Ranch, let’s cover some of the FAQs:
How big is Brown’s Ranch?
Big! There are over 150 miles of trail in Brown’s Ranch and it’s part of the larger 30,000+ acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve. You can definitely get yourself into 20+ mile days (or more!), so be sure to have a route planned so you don’t accidentally do an epic (unless an epic is the plan).
Are e-bikes allowed?
No, e-bikes are not allowed on the trails at Brown’s Ranch. Please respect this.
How hard are the trails at Brown’s Ranch
One of the great things about mountain biking at Brown’s Ranch is that there are trails for everyone. While the network definitely leans toward the beginner/intermediate side, there are some harder black-rated trails to challenge more advanced mountain bikers.
Best Trails to Ride
There are over 150 trails at Brown’s Ranch – some definitely better than others. While I haven’t ticked off all the trails at Brown’s Ranch, I’ve ridden most of the popular ones.
Here are what I consider to be the must-ride trails at Brown’s Ranch:
Axel Grease – this is a nice, mellow flowy trail on the north side of Brown’s Ranch. Link it into Hawksnest for a great beginner-friendly loop.
Stagecoach trail: Great trail for beginners. Lots of twists and turns through beautiful desert terrain.
Granite Mountain Loop: Absolutely stunning! It’s rated blue, but is defintely easy enough for beginners
Balanced Rock Trail: A pretty easy trail that passes by a perfectly balanced rock.
Hawksnest Trail: Best ridden north to south, this is a fast, flowy beginner/intermediate trail with a few small techy sections. It’s beautiful!
Cloudburst: A fun flow trail with big berms and tight turns
Renegade: A great intermediate flow trail with awesome routing and a good mix of variety
Cholla Mountain Loop: Beautiful trail with interesting routing and rock features. Take the detours to Cathedral Rock and the Amphitheater
Scorpion: One of my favorite trails with some technical rock riding
Dare-a-Sarah: Similar to Scorpian with moderately techy rock riding
Diablo North & South: These are the two most technical trails at Brown’s Ranch. However, most advanced riders will consider them ‘soft’ blacks. Ride them N to S to practice techy climbing skills or S to N for more downhill(ish) rock riding.
Mountain Bike Packing List
Below are a few of my favorite pieces of mountain biking gear and recommendations for your mountain bike trip or ride:
Three Route recommendations
There are enough trails and route options in Brown’s Ranch to keep you busy for a week (or more!)
While it’s hard to recommend a ‘perfect’ route for everyone, here are three routes I really like riding at Brown’s Ranch.
1. Hawksnest & Axle Grease
This route is a beginner-friendly loop that runs along the western perimeter of Brown’s Ranch. The climb up Hawksnest is steady, but not steep, and it’s really beautiful with great views and trailside cacti.
Another nice thing about this loop is that there are plenty of ways to cut is short by crossing over, or there are tons of ways to add ‘bonus’ loops if you want to add miles. See suggestions below.
Route directions: Pima Dynamite Trailhead > Hawksnest Trail > Stagecoach > West Express > Axle Grease
Make it harder: Tootle around the black tech trails like Snake Eyes, Scorpion, and Tarantula before continuing north on Hawksnest
Make it longer: Follow Stagecoach back around to Axle Grease instead of taking West Express.
2. Introduction to Brown’s
This is a great first ride at Brown’s Ranch or a good option for newer riders. You’ll get some awesome desert views, unique trail features (like a huge, perfectly balanced rock!), and fun, flowy singletrack.
Route directions: Brown’s Ranch Trailhead > Latigo > Hackamore Trail > Cone Mountain > Upper Ranch Trail > Corral Trail > Dry Gulch > Cholla Mountain Loop > Branding Iron Trail > Granite Mountain Loop > Bootlegger > Saddlehorn > Granite Mountain Loop > Balanced Rock Trail > Maverick Trail > Brown’s Ranch Road
Make it harder: Add Diablo South to Diablo North Trails. They’re not super hard blacks, more like ‘spicy blues’. Beginners will probably need to walk sections, but intermediates may be able to ride it all.
Make it longer:
- Add Cloudburst to Hawksnest to Buckshot, which will bring you back to the loop (Cloudburst is about 2.3 miles after starting).
- You could also add on the super fun Renegade trail by taking Stagecoach from Cholla Mountain Trail to High Desert Trail. This will lead you to Renegade. After Renegade, rejoin the loop by taking 136th Street Express to Cow Poke.
3. Best of Brown’s Ranch
If you’re looking for a big tour or Brown’s Ranch, this is my go-to loop. It hits a good mix of techy trails and fast, flowy ones.
Route directions: Pima Dynamite Trailhead > Hawksnest Trail > Scorpion > Dare A Sarah (turn left) > West Express > Hawksness Trail > Buckshot > High Desert Trail > Diablo North > Diablo South > Cholla Mountain Loop > Maverick Trail > Wrangler Trail > Brown’s Mountain > Upper Ranch Trail > Cloudburst > West Express > Dare A Sarah > Rock Tank Trail > Hawksnest
Route notes: The mileage on this route is pretty big, but it’s actually quite fast-rolling with a relatively low elevation gain for the miles.
Make it easier: Diablo North and South are slightly easier going the opposite direction. You could also make it easier by cutting out the Brown’s Mountain climb.
Would you rather go with a guide? If you’re new to mountain biking or prefer riding with a guide, you can sign up for a half-day tour with REI Co-Op Adventure Center Arizona in Scottsdale.
What to Wear & Pack
For detailed guides on what to pack for your trip, check out these posts:
Specific to Brown’s Ranch, here are a few gear recommendations:
It’s pretty easy to do a lot of miles at Brown’s Ranch and there is no water out on the trail. Be prepared with at least 2-3 L of water in your hydration backpack.
My go-to hydration pack is the Osprey Raven 10L (men’s). It’s a great mid-size pack that can fit all my riding essentials plus it comes with a 2.5 L reservoir. There’s a removable tool roll in the bottom and several pockets for organization.
Shop the Osprey Raptor/Raven at:
Tailwind Endurance Fuel
When I’m heading out on longer rides or I know it’ll be particularly hot, I bring a bottle of water mixed with Tailwind Endurance Fuel. Not only does it provide vital electrolytes that are lost in sweat, but it also contains a good amount of carbs to keep your blood sugar from dropping (carbs are good!).
Tailwind Endurance Fuel contains a mix of electrolytes and carbohydrates to keep your body fueled during long, hot rides – perfect for a day out at Brown’s Ranch!
Shop Tailwind Endurance Fuel at:
Small bottle of sealant
The trails around Phoenix are full of sharp, pointy things that want to hurt your tires. Tubeless tires are essential, but I also recommend bringing a small bottle of sealant with you in case a thorn proves to be too much for your rubber.
I’m actually not a Stans user (I prefer Orange Seal) but this 2oz bottle is pretty handy. Technically, you shouldn’t mix sealants, but if it’s an emergency you’ll be thankful you have something with you.
Shop Stans Sealant at:
Mountain Bike Shops & Rentals
The closest bike shop and rental place to Brown’s Ranch is the REI Adventure Center in Scottsdale. They have a fleet of mountain bikes to rent as well as a service center if you need something fixed.
Camping at Brown’s Ranch
There is no camping allowed at the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead or any of the trailheads. The closest paid camping is at Cave Creek Regional Park just north of Brown’s Ranch.
There are free dispersed camping sites throughout Phoenix as well. I recommend using these apps to find camping around Phoenix:
Prefer to stay in a bed? Use the search box below to find a hotel around Scottsdale, Arizona.
What else can you do at Brown’s Ranch?
While mountain biking is definitely the ‘thing to do’ at Brown’s Ranch, this area is also a popular place for other outdoor lovers. Here are a few non-biking things to do:
Hiking – All of the trails at Brown’s Ranch as also open to hikers and trail runners. It’s a great place to enjoy the beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape and maybe catch a glimpse of some wildlife like the horny toad. Check out the popular Granite Mountain Loop or join a Granite Mountain hiking tour to learn about the natural flora and fauna.
Horseback riding – Get a different perspective of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve from horseback. Cave Creek Outfitters offers guided tours by reservation.
Brown’s Ranch may not be the most challenging or technical trail network in Phoenix, but I love it for its beautiful cross-country riding, incredible desert scenery, so much wildlife, and fun rock features that give it a playful feel.
If you’re heading to Phoenix to mountain bike, I recommend spending a least one day here. You won’t be disappointed!
Planning a mountain bike trip to Phoenix? Check out these other networks to ride: