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Fantastic Camping Near Phoenix – McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Last week, I wrote about our stay at the RV park and campground at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, about 30 miles west of Phoenix. All of the Maricopa County regional parks allow stays of just 14 nights, so after two weeks at White Tank we cruised over to McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which is about 40 miles northeast of Phoenix in the Verde River Basin.

Fantastic Camping Near Phoenix - McDowell Mountain Regional ParkMcDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell covers nearly 22,000 acres, and is best known for it’s mountain biking – we met people who’d come from all over the country to hit the more than 65 miles of trails! Fortunately, all of those trails are also pet friendly, so you and your pup will have plenty of options to choose from.

From McDowell, trails take you in every direction – you can explore the Sonoran Preserve, hike or bike into the town of Fountain Hills, or head for Scottsdale and beyond. Like at White Tank, it’s best to keep your distance from the teddy bear cholla. People seem to work together to keep the trail clear of any segments of this cactus that have fallen, but those of us hiking with dogs need to be especially vigilant. The spines of tithe cholla have barbed ends, so they’re particularly good at latching on. Carrying a pliers or hair comb will allow you to easily remove any that sneak up on you or your pup.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ

Camping at McDowell Mountain

The campground at McDowell is every bit as nice as the one at White Tank and has nearly twice as many sites. Again, you’ll find that your spot has been raked by a host in preparation for your arrival, and each site has a picnic table, fire ring, grill, and fantastic views. Stop in the visitors center when you arrive, and pick up a list of the ranger’s monthly programs – from interpretive hikes, to sessions on the park’s flora and fauna, there’s something of interest several days a week.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ

McDowell is a little different than White Tank in that there are washes running through the campground and lots of bushes along the washes. This gives the coyotes plenty of cover, and we saw several walking around the campground – though I wasn’t quick enough to get any pictures. As uninvited guests in their habitat, we can minimize our impact by not leaving food or garbage out at night, and never leaving our pets tethered outside unattended.

Comparing White Tank Mountain and McDowell Mountain Parks

Admiring downtown Phoenix from White Tank allows you to feel that you’re getting away from it all – existing outside the reach of the daily grind, while still being able to observe it from a distance. McDowell has a completely different atmosphere. First of all, the park lies only four miles from the town of Fountain Hills, so it’s well used by the locals. Second, this park is a popular destination for mountain bikers. Combined, these factors make McDowell busier than White Tank – it feels less remote, and the activity levels of the two parks balanced each other nicely.

The scenery at McDowell doesn’t disappoint, either! Watching the light play on the mountains at different times of the day was entertainment enough for me. And, getting a bit of snow up on Four Peaks was a special treat.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ McDowell Mountain Regional Park - Phoenix, AZ

Nearby Fountain Hills

As I mentioned, McDowell is only four miles from Fountain Hills, which has all the services you need. The centerpiece of town is the fountain and the park, disc golf course, and paved trail that surrounds it. It’s a nice place to grab a cup of coffee and take a stroll with your pooch. On Sundays, cross the street and admire the dozens of classic cars that come in for the car show each week.

Fountain Park - Fountain Hills, AZ Fountain Park - Fountain Hills, AZ Fountain Park - Fountain Hills, AZ

A Difficult Choice

Choosing between McDowell and White Tank would be a tough decision – they’re both beautiful, and the deciding factor would likely hinge more on my mood than the parks themselves. Of course, these are only two of the park in the Maricopa County Regional Park System! I’ve heard great things about the RV parks at Cave Creek, Lake Pleasant, and Usery Mountain, as well. Passing a winter hopping between all the parks sounds like great fun to me, and I hope we get the chance to do that in the near future.

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  • Glad to hlep, Marshall! Thanks for your note, and waggin’ trails!

  • Nice review & good info about dog friendly campgrounds!! Very useful for us pet people!!

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