Located in an area of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve known as Brown’s Ranch is the Granite Mountain Trailhead leading to Balanced Rock. Throughout this winding, but easy, out-and-back trail you will see a wide variety of desert plants, wildlife, and views. Cacti and statuesque rock formations dominate the landscape, but at the heart of this trail you’ll see the true attraction: a giant, balancing boulder defying the laws of physics.
What Makes It Great
Besides the rich scenery and curiosity of Balanced Rock, one of the best aspects about this trail is how flexible it is. The McDowell Mountain and Sonoran Preserve covers 30,000 acres and offers over 100 miles of trails; many that are connecting. Because of this you have the option to make Balanced Rock a quick post-work hike or an all day adventure.
The sandy trail has gentle ups and downs, but no major elevation gain, making this hike accessible to all levels of hikers. Despite the lack of elevation gain, you can still see the peaks of the McDowells on the horizon at virtually any given point. In addition, you can hike along the base of Granite Mountain, which is spectacular on its own.
The main attraction of Balanced Rock is the sheer size of it. To truly appreciate its structure, be sure to stand next to it. Balanced Rock and the boulder it sits upon is a playground all on it’s own. A flat surface surrounds the rock, offering great views and an ideal spot to have a picnic or to watch the sunset.
Who is Going to Love It
This is a great trail for families, beginner hikers, and even seasoned veterans. With the option of connecting trails you have the ability to pick and choose the difficulty and duration of your hike to Balanced Rock. If you are new to the area and want to get acclimated to desert hiking, this is a great laid-back trail to get started with. If you are an experienced hiker, you can always take the full Granite Mountain Loop to get that extra one-on-one time with nature. This is a family and dog friendly trail, but it is also popular with mountain bikers so be sure to keep an eye on little ones and have dogs on a leash at all times.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The parking lot for Balanced Rock Trail is located at the Granite Mountain Trailhead in the Brown’s Ranch area of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. There are multiple trail options to access Balanced Rock, although we suggest taking the Bootlegger and Granite Mountain Loop option.
From the parking lot, take the Bootlegger trail for .7 miles until you reach the Saddlehorn Trail. Stay on Saddlehorn for .2 miles, then go left onto Granite Mountain Loop and follow the signs leading to Balanced Rock. All the trails are marked when they intersect, just be sure to grab a trail map in the parking lot before you set out on your hike.
Also, be aware that there is no water and no restrooms here, so make sure you have enough for yourself and your canine companion!