Hike: Tom's Thumb


Tom’s Thumb is a heavily trafficked out-and-back hike located within the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve that is accessible between sunrise and sunset.

Distance: 4.3 miles RT, 2.15 miles one-way
Start Elevation: 2,792 ft
Max Elevation: 3,793 ft
Date Completed: April 1, 2017

The Preserve

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve was established in 1990 to protect the McDowell Mountains as well as the surrounding 34,000 acres of desert and provide public recreational opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, biking, and rock climbing. The Preserve is owned and operated by the City of Scottsdale in partnership with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.

The Preserve’s rustic breezeway at the parking lot offers rock climbing rules and regulations, detailed trail maps, as well as information regarding local flora and fauna and historical formation of the mountains during the Volcanic Era. There are nice restrooms at the trailhead, but be aware that this is absolute no running water here, so be prepared!

The Hike

This moderate hike is smooth throughout and starts relatively flat for the first half mile before starting a steady climb of switchbacks toward the ridge. Throughout the next 0.75 miles up, you’ll notice a few short hills leading to scenic viewing points overlooking the McDowell Mountains and surrounding desert space--great spots to stop, catch your breath, and take it the views.

The hike levels out after the initial steep ascent up the ridge and you’ll continue through rolling hills of enormous boulders and cacti while passing many of the turnouts for rock climbing areas. No question, this is the most beautiful and scenic part of the hike as navigate through car-sized boulders and often feel like you’re on another planet.

Be aware that the sign leading to Tom’s Thumb is labeled as a “Rock Climbing Access Route” for Tom’s Thumb and Gardener’s Wall. There were more than a few hikers that confusedly continued past the sign.

From the Tom’s Thumb & Gardener’s Wall sign, the route isn’t well-marked but is still easy to follow. By now you’ll clearly see the giant granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb and just need to keep heading up toward it. Take note that there are a few spots that require some agility and light scrambling. Kids should have some fun with this part and anyone should be able to make it with some assistance.

You’ll soon reach the prolific granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb. Pull out your snack and water and take a load off while enjoying the sights and sounds before heading back down.

The north side of Tom’s Thumb was closed due to the local falcons nesting in the areas and signs advised all visitors to keep their voices down.  

The Good

  • Dog-friendly on leash
  • Well developed smooth trail
  • Great views of moutains and desert
  • Plenty of paved parking spots available
  • Great views of mountains and desert area

The Bad

  • No running water available
  • Requires some simple scrambling

The Parking Lot & Trailhead