Tom’s Thumb is a prominent landmark in the McDowell Mountains near Scottsdale, Arizona.
Tom’s Thumb Trail Guide
MAP: Phoenix Area Trails (paper) or McDowell Sonoran Preserve (PDF)
PERMITS: no permits are required
DESIGNATION: McDowell Sonoran Preserve (City of Scottsdale)
BEST SEASONS: fall, winter, spring
DISTANCE: 4 miles round trip to Tom’s Thumb. Make it 5 miles round trip to include the Lookout Trail, or make it 9.4 to include Tom’s Thumb, Lookout, and Windgate Pass.
ELEVATION: trailhead 2,800ft, high point 3,800ft (lookout 3,900ft)
WATER: none, and no water at the trailhead!
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: The Tom’s Thumb Trailhead is northeast of the greater Phoenix area, in Scottsdale Arizona. In most cases, access via the I-17 and AZ 101 is best. Exit the 101 at Pima Rd (Exit 36). Go north for almost 5 miles, turning right on E Happy Valley Rd. After 4.3 miles, turn right on Ranch Gate Rd. After 1.3 miles, turn right on 128th Street, and continue straight through the roundabout to the trailhead at the end of the road.
ROUTE: well maintained, busy trail with signed junctions and markers
HOURS: The Tom’s Thumb Trailhead has specific hours! The trails on the preserve are closed from sunset through sunrise. The specific hours of closure consequently shift throughout the year, and the schedule can be viewed here.
Here’s a map that shows the Tom’s Thumb Trail, as well as the Lookout Canyon Trail and Windgate Pass. You can right-click to view a larger version or download it.
A full version of this map can be viewed here.
Tom’s Thumb is a prominent feature that’s visible throughout much of the Phoenix area… if you know where to look!
The hike to its base is a local favorite (aka busy), and the trail is notorious for its steep grade that climbs 700ft in about half a mile. Trekking poles and shoes with good traction are helpful through this section.
The block of granite has a prominence of 140 feet, and the “Gardener Wall” below it is a favorite destination for rock climbers too. Old-timers originally called this feature “The Dork,” but the thumb takes its claim from climber Tom Kreuser, who logged a first ascent in 1948.
From the “new” trailhead (opened in 2012), begin south on the Tom’s Thumb Trail. Pass the Mesquite Canyon trail and Feldspar Trail. After the first mile of hiking and a strenuous, steep ascent, you’ll reach a junction with the East End Trail.
Continue right on the Tom’s Thumb Trail for 0.3 miles, and then bear right at the next junction. Scramble for an additional 0.2 miles to the base of the thumb. Retrace your steps to the trailhead for a round trip of 4 miles, or add the following variation(s):
Scrambling down from the base of Tom’s Thumb, bear right at the first junction (technically continuing on the Tom’s Thumb Trail).
After just a tenth of a mile, turn left on the Lookout Trail. Go on for 0.5 miles to the dead-end of the Lookout Trail at its namesake viewpoint.
Windgate Pass Loop
If you wish to go on for a total of almost 10 total miles, turn left when you leave the Lookout Point Trail to continue on the Tom’s Thumb Trail. The trail will descend steeply for 1.7 miles through a wonderful stand of west-facing saguaros.
Turn left on the Windgate Trail, ascending past Inspiration Point and reaching its pass in 0.6 miles. Don’t forget to look up and to the north toward the lookout, where you stood little more than an hour ago.
Continue east from the pass down the Windgate Trail for one mile to its junction with East End Trail, passing a junction with the Bell Pass Trail.
Turn left on the East End Trail and rejoin the Tom’s Thumb Trail in 1.3 miles, climbing an additional 1,000ft along the way.
Tom’s Thumb is a popular destination for sport climbing as well as hiking. The thumb itself has a number of routes – you can see more about those on Mountain Project.
Looking beyond the obvious destination of the thumb, the general area has even more established climbing routes. The map shown below is simply a photo of an informational display at the trailhead, listing plenty of routes by name.
As always, you can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
Here’s some of the local regulations for rock climbing, as listed by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve at the trailhead.
- Climbing is allowed in designated areas only, as shown on this map (above).
- Climbers must use the designated climbing access routes leading from the main trails to the climbing areas.
- Climbing activities mus coincide with the Preserve’s posted hours of operation – sunrise to sunset.
- Fixed anchor locations are limited to those already established.
- New routes are not allowed.
- Responsibility for the installation, inspection, and long term maintenance of fixed anchors rests completely with the climbing community.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I hiked to Tom’s Thumb and included the Lookout Trail and Windgate Trail as described on December 18, 2018. I went with Haley and our friend Frank. The full day took us almost 7 hours at a leisurely pace.