Hiking Tom's Thumb Trail in Scottsdale: A Complete Guide

Hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale: A Complete Guide

If you’re looking for a challenging hike with breathtaking views, then Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale should be on your list. This popular trail is located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. The trail is named after a rock formation at the top that looks like a thumb, and it’s a must-see for anyone who loves hiking and nature.

The hike is rated as moderate to difficult, so it’s important to come prepared with plenty of water, snacks, and appropriate footwear. The trail is 4.1 miles round trip and gains 1,257 feet in elevation, so it’s not for the faint of heart. However, the stunning views of the Sonoran Desert and the Phoenix metropolitan area are well worth the effort. Along the way, you’ll encounter a variety of cacti and other desert vegetation, as well as the occasional wildlife sighting.

Location and Access

Hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail is a popular outdoor activity in the Phoenix area, specifically in Scottsdale, Arizona. The trailhead is located off of N 128th Street, which is easily accessible by car. There is a large parking lot at the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, so finding a spot to park should not be a problem.

Once you arrive at the trailhead, you will find a great visitor center with plenty of information and maps to help you navigate the various trails. It’s recommended that you grab a map before you start your hike to avoid getting lost.

The Tom’s Thumb Trail is located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which is a protected desert area that spans over 30,000 acres. The preserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including coyotes, bobcats, and rattlesnakes, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and stay on the designated trails.

The trail itself is 2.5 miles long and has an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. It’s a moderately difficult hike that takes about 2-3 hours to complete. The trail is well-maintained and marked, so you shouldn’t have any trouble following it.

Overall, the location and access to Tom’s Thumb Trail are easy and convenient, making it a great option for hikers of all skill levels. Just be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and appropriate footwear, as the Arizona sun can be intense and the trail can be rocky in some areas.

Trail Description

If you’re looking for a moderate to challenging hike with stunning views of the McDowell Mountains and urban Phoenix, then Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale is the perfect adventure for you. The trailhead is located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and there are plenty of parking spots available. Make sure to grab a map from the visitor center before starting your hike as there are many trail options in the area.

The Tom’s Thumb Trail is a 4.2-mile round trip hike that takes you through the desert landscape and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The trail starts with a series of switchbacks, which can be a bit challenging, but the climb is worth it once you reach the top. You’ll find yourself surrounded by boulders and rock formations, which make for a stunning scenery throughout the hike.

The Tom’s Thumb rock formation is the highlight of the hike and looks like a giant thumb sticking out of the ground. The trail takes you to the base of the formation, and you can scramble up to the summit for an even better view. The climb to the top requires some rock climbing skills, so make sure to be careful and only attempt it if you’re comfortable with the challenge.

The Tom’s Thumb Trail is a popular hiking trail, so expect to encounter other hikers along the way. The trail is well-maintained, and there are markers along the way to guide you. The lookout trail is also a great option if you’re looking for a shorter hike. The trail is only 0.6 miles round trip and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

What to Bring

When hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale, it’s important to bring the right gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here’s what you should bring with you:


One of the most important things to bring with you on a hike is water. You should bring at least 2 liters of water per person, especially if you plan on hiking the entire trail. There is no water available on the trail, so it’s important to bring enough for your entire hike. Consider bringing a hydration pack or a water bottle that can attach to your backpack for easy access.


The Arizona sun can be intense, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Bringing a hat can help shield your face and keep you cool. A wide-brimmed hat is ideal, as it can also protect your neck and ears from the sun.


Wearing the right shoes is crucial for a safe and comfortable hike. You should wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes with good traction. Hiking boots or trail running shoes are recommended, as they provide support and stability on rocky terrain. Avoid wearing sandals or flip-flops, as they can be dangerous on the trail.

Drinking Water

In addition to bringing enough water for your hike, it’s also important to bring extra drinking water for emergencies. Consider bringing a water purification system or water treatment tablets in case you need to refill your water supply from a natural source.

Overall, when hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale, it’s important to be prepared and bring the right gear. By bringing plenty of water, a hat, sturdy shoes, and extra drinking water, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable hike.

Best Time to Visit

If you’re planning to hike Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale, Arizona, it’s important to know the best time to visit. The trail is open year-round, but the weather conditions can vary greatly depending on the season.

The best time to hike Tom’s Thumb Trail is during the winter months (November to April) when the temperatures are cooler and more comfortable for hiking. The mornings and evenings can be chilly, so be sure to dress in layers, but once the sun comes up, it usually heats up to about 60-70 degrees mid-day.

During the summer months, the temperatures can soar well over 100 degrees, making it dangerous to hike during the day. If you do decide to hike during the summer, it’s best to start early in the morning and finish before the sun gets too high in the sky.

Spring and fall are also good times to hike Tom’s Thumb Trail, but be aware that the temperatures can still be quite warm during the day. It’s important to bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.

If you want to catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset while hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail, plan to visit during the winter months when the sun rises later and sets earlier. Check the sunrise and sunset times before you go to plan your hike accordingly.

Trail Difficulty and Fitness Level

Hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail is a moderate to difficult hike that requires a certain level of fitness. The trail is 2.5 miles in length and has an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. This means that you will be hiking uphill for most of the trail, making it a strenuous workout.

The trail is rated as moderate to difficult, which means that it is suitable for hikers with some experience. If you are a beginner, you may find the trail challenging, but it is still doable with some effort. However, if you have any health issues or are not used to physical activity, it is recommended that you consult with your doctor before attempting the hike.

It’s important to prepare yourself physically and mentally before hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail. You should be in good physical shape and have a regular exercise routine that includes cardio and strength training. You should also be comfortable hiking on uneven terrain and have good balance.

The trail can be challenging, but it’s also a great way to challenge yourself and improve your fitness level. You can take breaks along the trail to catch your breath and enjoy the beautiful views. Remember to stay hydrated and bring plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy levels up.

Safety and Regulations

When hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale, it is important to follow certain safety guidelines and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some important things to keep in mind:


The Arizona desert can get extremely hot, especially during the summer months. It is important to bring plenty of water and stay hydrated throughout your hike. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy recommends bringing at least one liter of water for every two hours of hiking. Additionally, it is best to avoid hiking during the hottest parts of the day and to wear lightweight, breathable clothing to help regulate your body temperature.

Leave No Trace

When hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail, it is important to practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the natural beauty of the area. This means packing out all trash and waste, staying on designated trails, and avoiding disturbing wildlife and plant life. By following these principles, you can help ensure that the area remains beautiful and accessible for future generations.


The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy is dedicated to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the area. As a hiker on Tom’s Thumb Trail, you can help support these efforts by being a good steward of the land. This means respecting all signs, staying on designated trails, and avoiding any actions that could harm the environment or wildlife.


If you bring your dog along on your hike, it is important to clean up after them. This means packing out all dog waste and disposing of it properly. Not only is leaving dog waste on the trail unsightly, it can also be harmful to the environment and other hikers.


The desert can be a windy place, and Tom’s Thumb Trail is no exception. Be sure to bring appropriate clothing to protect yourself from the wind, and be aware of any potential hazards such as falling rocks or branches. If the wind is particularly strong, it may be best to postpone your hike for another day to ensure your safety.

By following these safety guidelines and regulations, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience on Tom’s Thumb Trail.

Wildlife and Nature

As you hike Tom’s Thumb Trail, you will be surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The preserve is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including mule deer and birds of prey. Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot a Peregrine Falcon or Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead.

The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy works hard to protect and preserve the biodiversity of the preserve. This includes mitigating the spread of invasive plant species and implementing ecological restoration projects.

As you take in the scenic views on the trail, remember to stay on designated paths to minimize your impact on the fragile ecosystem. The preserve is a precious natural resource, and it is up to all of us to protect it for future generations to enjoy.

If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife and nature in the preserve, consider joining a guided hike or attending a nature talk hosted by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. They offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the flora and fauna of the area.

Additional Facilities and Amenities

When hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail, it’s important to know about the various facilities and amenities available to make your experience more comfortable. Here are some additional facilities and amenities to take note of:

Restrooms and Bathrooms

At the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, there are restrooms available for hikers to use before or after their hike. These restrooms are well-maintained and offer a clean and comfortable space to freshen up.

Accessible Trails

For hikers with disabilities or limited mobility, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve offers accessible trails that are designed to be wheelchair-friendly. These trails are marked with signage and offer a smooth and easy-to-navigate surface that makes it easier for everyone to enjoy the beauty of the preserve.

Popular Hikes and Trails

In addition to Tom’s Thumb Trail, there are several other popular hikes and trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve that are worth exploring. Some of the most popular ones include the Gateway Loop Trail, Lost Dog Wash Trail, and Sunrise Trail. Each of these trails offers unique scenery and challenges that are sure to satisfy any hiker’s appetite for adventure.

City Information

Scottsdale is a vibrant and bustling city that offers a wide range of attractions and amenities for visitors to enjoy. From world-class dining and shopping to cultural events and outdoor activities, there’s something for everyone in this dynamic city.

Overall, hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail is a rewarding and unforgettable experience that offers stunning views and a challenging workout. With the right facilities and amenities, you can make the most of your hike and enjoy everything that the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Scottsdale have to offer.

Educational Opportunities

If you are interested in learning more about the natural environment and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert, then hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale is a great opportunity for you. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy provides a variety of educational programs and resources to help visitors learn more about the area.

One of the educational opportunities available is through the Parsons Field Institute, which conducts scientific research and provides information about the ecology, geology, and cultural history of the region. You can explore the institute’s publications and attend lectures to learn more about the Sonoran Desert’s unique ecosystem.

The Conservancy also offers educational programs for all ages, including the Sonoran Education Center, Expedition Days, and the Speaker’s Bureau. The Sonoran Education Center provides hands-on learning experiences for students and teachers, while Expedition Days offer guided hikes and educational activities for families. The Speaker’s Bureau provides expert speakers to give presentations on various topics related to the Sonoran Desert.

For children, the Conservancy Kids program offers fun and educational activities to help them learn about the environment and wildlife. The program includes interactive games, crafts, and nature walks led by experienced educators.

In addition to these programs, the Conservancy also publishes newsletters and other resources to keep visitors informed about upcoming events, research projects, and conservation efforts in the area. By taking advantage of these educational opportunities, you can deepen your knowledge and appreciation of the Sonoran Desert and the unique ecosystem that exists there.

Other Activities

If you’re looking for other activities to do in the Scottsdale area, there are plenty of options available. Here are a few suggestions:

Outdoor Recreation

Scottsdale is known for its beautiful outdoor spaces, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of options for outdoor recreation. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key than hiking, consider a picnic in one of the many parks or nature preserves in the area. Some popular options include McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Pinnacle Peak Park, and Camelback Mountain.

For those who are looking for a little more adventure, there are plenty of options for outdoor activities. You can go rock climbing, mountain biking, or even take a hot air balloon ride. Whatever your preference, there’s something for everyone in Scottsdale.


If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-fueled adventure, there are plenty of options for that as well. Consider taking a zip line tour, going on a ATV ride, or even trying your hand at skydiving. These activities are sure to get your heart racing and provide an unforgettable experience.


If you’re a runner, Scottsdale has plenty of options for you as well. There are a number of running trails in the area, ranging from easy to challenging. Some popular options include the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt, the Arizona Canal Trail, and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

No matter what your interests are, there’s something for everyone in Scottsdale. So get out there and explore!

Nearby RV Camping Options & Info

If you’re looking to spend some time in nature, camping is a great option. There are plenty of campgrounds in the Scottsdale area, ranging from primitive sites to full-service RV parks. Some popular options include McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Lost Dutchman State Park, and Usery Mountain Regional Park.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a popular camping destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers over 76 campsites with full hookups, restrooms, and showers. Each campsite also has a picnic table and fire pit. The park is located about 15 minutes from Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, making it a convenient option for hikers. Be sure to make a reservation in advance, as the park can fill up quickly during peak season.

WestWorld of Scottsdale

WestWorld of Scottsdale is a large event space that also offers RV camping. The facility has over 300 RV spaces with full hookups, restrooms, and showers. The park is located about 20 minutes from Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, making it a convenient option for hikers. Keep in mind that the park can get noisy during events, so be sure to check the event schedule before making a reservation.

Other Options

If you’re looking for a more rustic camping experience, there are several other options in the area. The Tonto National Forest has several campgrounds with RV sites, including the Cave Creek Ranger District and the Mesa Ranger District. Keep in mind that these campgrounds may not have full hookups or other amenities, so be sure to check the details before making a reservation.

No matter where you choose to camp, be sure to follow all park rules and regulations. Always practice Leave No Trace principles and respect the natural environment. With a little planning, you can enjoy a comfortable and convenient camping experience while hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difficulty level of Tom’s Thumb Trail?

Tom’s Thumb Trail is considered a moderately difficult hike. The trail is 4.2 miles long and has an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. The terrain is rocky and uneven, with some steep sections. Hikers should be in good physical condition and wear appropriate footwear.

How long does it take to hike Tom’s Thumb Trail?

The average time to hike Tom’s Thumb Trail is about 2-3 hours. However, this can vary depending on your pace and level of fitness. It is recommended that hikers bring plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized during the hike.

Are children able to hike Tom’s Thumb Trail?

Children who are experienced hikers and in good physical condition can hike Tom’s Thumb Trail. However, parents should be aware of the trail’s difficulty level and terrain. It’s important to keep children close and supervise them at all times.

What are the hours of operation for Tom’s Thumb Trailhead?

Tom’s Thumb Trailhead is open from sunrise to sunset. Hikers should plan their hike accordingly to ensure they have enough time to complete the trail before sunset.

What is the origin of the name ‘Tom’s Thumb’?

Tom’s Thumb is named after a local rock climber, Tom Kreuser, who was known for his unique climbing style. The rock formation resembles a thumb sticking out of the ground, hence the name.

Can you provide directions to the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead?

To get to Tom’s Thumb Trailhead, take the Pima/Loop 101 Freeway to the Pima Road/Princess Drive exit. Head north on Pima Road for about 3.5 miles, then turn right onto Happy Valley Road. Continue on Happy Valley Road for about 4.5 miles, then turn left onto Ranch Gate Road. Follow Ranch Gate Road for about 1.5 miles until you reach the trailhead parking lot on your left.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale is a rewarding experience that offers stunning views and a challenging workout. Here are a few key takeaways to keep in mind before embarking on your hike:

  • The trail can be steep and rocky, so be sure to wear proper hiking shoes and bring plenty of water.
  • The trail is well-marked, but it’s always a good idea to bring a map or download a GPS app to ensure you stay on track.
  • The trail can get crowded on weekends, so consider going early in the morning or on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
  • The views from the top of Tom’s Thumb are breathtaking and well worth the effort it takes to get there.
  • Remember to leave no trace and pack out all your trash to help preserve the natural beauty of the area.

Overall, hiking Tom’s Thumb Trail is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Scottsdale who enjoys hiking and the great outdoors. With its stunning views, challenging terrain, and well-maintained trail, it’s no wonder why this hike is so popular among locals and tourists alike. So grab your hiking boots, pack some snacks, and hit the trail for an unforgettable adventure!

Charley Waters

I've traveled to 49 states and 3 provinces in Canada living in my RV full-time over many years. I've stayed just about everywhere possible. National parks, state parks, parking lots, BLM land, Independent RV parks and friends and family's driveways. I lived through a crazy Derecho windstorm in Iowa. I got stuck in a winter freeze in Texas.

Living on the road in your RV can be challenging at times. But the good times make up for the bad. I'm here to share my experience and help fellow RVers good decisions while enjoying the great outdoors and vast camping opportunities this country has to offer.

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