“A stiff climb on desert singletrack leading to fantastic views of Tom's Thumb and the surrounding area.”
— Hunter R
Birding · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Tom's Thumb is one of the best hikes in Scottsdale, notable for its smooth trail surface, great signage, and interesting rock features. King of all the rock features along this hike is the hike's namesake and turn-around point: Tom's Thumb. At 1.4 billion years old, the towering granite slabs of Tom's Thumb have stood the test of time and are truly a sight to see.
Need to Know
There is absolutely no water at the trailhead, so be sure to bring enough with you to succeed on your hike. Conventional wisdom for the area dictates each member of your party should bring at least 2-3 liters of water during the summer and 1-2 liters in spring, fall, or winter. Improper hydration coupled with the steep gradients along this hike can spell trouble for even the most seasoned desert hiker.
Access this awesome hike from the new Tom's Thumb Trailhead off North 128th Street, complete with sun shades, restrooms, and informational kiosks detailing the local flora, fauna, and geology. From the parking area, head through the bathroom and sunshade facility to reach the Tom's Thumb Trail
on the opposite side.
For the first portion of the trail, enjoy relatively mellow grades and a manicured surface as you meander through abundant varieties of scrubby desert flora with ancient saguaros towering above and spiny, yellow-tinted cholla hiding below.
After about a half-mile, the trail increases in grade dramatically as it gains the ridgeline in haste. At this point, be sure to take frequent breaks and drink water, as forgetting to do so will leave you "seeing stars" as a result of dehydration. Plus, you might as well enjoy the scenic views of the McDowells and the surrounding area, as they will only build your excitement for the climactic viewpoint atop Tom's Thumb.
Even though your heart and legs may be talking back at you at this point, keep your wits about you as best you can, as the combination of blind, switchbacking corners and the occasional mountain biker whizzing downhill at high speed can spell disaster if you are not alert. If in doubt, keep your ears attuned to the high-pitched whirring sound of a biker's rear wheel to preemptively alert you to an oncoming cyclist.
Once you have finally gained the ridge, the trail becomes much easier, continuing on a smooth tread as it contours the hillside. Turn right at the first junction you encounter, following the Tom's Thumb Trail
as it weaves through large granitic boulders to a second junction that can be easy to miss if you are hiking with gusto. Look for a small sign marking a right turn onto a small path. Follow the path as it navigates large boulders on its way to the summit of Tom's Thumb. If you haven't taken pictures already, the large boulders along this section make great backdrops for portraits of your friends or family.
After passing the boulders, you'll come to the mid-point and climax of the hike: Tom's Thumb. Named after a prolific and loved local rock climber, Tom Kreuser, Tom's Thumb houses some of the most excellent traditional-style climbing in the Valley of the Sun. As a result, don't be surprised to hear the jingling sound of metal protection dangling from climber's harnesses as they move on the rocks above.
From the thumb, find your way onto a boulder, break out a snack and some water, and enjoy the fantastic panoramic views of the mountains and valleys before you. Luckily, the views from Tom's Thumb are to the east, showcasing a relatively untouched piece of the Phoenix area and providing viewers with a stronger sense of seclusion compared to what you can find on other local trails.
After enjoying yourself at the summit, simply retrace your steps back to the main trail and down to your car.
Flora & Fauna
Numerous small lizards, traces of wildlife, and species of flowering desert flora can be seen along the trail.