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Visible from virtually anywhere in the northeast Phoenix metro area and beyond, Tom’s Thumb is an icon of the McDowell Mountains. Though it appears almost dainty mounted atop the grand McDowell Mountain range when viewed from afar, this massive 150 feet tall granite monolith changes your perspective when viewed from its base! Check out the photo below with the profile view of Tom’s Thumb with two guys at the bottom left of it; WOW! Throughout the hike up to Tom’s Thumb, the granite formations and geologically dynamic landscape will keep anyone engaged; it is truly a beautiful sampling of the Sonoran Desert and is considered by some to be an engaging “rock garden”. On the way to the top, visitors will be greeted with expansive views of the Verde River Plain and the Mazatzal Mountains. When reaching the top at Tom’s Thumb, you will be greeted with expansive views of Phoenix below, including views of Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, and South Mountain Regional Park. You can enjoy this hike any time of the year, but if you go in the summer, make sure it is very early in the morning! I enjoy doing this trail most in the winter and shoulder seasons when the weather is at its prime!

Tom's Thumb McDowell Mountains ArizonaGetting to Tom’s Thumb can be accomplished two major ways – the north and the south approach, the latter being the longer and more difficult of the two. Logistics for each are below. Although mountain biking each trail is possible, I personally have not tried it and those I have heard from who have done each route by mountain bike say they would not do it again and wish they hadn’t bothered because neither is very much fun from both a recreational and training perspective. Check out some of the other mountain bike tracks and trails offered in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve if you’re set on mountain biking!

Logistics – North Approach (Shorter Route – 4.2 Miles Round Trip):

The opening of the LEED Platinum Certified Tom’s Thumb Trailhead and associated facilities in October of 2012 popularized the north approach. Personally, this is the one I prefer doing when heading up to Tom’s Thumb because I can tackle it in the morning or evening and still have the majority of my day remaining to do other things!

Tom’s Thumb Trailhead Address: 23015 N 128th Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85255. Some map services don’t get this address quite right, so just in case, here are the exact coordinates for the trailhead facility that you can copy and paste into your mapping service of choice: 33.694129, -111.801907 .

Though there are restrooms at this trailhead, make sure to bring PLENTY of water with you as there is NO potable water available at the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead!

Logistics – South Approach (Longer Route – 11.25 Miles Round Trip):

If you are looking to tackle Tom’s Thumb in more of a day hike format or are training for some other longer trek, this longer approach from the south is for you. If you are just looking to get up to Tom’s Thumb though, I would strongly recommend doing the north route described above.

Gateway Trailhead Address: 18333 N Thompson Peak Parkway, Scottsdale, AZ 85255.

You will start out on the Gateway Loop Trail at first, which will then connect you with the Windgate Pass Trail, which will then tie into the Tom’s Thumb Trail which will ultimately take you to your destination! You can see a portion of the trails you will take in the aerial image below. If you are only game for the 11.25, your return will be the same route you took on the way in. All trails are well marked. If you are game for a slightly different route that brings the round trip total up to 13 miles, here is an alternate route for you that will give a bit different scenery for a portion of your hike back to the Gateway Trailhead.

Make sure to bring PLENTY of water with you, though there are potable water facilities at the Gateway Trailhead if you need to top off before you commence the hike.

Tom's Thumb Phoenix View McDowell Mountains

What’s this about Ogres?!?!

What has popularly become known as the “Ogre Cave” is really one of two things: 1) some believe it is an old miner’s scouting cave and campout used for surveying the McDowells for possible valuable minerals 2) it is an urban survivalist’s hideaway, with a rumored additional cache nearby. Apologies if I got your hopes up, but Shrek and Fiona are not resident in the McDowell Mountains! There are a variety of trinkets and other paraphanalia in this cave formed by the giant granite boulders. As the origins of the trinkets aren’t 100% known, be sure to follow the Leave No Trace Principals in regards to leaving everything as you found it and please don’t forge any new trails trying to find the cave!

Gear & Gadgets:

Not much in the way of gear or gadgets are required for this hike! My Day Trip Gear Guide should do you plenty well for either approach to Tom’s Thumb. If you are doing the longer route, make sure to bring adequate food and water along for the longer duration!

Further Reading:

Leave No Trace Principles

Outdoors and Wilderness First Aid

The Phoenix Area’s Parks and Preserves – Donna and George Hartz

Adventuring in Arizona – John Annerino

Tom’s Thumb North Approach (4.2 Miles)

Tom’s Thumb Loop South Approach (13 Miles)


About The Author

Jeremy Meek is a native Arizonan with a passion for adventure and discovery of unique experiences. Whether exploring Arizona or setting out on an adventure abroad, Jeremy is constantly scouting truly great adventures and experiences.

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