Tom's Thumb Trail - Scottsdale


Tom's Thumb Trail is located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserves of North Scottsdale.  Round trip to the Thumb is around 4.5 miles.  The trail winds up the side of the mountain with back-and-forth switchbacks to the top of the ridge line, where it takes a downhill bend before a final, soul crushing ascent to the Thumb (jk, it's not that hard).  This little bit of up and down puts the total elevation gain a bit over 1,000 feet. 

Getting there - it's quite easy to get to the trailhead, as long as you don't make the mistake of searching Google Maps for "Tom's Thumb Trail" and navigating to the result...you will wind up at an alternate trailhead with no parking.  So if you find yourself going through a neighborhood, you are going the wrong way.  (also, if you see signs that say 'no motor vehicle access to mountain preserves,' don't try to rationalize that you're going the correct way and the sign is stating the obvious that you can't drive your car through the desert...it means no parking...).  Instead, use the map below to navigate from Scottsdale.  Note that if you use the end address of 12900 E Paraidso Dr, Scottsdale (approx. the trailhead), Google will default to the wrong route.  You want to make sure your turn off of Happy Valley Road is onto Ranch Gate Road, NOT 119th St.
Map with correct final turns.

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Tom's Thumb Trail is fairly easy from a strenuousness standpoint, but slightly difficult from a maintaining-your-footing standpoint.  I would rank its strenuousness below Camelback Mtn. or Piestewa Peak.  Unlike both of those hikes, however, the footing on Tom's Thumb Trail is exceptionally loose dirt and gravel.  When this surface combines with the sometimes steep switchbacks, you can expect lots of slips so be careful.  I suggest maintaining some distance between your hiking mates on the way down so you don't topple like dominoes if one person slips.  This will also allow you to keep your momentum and movement forward...the biggest cause of slipping is trying to stop or dramatically slow yourself. 

On the day we hiked (May 11, 2013), we were certainly not alone on the trail, but I found the trail to be much less busy than Camelback or Piestewa, and parking was plentiful.  There are numerous other trails than the one to the Thumb.  There are also climbing areas; a guy mountain biked past us; and, judging from the 'signs,' horse riding is permitted.  Dogs are allowed, but should remain on-leash. 

There are restrooms at the trailhead, but absolutely no water so come prepared.  There is little shade along this hike so make sure to factor in the sun's rays into the temperature calculation when deciding if it's a good idea to hike.  We were lucky today and had a stiff breeze for most of the time, making the hike very comfortable despite the mid-80 degree temperatures.  In the places where the wind was blocked, the heat and sun felt very strong.  That being the case, I would not recommend making this trip if the temperature is over 85 unless you are accustomed to hiking in those temperatures.  For further advice on hiking in warm temperatures, refer to the GTFO Hot Hot Heat Survival Guide.

Coming from Scottsdale, the nearest dining and grocery options are at DC Ranch, 10-15 minutes from the trailhead.


More details of the hike from ArizonaHiking.org

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