Tom's Thumb Trailhead in Scottsdale, AZ

If you are visiting Scottsdale and have all our shopping done, there are lots of awesome outdoor activities to do. Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in Arizona is a heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Scottsdale, Arizona. It features beautiful scenery and is rated to be moderate in difficulty. An out and back trail is also known as a destination trail or an in-and-out trail. These types of trails head to a specific point but then has to be backtracked to where it started.

The trail has a number of activities available for those interested and is accessible all year-round. Dogs are also allowed to use the trail, but they must be kept on the leash at all times.

Terrain of the Trail

The thumb consists of a granite spire that stands atop a high ridge on the northeast side of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The namesake of the trail is visible from miles around, and it has become one the most popular climbing and hiking destinations.

Around 1.4 million years ago in Tom’s Thumb area, rising magma began to overlay quartzite and rhyolite rock layers, and then it lithified into granite. Crystals then formed, producing a coarse-grained rock in pockets of the land where the magma has cooled slowly. In some areas, the faster cooling magma formed fewer crystals and formed a finer grain. Both surfaces are high-traction, which are prized and praised by mountain bikers and climbers.

The exposed granite in the area has been worn down and shaped by erosion. They’ve been dramatically rounded with horizontal and vertical joint patterns in large masses of rock. The light color of the granite contrasts nicely with the dark color of the rhyolite and the jagged basalt found throughout the area.

Those who have visited Joshua Tree National Park may notice a strong resemblance due to the similar rock formations that have similar origin and complexation.

Directions to Get There

Take state HWY-101 North to the Pima Road exit if you’re coming from the Phoenix area. Drive north of Pima Road and then make a right turn onto Happy Valley Road. Go east on that road which will turn North on its own, becoming 118th street. Make a right turn onto Ranch Gate Road. From there go 1.3 miles and then make a right turn onto 128th Street. After about 1 mile more of driving, you’ll reach the trailhead which is displayed with a sign. For the trail, you should bring water, but there are restrooms on site.

Where to Go on the Trails

Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in Arizona is a total of 4 miles long. It leads through magnificent rock gardens for 2.15 miles. The high ridges give sweeping views of the Preserve and the Verde River Valley as well as the trail connections for The Lookout, Windgate Pass, and East End.
The trail then heads south through huge plots of nicely spaced brush. It’s a great spot to find roadrunner, quail, a variety of songbirds, and jackrabbits. Sculpted boulders are all over the bajada. The area is noticeably absent of both barrel cactus and saguaro.

The trail rises past the Feldspar Trail to a climbing access spur. It then steepens considerably to tightly wound switchbacks. Despite the seemingly challenging grades, the terrain is smooth from the finely eroded granite. The trail climbs 683 feet in just .9 miles to a crest that looks over the McDowell interior.

The trail then dips into the East End Trail split and turns west up to Tom’s Thumb access trail. Along the way, you’ll pass the Glass Dome which is a wonderful destination in itself. The spur breaks north, and you’ll weave through large outcrops to the base of the thumb. The spacious and elevated area has many shaded nooks and amazing views in every direction that are easy to explore.