Tom’s Thumb is a heavily trafficked local favorite hike located within the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, that is accessible between sunrise and sunset.
The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve was established in 1990 to protect the McDowell Mountains as well as the surrounding 34,000 acres of desert and provide public recreational opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, biking, and rock climbing. The preserve is owned and operated by the City of Scottsdale in partnership with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.
The Preserve’s rustic breezeway at the parking lot offers rock climbing rules and regulations, detailed trail maps, information regarding local flora and fauna, and a history of mountain formations during the Volcanic Era. There are nice restrooms at the trailhead, but be aware that this is absolutely no running water here, so be prepared!
This moderate hike is relatively flat for the first half mile before starting a steady climb of steep switchbacks. Throughout the next 0.75 miles up you’ll notice a few short hills leading to scenic viewing points overlooking the McDowell Mountains and surrounding desert space.
The hike levels out after the initial steep ascent up the ridge. You'll then hike through rolling hills of enormous boulders and cacti while passing many of the turnouts for rock climbing areas. No question, this is the most beautiful and scenic part of the hike as navigate through car-sized boulders and often feel like you’re on another planet.
The hike is smooth and well marked; however, the sign for the turnout to Tom’s Thumb is somewhat confusing. Be aware that the sign leading to Tom’s Thumb is labeled as a “Rock Climbing Access Route” for Tom’s Thumb and Gardener’s Wall, implying that it is a route intended just for climbers. There were more than a few hikers that confusedly continued past the sign.
From the Tom’s Thumb and Gardener’s Wall sign the route isn’t well-marked but is still easy to follow. By now you’ll clearly see the giant granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb; you just need to keep hiking up toward it. Take note that there are a few spots that require some agility and light scrambling. Kids should have some fun with this part and anyone should be able to make it with some assistance.
You’ll soon reach the prolific granite slab that is Tom’s Thumb. Pull out your snack and water and take a load off while enjoying the sights and sounds before heading back down.
The north side of Tom’s Thumb may be closed to protect local falcons nesting in the areas, and signs advise all visitors to keep their voices down to avoid disturbing them.