Tom’s Thumb Trail to Lookout
Tom's Thumb Trail to Lookout is a beautiful 8.0 km out and back hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve near Scottsdale. This route climbs up past East End Peak and Tom’s Thumb to Lookout, an impressive viewpoint over the McDowell Mountains and the city of Phoenix. While this route doesn’t go to Tom’s Thumb, it’s a very short and simple side trip to this point if you want to see it on the way to or from Lookout. The hike is hard, ascending over 427 m on the upward journey. While the trail isn’t all that technical, it’ll get your heart rate up!
Kids can complete this hike as long as they’re active and likely a bit older. Dogs are permitted as long as they’re kept on leash. There isn’t any water at the trailhead, so come prepared with all you’ll need (and you might need a lot!).
Join our newsletter
Get a weekly dose of discounts and inspiration for adventure lovers
Route Description for Tom’s Thumb Trail to Lookout
Tom's Thumb Trail to Lookout is a hard hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, one of the best natural areas near Scottsdale. This hike climbs up past East End Peak and Tom’s Thumb to a great viewpoint over the McDowell Mountains and the city of Phoenix spread out below. While this route doesn’t go to the thumb, it’s a very short side trip if you want to see both viewpoints, but the view from Lookout is definitely the best one on the trail.
This hike is an awesome workout with steady elevation gain. You’ll gain over 427 m of elevation in less than 3 miles, so while the route isn’t particularly technically demanding, you’ll definitely get your legs working. Young kids and beginners may struggle with this hike, but we encourage you to test it out.
A few notes about hiking in this area: you’ll need to prepare for the hot sun. Avoid this hike (and any hike, really) during the heat of the day in warmer months. Bring plenty of water–there isn’t any at the trailhead, so bring all you’ll need with you. Finally, consider sun protection like a hat and sunscreen.
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a sensitive natural habitat. Please remember to stay on the designated trails and keep dogs leashed and on the trails as well. Take your trash with you, including doggy waste.
Keep an eye out for a few things on this trail: there are fascinating mushroom-shaped rock formations to see as you climb. If you visit in roosting season, you could see nests of birds of prey. Mule deer also commonly graze near the flatter start of this hike.
From the trailhead, hike past the restrooms and stay right at the first fork. Once you reach a T-intersection, stay right again. Your warmup is over and it’s time to climb!
Take the first set of switchbacks up the hike. Once you reach Raven’s Roost, enjoy your first viewpoint. More switchbacks come after Raven’s Roost, but you’ll have another nice place to catch your breath at the second lookout on the trail. The upper part of this initial ascent to the saddle is more undulating, but you’ll still have steep sections to complete.
Admire East End Peak up and to your left as you climb. You’ll hike up to the saddle between the peak and the one west of it. At the saddle, bear right. There’s a trail that continues straight, but it descends off the backside of the mountain.
Most of the climbing is done at this point. There are amazing giant boulders up here, so take some time to check each one out. You’ll hike in between two that lean into one another as you head west.
Tom’s Thumb is just a few steps to your left at the 3-way junction. You can either stop by it now or on the way back, or you can skip it altogether to earn a better view from Lookout (which this guide does).
Take a left at the junction. At the fork, stay left again onto Lookout Trail. It’s a short climb to Lookout, where you’ll have an excellent, wide-reaching view of the surrounding mountains and preserve.
From here, you’ll retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Hiking Route Highlights
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a permanently protected desert habitat north of Scottsdale, Arizona. This preserve offers a vast network of hiking, biking, running, and equestrian trails. The preserve contains Granite Mountain and Brown’s Summit among other lower peaks. In this protected habitat, local flora and fauna are able to thrive, providing an excellent experience for visitors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who owns the McDowell Sonoran Preserve?
The preserve is owned by the residents of Scottsdale and managed through a partnership with the City of Scottsdale and the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization.
How big is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve?
The preserve covers more than 30,500 acres.
Is Tom’s Thumb harder than Camelback?
No, this hike isn’t as hard as Camelback, nor does it see quite as much traffic.
Insider Hints for Tom’s Thumb Trail to Lookout
- Climbers can enjoy several routes to the top of this hike, ranging from 5.2 to 5.11-.
- Try a midweek hike if you want more of the trail to yourself.
Getting to the Tom’s Thumb Trail to Lookout Trailhead
The trailhead for Tom's Thumb Trail to Lookout is on the trail access road off N 128th Street.
Tom’s Thumb Trail to Lookout Elevation Graph
Weather ForecastCheck Area Weather
Tom’s Thumb Trail to Lookout Reviews
Add a comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.