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Saturday, October 6, 2018


"Hikernators" Find Inspiration on Scottsdale's Tom's Thumb Trail
Iconic Tom's Thumb in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
For Valley hikers, autumn’s balmy temperatures are at the center of a triple conjunction of will, weather and wherewithal that rekindles desert hiking envy.
Tom's Thumb seen from the Prairie Falcon Overlook.
The inertia is palpable as swarms of “hikernators” emerge from air-conditioned gyms, the darkness of night or mountain climes to once again walk in desert sunlight.
It’s a heady time of year for hikers who are anxious to shake off the smell of pine and ditch the 4 a.m. start times.
The Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset daily.
What better way to inaugurate a new season than to climb to one of the Valley’s iconic geological features for tantalizing views and a chance to build your checklist of places to hike over the coming cooler months.
Granite boulders line the upper parts of Tom's Thumb Trail.
With its challenging grade and Valleywide panoramas, Tom’s Thumb Trail is one of the most popular routes in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The 5-mile-long trail makes a constant but manageable ascent on the north flanks of the McDowell Mountains with scenic viewpoints that frame dozens of hiking hubs.
From the Tom’s Thumb trailhead, the path begins with a moderate “warm up” section before taking on the switchbacks that ascend among massive granite outcroppings and classic desert vegetation.
After roughly 300 feet of climbing, mountain vistas to the north and east begin to shine.
Directly below, a maze of dirt trails can be seen winding through McDowell Mountain Regional Park. As the trail ascends, the familiar profiles of the Superstition Mountains jut from the eastern horizon.
Tom's Thumb
Hikes in the “Supes” are perennial bucket-listers for locals and winter visitors alike. Located at the cusp of suburbia and the mineral-rich Copper Corridor, the wilderness has trails that range from groomed, easy access favorites to feral and remote backcountry treks.
View of Tom's Thumb from near the trailhead.
At the 2-mile point, the major climbing ends where a short spur path leads to the base Tom’s Thumb. Visible from many spots around town, the soaring lump of craggy granite is even more impressive up close. The 0.3-mile spur entails some minor scrambling to reach the goal.  Wander around Tom's Thumb perimeter to see shallow caves and a cathedral-like corridor with a breezeway that opens to views of Elephant Mountain in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area and peaks of the Cave Creek Mountains and Tonto National Forest. The mountains may seem beyond reach, but you can get to them from the McDowells by hiking the Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail that connects 10 county parks, suburbs, cities and open space over its 300+-mile, non-motorized course.
The trail ascends over 1300' on a gravely surface.
Many hikers are satisfied to call the Tom’s Thumb formation their turnaround point for a 4.6-mile trip.
Hikers take a break at Vulture View Scenic Point.
However, the trail bends to the southwest and continues on a deceptively easy-looking descent to its terminus at Windgate Pass Trail. Once you commit to following the trail to this point, you’ll need to decide if you want to complete the hike with a tough long loop, car-shuttle one-way or an out-and-back hike.
Metro Phoenix sprawls out below Tom's Thumb Trail.
Use the preserve’s free downloadable maps to navigate its over 200 miles of pristine desert trails.
Looking northwest from the trail.
Although trails within the preserve alone could fill an entire hiking season, vistas from its airy high points provide inspiration for years of desert roaming.
Many mountain hike destinations can be seen from the trail.
View from the base of Tom's Thumb.
LENGTH: 2.3 miles one-way to Tom’s Thumb, or 5 miles one way for entire trail
RATING: difficult                                                                             
To Tom’s Thumb: 2813- 3925 feet
Entire trail: 2438 - 3925 feet
Tom's Thumb Trailhead: 23015 N. 128th St. Scottsdale, AZ 85255.
From Loop 101 in Scottsdale, take the Pima/Princess Road exit 36 and continue 5 miles north on Pima to Happy Valley Road.  Turn right (east) and go 4.1 miles on Happy Valley to Ranch Gate. Turn right on Ranch Gate, follow it 1.2 miles then turn right onto 128th St. and continue 1 mile on 128th to the signed trailhead. Roads are 100% paved.  The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset daily.

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