The Lookout, McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Tom's Thumb Trailhead, Phoenix - Scottsdale - Mesa, Arizona

The Lookout - 5.0 miles

McDowell Sonoran Preserve: Tom's Thumb Trailhead

Southeast views across McDowell Regional Park from the Lookout

Southeast views across McDowell Regional Park from the Lookout

Round-Trip Length: 5.0 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,805' - 3,858' (3,876' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,053' net elevation gain (+1,425' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

The Lookout - 5.0 Miles Round-Trip

The Lookout is located 2.5 miles from Tom's Thumb Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This terminal point on a high ridge offers rangy panoramas across the McDowell Mountains, Verde River Valley and McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

While views are exceptional, visitors will notice two very distinct rock types along the way.

The Tom’s Thumb Trail climbs steeply through granite rock gardens that formed as magma intrusions cooled near the earth’s surface and lithified.  Exposed granite has been dramatically rounded by erosion, with horizontal and vertical joint patterns in larger rock masses.

This rounded, light colored rock contrasts sharply with the dark and jagged basalt, rhyolite and quartz found on the final approach to The Lookout:

The trail heads south through large plots of well-spaced brush, a good place to find jackrabbit, roadrunner, quail and a variety of songbirds. Sculpted boulders litter the bajada, which is noticeably absent of saguaro and barrel cactus.

The trail rises gently past the Feldspar Trail to a climbing access spur (.45 miles : 2,980’), past which it steepens considerably on tightly wound switchbacks.

The trail climbs 683’ in just .9 miles to a crest overlooking the McDowell interior, and a surreal landscape of immense granite formations and lush vegetation (1.35 miles : 3,663’).

It dips to the East End Trail split (1.6 miles : 3,582’), and curls west up to the Tom’s Thumb access trail (1.9 miles : 3,721’). You’ll pass the Glass Dome en route, a worthwhile destination in itself.

The main trail continues south and moderates on a high, sparsely vegetated ridge to the Lookout access trail split (2.05 miles : 3,720’). Rounded, light colored granite is abruptly replaced by dark basalt and colorful quartz on this elevated stretch.

The Lookout Trail may be initially hard to discern, but quickly clarifies up and to your left. It rises along a southeast-facing ridge, then dips to The Lookout (2.5 miles : 3,858’).

The Lookout stands directly over Windgate Pass with a revealing look over the pristine foothills and bajadas of McDowell Mountain Regional Park. McDowell Peak (3,995’), Drinkwater Peak (3,910’) and Thompson Peak (3,969’) dominate the immediate horizon.

Those with time should consider the .5 mile roundtrip excursion to Tom’s Thumb, a large granite spire in a Joshua Tree-like setting.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N33 41.636 W111 48.132 — 0.0 miles : Tom's Thumb Trailhead
  • N33 41.332 W111 48.344 — .45 miles : Climbing access trail split; trail steepens
  • N33 41.097 W111 48.280 — .92 miles : Climbing access trail split
  • N33 40.862 W111 48.225 — 1.35 miles : Reach crest, dip to East End Trail
  • N33 40.751 W111 48.241 — 1.6 miles : Tom's Thumb - East End Trail split
  • N33 40.774 W111 48.531 — 1.9 miles : Tom's Thumb Trail spur - keep left
  • N33 40.689 W111 48.563 — 2.05 miles : Lookout Trail split
  • N33 40.386 W111 48.727 — 2.5 miles : The Lookout (3,858')

Worth Noting

  • Higher elevations with the opportunity to find shade amid large boulders make this trail a good choice in warmer months.
  • Tom's Thumb Trailhead sees heavy use, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be on a hand held leash at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

Tom's Thumb Trailhead is located on the northeast side of McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

This newly renovated and expanded trailhead is located 11.9 miles from HWY 101 on McDowell Mountain Ranch Road.

From Highway 101, take the Pima Road Exit (#36) and head 4.7 miles east on Pima to Happy Valley Road. Turn right on Happy Valley for 4.5 miles to McDowell Mountain Ranch Road. Follow signs (right) for Tom's Thumb Trailhead.

Contact Information

McDowell Sonoran Conservancy                                                                                                       16435 N Scottsdale Rd. Suite 110                                                                                                     Scottsdale AZ, 85254                                                                                                                 480.998.7971

Trip Reports

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