East End • Range Highpoint: McDowell Mountains
• McDowell Mountains Preserve
• Eastern Maricopa County

Date Climbed
November 12, 2011

4,065 feet

3 miles

2 hours, 10 minutes

1,100 feet

High clouds, pleasant

1,347 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

Coming in from the north along 128th Street: East End is on the left, Tom's Thumb is the pinnacle at right

People hiking the trail

Looking across at Tom's Thumb

Now looking up at the peak

From the top, the fountain in Fountain Hills is fountaining

West view

North view

Southwest View: Thompson Peak with towers, McDowell Peak to the right

Northwest view: Tom's Thumb, and Pinnacle Peak off yonder. The Bradshaws are way in the back

Another shot of Tom's Thumb

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Prominence Peaks


The McDowell Mountains are located within Scottsdale city limits, and form an impressive line of peaks that run for about six miles north to south. About twenty-plus years ago, the city incorporated the range into its boundaries, then formed the McDowell Mountains Preserve, specifically to protect the range against further development. The range is crossed by many trails, with three main ďlet-inĒ points and some unofficial trailhead access on the fringe. During the cooler months, the trails are extremely popular, with out-and-back routes, loop hikes, traverse options and some hefty rock-climbing routes on the rangeís north end.

As viewed from Scottsdale, two peaks stand out as tallest: McDowell Peak and Thompson Peak, which has radio towers on top. On the north end is the famous Pinnacle Peak, a smaller hill with a notable spire on its summit and a popular rock-climb route. The range highpoint is actually hidden from view from most of Scottsdale: the highest point is called East End, which is actually north and east of the main wall of peaks. You probably couldnít point it out without a detailed map. McDowell Peak, which is north of Thompson Peak, has an elevation of 4,034 feet, just a few feet lower than East End. This is not to be confused with the free-standing Mount McDowell, a reddish cliffy peak about 15 miles southeast, within the Salt River Reservation.

My first venture into the range was way back in about 1994. I made a half-hearted exploratory hike into the northern foothills, got myself into some canyons and slightly turned around. So I walked out back to my truck, and that was it for about 15 years. There was a lot going on with these hills during this period. Sections would be closed to access while the city bought the lands or worked out access deals. The main trailheads were not yet developed, and road access was still kind of hit-and-miss. Anyway, I didnít come back until Thanksgiving, 2010.

My intent that day was to explore the route to East End, but the day was very cold and windy. I bailed when it got too uncomfortable, and figuring I live close by, I can always come back when itís nicer. In May of 2011, Marvin Bittinger and I hiked a trail from the west side, from one of the newly developed trailheads. He loves the range and has hiked the trails more often than I have. We went a couple miles up one trail, then returned when the temperatures started to get hot. Still, we had fun.

So after things cooled down again, I decided to explore the route to the summit again. I left home, took the Loop-101 freeway to Pima Road, north on Pima to Dynamite, east on Dynamite through the ritzy Troon development to 128th Street, then south on 128th, which is dirt, about three miles toward the base of the range. The roads are slightly rough and eroded in spots, and one has to follow a ďdetourĒ to a ďtemporaryĒ parking area. When I rolled in, there were about 20 cars there, parked every-which-where. The whole parking area in on a slope. I got dressed and everything packed, locked up the truck, and started my hike at 10:15 a.m. The weather was cool, with thick high clouds and a light breeze.

From the parking area, elevation about 2,900 feet, I started walking west on the Tomís Thumb Trail. This trail eventually leads to Tomís Thumb, a large, blocky pinnacle way up on the range crest, and another rock-climbing destination. Not surprisingly, a lot of hikers today had big packs, helmets and other goodies attached to them that suggested their plans for the day. There were also lots of casual hikers, some kids, a few runners, people with dogs, old people, young people, everything. A good mix. And me.

Tomís Thumb Trail runs flat for about 0.3 mile, paralleling the base of the range, then comes to a junction. I stayed left, still on the Tomís Thumb Trail. Here, the trail gets steeper and steadily switchbacks up the hillsides, gaining elevation pretty fast. The trail is wide and smooth, but gravelly and prone to gullying from the rains. It achieves a couple of small saddles along the way, then traverses across East Endís west-facing slopes. I made good time, covering a little over a mile with about 700 feet of gain, coming to yet another small saddle at elevation 3,690 feet. East Endís summit was directly ahead of me to my left. I had come this far last year, but the weather was enough to turn me back.

The trail drops about 60 feet into a small basin. Here, I found a use-path spurring off to the left, which I surmised was probably the way to the top. There is no official trail to the top, but itís reasonable to assume enough people have come this way to beat in a foot-path. The terrain here is very rocky, with giant blocks littering the slopes. The path, though, winds through these obstacles and works its way up the slope to a saddle directly north of the summit. To here from the main trail was about 200 feet of gain. The path was evident most of the way, with discreet rock cairns helping confirm the way when things got confusing.

From this saddle, I found the path again and followed it up the remaining 200 more feet to the top. Again, not too bad. It looks worse from below, but the path neatly winds through the big rocks and scrubby growth. Although I used my hands here and there for balance, I would rate the off-trail hiking to be class 1. I didnít even get scratched on my legs!

The summit itself has a small saddle, with a solar-panel apparatus sitting within a small fence. The real summit is to the left, and in moments I was there. There is a sign-in strong-box sitting in a cleft of the summit boulder. I signed in, and scanned the log for familiar names. I found a few. Two people had signed in yesterday, Veteranís Day, but before them, the previous signatures went back two weeks, and overall, seemed to average about five or six people per month, including a few who came up during the hot summer months. Given the popularity of these trails, itís apparent very few seek out the summit, and I daresay most people arenít aware of this being the summit. Only when youíre on top is it obvious that itís higher than everything else. From below, thereís nothing to suggest itís the summit. It hides in plain sight.

The views were great, but kind of washed out due to the cloudiness. Looking southeast, the big fountain in Fountain Hills was jetting water skyward (see photo). The Superstitions and Weavers Needle were set farther back. The west view was dominated by Thompson and McDowell Peaks, and the rocky ridgeline with Tomís Thumb. North, I had great views into the hinterlands north of Cave Creek, with the New River Range and the FAA radar dome atop Humboldt Mountain way off in the distance. To the east was the Mazatzal Range, with Mount Ord and Browns Peak, all partly occluded by the clouds.

The benchmark and witness markers are set on top of a large flat rock about 30 feet north of the summit rock, about eight feet lower in elevation than the summit. Why they do this Iíll never know. It does suggest that the true summit elevation may be about 4,065 feet, adding eight feet to the benchmarkís 4,057 feet. I went over to check them out, but one giant rock was set very precariously, pinned in by two bigger rocks. When I tested it, the damn thing moved and groaned! Thoughts of Aron Ralston and 127 hours ran through my head. So I backed off it. I donít care that much anyway. Instead, I sat beside the solar thingy and had a short lunch.

The hike down went fine, and I took the downhills slowly due to the gravelly nature of the trails. Back onto the main trail, I jog-walked back to my truck, a total time gone of 2 hours, 10 minutes. I call the one-way mileage to be 1.5 miles, with 1,100 feet gross elevation gain. I was pleased it went so well, and am happy now to have properly summitted my home cityís (almost) highest point. I took a short cut through a housing development and was home by 1 p.m.


The spur trail to East End's summit is not an official trail. No off-trail hiking is allowed in the McDowells, so technically, hiking to the summit is not allowed. You should be aware of this fact.

Trailhead: This north trailhead is undeveloped, with bumpy roads, although there seems to be some construction going on, so they may end up improving the road here some day, with trailhead amenities. I donít know. For now, itís undeveloped. Just follow the signs.

Directions, the easier but lengthier route: Loop-101 freeway to the Pima/Princess Exit, then north on Pima Road about 6.5 or 7 miles to Dynamite Road. East on Dynamite, go about six miles to 128th Street. Go south on 128th Street, which is graded dirt, for about three miles. Stay on the main road and worm your way through the gullies and soft spots. Here, start looking for signs to the ďtemporaryĒ parking area. Youíll probably make a left onto an unsigned road (called Paraiso Road on the map), then a right (south) into the lot.

The shorter but slightly more confusing route: From the Loop-101, go north on Pima for about five miles to Happy Valley Road, then go east up Happy Valley Road about four miles. Turn right onto 115th Way, which then becomes Alameda Road. Keep an eye out for 119th Way, and go right. Follow this road to Casitas Del Rio and go left. Follow this windy road past expensive homes to Paraiso Road on your left, just before you get to a gated dead-end, presumably the developerís offices. On Paraiso, the pavement ends. Just follow the main road east up into the desert foothills past a couple homes, then start looking for the signs to the trailhead.

I came the longer way coming in, but left the shorter way going out. This shorter way is kind of confusing because the roads change name at bends, and you have to pay attention.

(c) 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.