Editor’s note regarding COVID-19: Please be cautious and courteous of fellow hikers by maintaining a safe distance (at least six feet) between yourself and others at all times including on the Sonoran desert trails. I was extremely disappointed to find on my most recent hike (on the Gateway Loop Trail) that social distancing was not being practiced by many. Please follow CDC guidelines and instructions of your local authorities in all activities during this pandemic crisis.
Marcus Landslide Trail — Our latest hike in the Sonoran Desert
After a long period of hiking on our usual favorite Sonoran Desert trails, we decided to try something new. We’d heard a lot about the trails accessed at the Tom’s Thumb Trailhead with most of the input coming from advanced hikers who like to get some good elevation and adventure in their hikes. But we learned that in addition to the more difficult trails, there is a nice moderate one that sounded perfect for us. We’ve now added the Marcus Landslide Trail to our list of favorites.
Tom’s Thumb Trailhead (23015 N. 128th Street)
Marcus Landslide Trail – Moderately Difficult (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding, Climbing)
The Marcus Landslide Trail (so named for the massive landslide discovered there that occurred over 500,000 years ago) is a three-mile round-trip hike with a change in elevation of 280 ft. Much of the grade is gently downhill on the way out, uphill on the way back (with sections of up and down dips). The surface of the often curvy path is quite smooth and wide. At the end of the trail, you can opt to walk an additional .8 miles and go up another 200 ft on the Marcus Landslide Loop at the historic landslide site. Horses and bikes aren’t allowed on the loop — only foot traffic.
The most direct way to pick up the trail is at the south end of the trailhead parking area. You can retrace your footsteps to return. Starting out, we took a short alternate route from the trailhead going south on Tom’s Thumb Trail, then turning left on the Feldspar Trail until meeting up with Marcus Landslide trail and turning right to continue the main trail. We returned on the main trail.
There are beautiful views from all along the trail. Looking eastward across Verde River Valley are the Mazatzal and Superstition Mountains. To the west you’ll see the east side of the McDowell Mountains.
The boulders and other rock formations are stunning and often quite unusual.
Marcus Landslide Trail is an interpretive trail with numerous informational signs and vista points. If you’d like to do some rock climbing, watch for the signs for designated easy to moderate rock climbing spots.
We also caught sight of someone doing some very advanced rock climbing. If you zoom in a bit on the photo below, you’ll see a person about halfway up a large rock surface in the center of the picture. I couldn’t see any ropes, but I assume there was some kind of support. We don’t advise that kind of climbing unless you’re an expert!
Update January, 2020: We’ve been back to the trail again! On this hike, we were able to get some cool views of snow-capped mountains in the distance (shown below).
Directions to Tom’s Thumb Trailhead:
From Scottsdale Rd or Pima Rd, turn East onto Happy Valley Rd. Proceed about 2 miles past Alma School and turn right (East) onto Ranch Gate. Proceed to the end of Ranch Gate and then turn right (South) onto 128 St and you’ll arrive at the trailhead in less than a mile. — McDowell Sonoran Conservancy
Tom’s Thumb tips:
- There are two large parking areas and an area for equestrian parking.
- There is a building with restrooms at the trailhead.
- Bring plenty of water for your hike because there is no water available at the trailhead.
- Other hiking trails from the trailhead include the Tom’s Thumb, Feldspar, Mesquite Canyon Loop (an easy 1.1 mi loop) and Tom’s Thumb Trail (to the base of Tom’s Thumb), a difficult 4.6 mi round trip.
- Because of road construction on 128th Street (as of December 2019), the road is narrow from Ranch Gate Road to the trailhead, so be careful and courteous of oncoming vehicles.
More of our favorite Scottsdale hikes
Past articles where you can find more information about Scottsdale hiking trails:
Granite Mountain Trailhead (31402 N. 136th Street)
Bootlegger Trail – Moderate (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
Lost Dog Wash Trailhead (12601 N. 124th Street)
Lost Dog Wash Trail connecting with Ringtail Trail – Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
Gateway Trailhead (18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway)
Gateway Loop Trail – Moderate (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
Quartz Trailhead (10215 E. McDowell Mountain Ranch Road)
Quartz Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
Sunrise Trailhead (12101 N. 145th Way)
Sunrise Trail –Difficult (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
Gateway Trailhead (18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway)
Paradise Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead (30301 N. Alma School Parkway)
Brown’s Ranch Road Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
104th and Bell Trailhead (Bell Road east of Thompson Peak Parkway)
104th Street Trail and Levee Trail — Easy (Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding)
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