Thumb Butte Trail No. 33
Thumb Butte Trail No. 33 begins at its trailhead at the main Thumb Butte Recreation Area parking lot, reached by traveling about 3.4 miles west of downtown Prescott on Gurley Street, which becomes Thumb Butte Road before you leave the city. The first of its two parking lots will come up on your right and the No. 33 trailhead is across the street.
The trail’s popularity makes being able to share the path a requirement. Above the forested portions there isn’t too much shade available, so prepare yourself accordingly.
Parking fees: $5, free on Wednesdays
Usages: Hiking only
Mileage: 2.1 miles
Level of difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5,795 feet to 6,380 feet
At 6,440 feet, Thumb Butte is a not-to-be-missed Prescott landmark, presiding over its bustling historic downtown as a friendly reminder of nature’s domain over the area.
It beckons to hikers and runner alike, and Prescott National Forest’s Trail No. 33 takes them to just 20 feet below its craggy peak.
It’s one of the most popular hikes in the forest, drawing families and enthusiasts of all ages, though mountain biking is prohibited. It provides a relatively steep higher-elevation climb, giving everyone a decent workout as they ascend from ponderosas to alligator junipers and prickly pears that bloom in spring.
It’s a loop trail, so users have a choice at the trailhead about how they get to the top. The U.S. Forest Service’s recommended route is to begin by taking the path on the right, a well-maintained paved or dirt trail that travels an easier slope and offers benches and other nature viewing opportunities; then taking the steeper paved portion back down.
Many hardy hikers choose to ascend via the steeper route for a stronger cardio challenge up the mountain with quite a few switchbacks, which works great for anyone who has decent lung capacity. The pavement can get slippery in winter, so spring and summer are the perfect times to experience the wonders of Thumb Butte.
These include the close-up view of the mountain’s defining butte, which is actually more of a jumble of boulders. Just to the south of it (on the paved side) is the incredible viewshed where you can see Prescott below and Granite and Mingus mountains, the Bradshaw Mountains and, if you’re lucky, the San Francisco Peaks by Flagstaff.
Trail No. 314 branches off near the halfway point of the loop, adding a half-mile of even more breathtaking views and connecting to Trail No. 326, which is part of the broader network of trails around Thumb Butte.
Benches and educational plaques about terrain and wildlife dot the unpaved portion of the trail, and a small memorial to the 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hot Shots is just east of the unmarked junction with No. 314.
Thumb Butte Trail No. 33 usually takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to complete, depending on your fitness and experience level, and is a perfect introduction to Greater Prescott’s outdoor adventures.