Woot, woot, in the butte (Thumb Butte, Arizona).

Jetting high into the sky, Thumb Butte sits proudly as a distinctive landmark of Prescott, Arizona. Nestled in the Prescott National Forest, Thumb Butte is so prominent that it’s almost impossible to miss, even from many miles out. Hiking Thumb Butte is popular, although we only came across about 8 people along the entire 2ish-mile loop. We went around 3pm on a Saturday during Memorial Day Weekend, so it may not have been crowded due to the art show in the town square. So, I’d take that it was rather empty with a grain of salt, as I believe we simply got lucky. According to the USDA Forest Service website and the popular hiking app, AllTrails, Thumb Butte Trail 33 (the main loop trail around the butte) is rated as “heavily trafficked”.

All the hiking sites and blogs rank Thumb Butte Trail 33 as “moderate” in difficulty. I don’t consider myself an “avid” hiker, but I am experienced, and I would disagree with this assessment. In my opinion, it should be rated as “moderate to difficult”. First, regardless of whether you go left or right (it’s a loop, so you are free to choose), you will be going uphill almost immediately. My brother and I had visited Sharlot Hall Museum earlier in the day (blog on that coming up!) where one of the museum docents told us to “make sure you go right”. She was a Prescott local, so we took her advice.

View from on the way up.

We were glad we did because the advice was sound. While you do almost immediately go uphill when going right, it’s a gradual rise for most of the hike to the butte, with some downhill parts for a small reprieve. While gradual, there were a few steep inclines, all of which were quite rocky and easy to slip and fall if you’re not careful. Also, the higher elevation plays a factor, which can help tire one out or make it more difficult to breathe. It’s just something to be aware of if you’re from a lower elevation and come to this area to hike.

The path down.

We realized on our way down why the museum volunteer said what she did. The left side of the loop is much more vertically uphill, and not at all gradual. We found ourselves having to run/skip down parts of it, because of how much our momentum was pushing us. Those who like to do weight training use this side of the trail, and we saw a guy running up and down it with a 25-pound weight attached to his backpack. There are handrails at the very steep parts, but I truly believe anyone with mobility issues might have a difficult time. The only plus side – this side of the trail is paved, although much of the pavement is uneven and sometimes even sticks out high, which is a tripping hazard.

Remember – go to the right to head up!

Officially called Juniperus deppeana, it is also known as an alligator juniper or alligator bark tree.
The bench was a tad too tall.

There are benches sprinkled along the trail, some to simply offer a place to rest and others for a spectacular view. That’s the goal of hiking Thumb Butte Trail 33 for many – to see the amazing view 🙌🏼. Whether you go up via the left or the right, you will have a wonderful view of the Prescott area, just different sides of the valley. On the right side, you’ll see the south side of the valley, which is nice but also littered with homes and buildings. On the left side, viewing the north side of the valley, you see a wide-sweeping view of the gorgeous mountains and the Prescott National Forest.

South side of the valley with shots of the city of Prescott.

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the trail, and my best advice would be to just do the entire loop and experience it all! 🤗

North side of the valley.
The trail to the right, near the beginning.

We did the entire 2-ish-mile hike in about one hour. I say 2-ish-miles because there is disagreement among the hiking aficionados as to how long the trail really is. According to AllTrails, it’s 2.5 miles. Trip Advisor lists it as an even 2. The blogs Modern Hiker and AZ Utopia have it coming in at 2.1. Another hiking blog, Hiking Project, goes even lower, listing it as 1.9 miles. The official USDA Forest Service website apparently doesn’t care and doesn’t list a distance at all. I dumbly forgot to wear my Apple watch, where I would have tracked the hike on the exercise app. It remains a mystery!

View of Thumb Butte from the parking lot.

Two important notes: bring lots of water and a $5 bill to pay the entrance/parking fee. We did not look up whether there was a fee and were caught off guard when arriving. It’s $5 CASH and no, there isn’t an ATM nearby. I only had a $20 bill and my brother had only a $10. We ended up having to put the $10 in.

As for the water, bring at least 2 to 3 bottles. You may think you only need one but like I’ve mentioned above, it’s a steep climb either way you go, and it’s important to stay hydrated. We both brought only one bottle and had to be very conservative with it. We didn’t realize how uphill the climb actually was. It was only around 80 degrees the day we went, but it still got very hot, quickly. It’s best to be overprepared than under 👍🏼.

Volume up!
The creepiest gate sound you will ever hear. I’m thinking of selling it to Hollywood for $5,000 a pop.

Overall, I highly recommend hiking Thumb Butte Trail 33, especially if you’re in search of breathtaking views and a hard workout that will push your endurance. I personally don’t recommend it if you have mobility issues, as it’s so elevated and rocky in many places. If you are up to the challenge and are ever in the area or passing through, please take some time to stop and hike to the top of one of the most recognized buttes in Arizona. With views like this, you won’t regret it.

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