Elevation: 3,068 ft
GPS: 33.687, -111.809 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 164,500 total · 1,019/month
Shared By: Orphaned on Jan 19, 2006 with improvements by ErikF
Admins: Luke Bertelsen, JJ Schlick, Greg Opland
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Access Issue: Access: Details


The McDowell Mountains feature most of the main granite climbing crags in the northeast metro Phoenix area. Several fine formations of rough grained desert granite are found in the area featuring routes of all difficulties. The climbing is traditional in nature, both gear and bolted routes, and climbers should expect to place their own protection on a lot of the routes here.

Once threatened by house and golf course development, the city of Scottsdale (with the help of it's citizens, who kept voting in tax $$ support to acquire the land!) managed to turn the whole place into the McDowell-Sonoran Preserve, starting in the mid 90's and continuing to this day. The Preserve today sits at almost 22,000 acres with the eventual plan to encompass some 36,000+ acres!

Getting There

The McDowells are located in northeast Scottsdale, just to the east/southeast of Pinnacle Peak. The area is accessed via the Tom's Thumb Trailhead (est. fall 2012) on the north side of the range. There are a couple of ways to get to the TTT as follows:

1) From the intersection of Happy Valley Road and Alma School Road (near Pinnacle Peak and just southwest of Troon Mountain), continue east on Happy Valley Road. Stay with it as it curves around to the north, then turns into the north bound 118th Street. Make a right on Ranch Gate Road (look for signs to the trailhead) and go east to 128th Street. Make another right and go south until you basically run into the trailhead entrance.

2) You can also come in from Rio Verde Drive by turning south onto 128th Street and taking it (initially dirt, then paved) to the trailhead entrance.

Follow the signs to the new trailhead...

Note: You CAN do the approach to some of the crags from the Gateway Visitor's Center
off Thompson Peak Parkway, but this is a long (~6 miles to Tom's Thumb), uphill,
rocky approach and NOT recommended.

143 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at McDowell Mountains

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a
Quaker Oats
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b
Hanging Gardens
Trad 2 pitches
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b
One for the Road
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Treiber's Deception
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b R
Renaissance Direct
Trad 2 pitches
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b PG13
Ego Trip
Sport, TR
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R
I Sinkso
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
Beat Feet
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
Spinal Tap
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13
Sphinctre Boy
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
Leave It To Beaver
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a
Girlie Man
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
Trad 2 pitches
5.10- 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
Space Cadets
5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c
Deep Freeze
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Quaker Oats Sven Slab
5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a Sport
Hanging Gardens Gardener's Wall
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b Trad 2 pitches
One for the Road Sven Slab
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b Trad
Treiber's Deception Tom's Thumb
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b Trad
Renaissance Direct Gardener's Wall
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b R Trad 2 pitches
Ego Trip Sven Slab
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b PG13 Sport, TR
I Sinkso Sven Slab
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R Trad
Beat Feet Morrell's Wall
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Trad
Spinal Tap Sven Towers > Sven Tower 3
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Trad
Sphinctre Boy Girlie Man Area
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a PG13 Trad
Leave It To Beaver Morrell's Wall
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Trad
Girlie Man Girlie Man Area
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a Trad
Jeff Morrell's Wall
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a Trad 2 pitches
Space Cadets Morrell's Wall
5.10- 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a Trad
Deep Freeze Tom's Thumb
5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c Trad
More Classic Climbs in McDowell Mountains »

Weather Averages

Days w Precip
Prime Climbing Season


CTK   Scottsdale
Yes in fact that is the Dome Wall, or Morell's Wall as it's often referred. That Photo is captured during summer from atop the Slab Ridge, or Sven's Slab as its known, looking South - West to the Wall as well as the Granite Thimble, or The Thumb. May 1, 2008
CTK   Scottsdale
Generally, climbing in the McDowell Mountains means stiff ratings to include run-out’s as many of the routes are longtime established. Expect a wide variety of formations on varying quality of Granite. Hours Sunrise to Sunset, Stay on well established trails, No off-road driving, & No Fires or Camping! May 1, 2008
Scott Z
Highlands Ranch, CO
Scott Z   Highlands Ranch, CO
looks to be a new trail going up the ridgeline to the right (looking north from the thumb) that meets up with the gully north of Gardner's Wall and continues SE. permanent access spot??? Feb 8, 2009
Phoenix, AZ
Tradster   Phoenix, AZ
The access to Gardener's Wall and Tom's Thumb has changed. The City of Scottsdale requires you to park over near Morrell's Wall and to take the new trail from that point. This will add at least 45 minutes to any Gardener's Wall approach and about the same to Tom's Thumb. Jun 15, 2009
Mesa AZ
ClimbPHX.com   Mesa AZ
Anyone interested in hiking up to Glass Dome area? Looking at exploring some of the cracks and, climbing the East side of Glass dome...
PM me or email - Shiloh@AZClimb.com

Peace! May 18, 2010
Los Alamos, NM
Aerili   Los Alamos, NM
As of January 3, 2010, the road into the McDowells is in EXCELLENT shape! I never remember it being so good--EVER!! Basically, I think any 2WD, low clearance vehicle can make it all the way back. (This may change eventually with weather?)

Per Tradster's comment, I didn't actually time the hike in, but I don't think the new parking location adds 45 minutes--maybe 25-30?
.....Or perhaps living near the Sierras has made me burly. :) Jan 5, 2011
Hello all, i was wondering if anyone could help me out. I am coming out from Cali this weekend and wanted to do some climbing on the gardeners wall.

Some of the threads are saying to come in from the north 128th dirt road,

Is that the best way to approach gardeners wall? any suggestions?

I have a older person with me who was gonna watch, but im not sure he can do 45 min in and out. is that how long the approach is from the north east parking area?

Thanks in advance Mar 8, 2012
Climbing friends,

Below please find the rock climbing guidelines that govern rock climbing in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The City of Scottsdale’s City Council has formally adopted climbing policies and maps for the McDowells. There were years of work and meetings on which this final outcome was based. In order to keep our climbing areas open we will need to abide by these policies and keep the crags clean.

As you can see, they are modeled after the Pinnacle Peak Park climbing guidelines. The City of Scottsdale wanted to have similar policies throughout the parks and preserves it owns.

The good news is that we can keep climbing. The challenges involve climbing only on designated crags (named and mapped), staying only on official trails and climber routes to access the crags, and complying with the policy of no new bolts in new locations.

The City has constructed a new Tom’s Thumb Trail Head, which is now open. The best way to the new Tom’s Thumb Trail Head is to take Pima to Happy Valley road and head east. Pass by the 104th Street stop sign, and continue easterly. Eventually Happy Valley turns north for a short while. Turn right/east on Ranch Gate Road to 128th, where after a couple of miles a right turn southbound takes you to the new trail head. This is shorter than going all the way to Dynamite and is the only other alternative.

For more information and to discuss any questions please contact Erik Filsinger at smorefil@aol.com. I can also send you the climbing plan (map) for the Preserve.

Rock Climbing Guidelines

City of Scottsdale - McDowell Sonoran Preserve

(Approved by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission in February, 2011,

and the City Council in October, 2011)


The McDowell Sonoran Preserve has been acquired by the City of Scottsdale to preserve and protect the natural beauty and ecological features of the McDowell Mountains and Sonoran Desert, provide accessibility to the Preserve for passive recreational uses in a safe and healthy environment, and provide educational opportunities related to the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

In order to insure the long-term protection of this natural resource and facilitate the safe use of the Preserve by the general public while mitigating impacts to the natural environment and surrounding residents, Ordinance # 3321 was approved by the City Council on May 23rd, 2000. These Rock Climbing Guidelines provide additional guidance related to accepted practices, responsibilities, and areas where rock climbing will be allowed within the Preserve.


Rock or cliff climbing or rappelling is allowed only in designated areas within the Preserve. The designated areas correspond to existing and historical crags. Please also see the Conceptual Preserve Rock Climbing Plan for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, on which the Climbing Areas are identified. The areas are named in the following list by the common name for the key rock formation in the area but also include other nearby rock formations to the key rock formation. (The list of Climbing Areas in the Preserve may be modified from time to time to reflect additional land acquisitions that include historical climbing areas.)

Those areas are as follows:

1. Rock Knob and vicinity

2. Sven Slab and vicinity

3. Sven Towers I, II and III and vicinity

4. Morrell’s Parking Lot and vicinity

5. Morrell’s Wall and vicinity

6. Gardener’s Wall and vicinity

7. Crossroad Wall and vicinity

8. Glass Dome and vicinity

9. Goat Hill and vicinity

10. Tom’s Thumb and vicinity

11. Lost Wall and vicinity

12. Half and Half Wall and vicinity

13. Fort McDowell Wall and vicinity

14. Granite Ballroom and vicinity

15. Rosetta Stone and vicinity

16. Hog Heaven and vicinity

17. Thrasher

18. Lost in the Air and vicinity

Violators of climbing and other regulations and laws governing the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are subject to prosecution resulting in fines and/or imprisonment in accordance with City of Scottsdale Ordinance # 3321.


Access to the climbing areas is allowed only via designated and signed climbing access routes, as identified on the Conceptual Rock Climbing Master Plan for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These routes connect the primary Preserve trails system to the rock-climbing areas.


The City of Scottsdale recognizes, as should all climbers, that all climbing activities are inherently dangerous. Further, it is impossible for City staff to guarantee the safety, experience, or ability of any climber. City staff will not inspect or certify the climbing equipment or ability of any visitor. City staff will not certify any route’s difficulty rating, safety or the reliability of any fixed anchor.

Preserve visitors climb at their own risk and are solely responsible for their personal safety while climbing on Preserve property. Climbers are expected to secure proper equipment and training, and are expected to adhere to standard climbing safety practices. Safe climbing demands that each climber has experience in route finding, route protection, rope handling, retreat from steep faces, and emergency first aid.


1. All climbing activities are inherently dangerous and may result in injury or death.

2. Climbers climb at their own risk and are responsible for obtaining proper equipment and training.

3. City staff does not create or maintain any climbing route.

4. City staff does not install or maintain the fixed anchors on any climbing route.

5. Route selection and the decision to rely on fixed anchors are the climber’s responsibility.

6. New routes are not allowed.


1. Climbing is allowed in designated areas only and must coincide with the Preserve’s posted hours of operation.

2. Climbers must utilize the designated climbing access routes leading from the main Preserve trail to climbing areas.

3. Temporary or permanent closures of individual routes or specific climbing areas may occur to protect the natural resources or for visitor safety.

4. Fixed anchor locations are limited to those already established, unless subsequently authorized by City Staff.

5. Unroped climbing is not recommended on the larger formations, but bouldering is permitted within the aforementioned climbing areas.


Prior to the acquisition of McDowell Sonoran Preserve by the City of Scottsdale, the climbing areas on the property were established by the local climbing community using fixed anchors, primary expansion bolts and pitons (collectively referred to as fixed anchors). Responsibility for the installation, inspection, and long term maintenance of these fixed anchors rests completely with the climbing community. The City of Scottsdale makes no claims as to any fixed anchor’s condition or reliability and does not guarantee that any fixed anchor is still in place. In addition:

1. All anchor placements will be installed on a volunteer basis by members of the climbing community.

2. All climbing equipment, tools, anchor hardware, and any other costs associated with anchor placement are to be provided by the climbing community.

3. Old anchors are to be completely removed and carried out.

4. When possible, old anchor holes will be redrilled and reused. Otherwise, old anchor holes are to be sealed with a mixture of epoxy and rock dust.

5. City staff will have no role in anchor placements.


1. Rock Climbing includes the following:

· Rappelling: Using a rope to descend from a steep slope or face.

· Free Climbing: Climbing in which the climber relies on the rope only for safety. Progress is made by using the hands and feet on the natural features. Anchors are typically used, but only to stop a fall; they are not used as climbing aids.

· Direct Aid Climbing: Climbing in which the climber is completely dependent on the rope for support and safety. Progress is made by installing protective anchors in the rock and then relying on them to support the climber’s weight as the climber stands on them and reaches up to the next anchor.

· Bouldering: Climbing that occurs on rock faces usually less than 20 feet high. Typically it involves repeating a sequence of moves up or across a rock face. Usually done without a rope.

2. Fixed Anchor: Climbing protection that is installed and intended to be left as a permanent fixture on a climbing route. The most common examples include pitons, which are hammered into cracks, and expansion bolts, which are drilled into smooth rock faces.

Sep 7, 2012
Donovan Allen
Soft Lake City
Donovan Allen   Soft Lake City
NOTE: although the area has seen much work & development it still needs more. Particularly at the Sven slab ... It might be worth sorting the routes in correct order as well. Climbed Sven slab yesterday, approached via marked trail/ faint cairn trail however, I noticed two other groups unable to find the proper trail and proceed to bushwhack through erosion and they even had topos on them. Oh also Sven slab is a longer approach than is made out to be. Don't go here on a time limit. You'll just end up bush whacking. Stay on the " trail " though it may be impossible. Feb 7, 2015
FYI, Cheryl Beaver and I just came out with a new rock climbing guidebook to the McDowells. It contains updated access and route information. Check it out at:
mcdowellsrockclimbing.com May 18, 2016
Temporary Rock Climbing Closure – North Face of Tom’s Thumb - 2018

The northern face of Tom’s Thumb is temporarily closed to public access to protect sensitive birds of prey that are nesting in that area. THE TOM’S THUMB TRAIL REMAINS OPEN. The temporary closure restricts public access to a small area at the northern base of the Thumb, and limits rock climbing on several climbs on the northern face. The Tom’s Thumb Trail remains open to public access, and people can still access the eastern base of the Thumb. Temporary fencing and closure signs are in place that restrict access to the northern side, and we ask that the public obey all closure signs. CLIMBERS: If you do climb to the top of the Thumb via the south face, we ask that you stay away from the northern edge, as human presence in that area could negatively impact the nesting falcons.

This year’s temporary closure is the same as was implemented the last three years. Similarly, we anticipate the closure to last through mid-June. Volunteers from the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s Field Institute will continue to monitor the nesting pair, and the closure will be lifted once the juvenile birds have safely fledged from the nest.

For more information about the Preserve, please visit the City of Scottsdale website atScottsdaleAZ.gov and search for “Preserve.”

I might also note that signs are posted to reduce noise around Tom’s Thumb, so it would be best to withhold any “re-bolting” activities on Tom’s Thumb during this same time period. Feb 1, 2018
Ryan Borys
The West
Ryan Borys   The West
Stoked on the temps this week. Had a great time linking three of McDs’ most classic routes. Beat Feet on Morrel’s to Hanging Gardens on Gardener’s to Sacred Datura Direct on the Thumb. Recommended. Oct 19, 2018