Thompson Peak is the third highest peak in the McDowell Range, at 3,982 feet above sea level. The highest elevation—East End—is 4,057 feet, and McDowell Mountain is 4,034 feet.
The out-and-back hike is 9.5 or 10 miles, with a vertical elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. I did it in 4.5 hours, including a 20-minute stay at the summit. I didn’t fool around much. I would call it a strenuous hike, but it depends on your level of fitness.
The most memorable feature of the hike is the very steep concrete road that takes you to the top. There are three sections of concrete in the last mile of the 4.7 mile trek to the summit. I estimate the steepness at a maximum of 20% grade. That means for every 100 feet forward progress, you rise 20 feet higher. I found a review by another hiker that estimated the maximum grade at 30%, or even 40%. I was quite glad I had my Leki hiking poles to help me both up and down that steep grade. My maximum heart rate while climbing this steep portion was 172. Slow and steady wins the race.
My hike a few days ago started at the Fountain Hills, Arizona, Dixie Mine trailhead, which is actually in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park. After two miles you head east on the Thompson Peak trail and into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Get maps of both areas. The start of the hike is a little confusing because you can’t drive right up to the Dixie Mine Trailhead. You drive through Fountain Hills to the end of Golden Eagle Boulevard, which terminates at a gated community. Just outside the gate, there’s a parking lot and public restrooms. Then you walk through the subdivision on a sidewalk for 10 minutes to the actual trailhead.
It took me 2 hours to reach the summit. Going down the steep concrete road was just as slow as climbing up. I had to be careful not to fall, and short strides were necessary to take some strain off my knees.
The first half of the trail to the summit is a great introduction to the Sonoran Desert. You won’t get much overall elevation gain, but lots of up-and-down through washes and small hills. You don’t have to be in very good shape to do it. The trail is rocky, so you’ll want to wear thick- or stiff-soled boots instead of sneakers.
Judging from the soreness my legs the day after this hike, I got a good training effect out of it. Because of the uncomfortable grade of the concrete road sections, my initial thought was that I wouldn’t do this hike again. I’m not so sure now. Doing it gave me confidence that I could probably tackle Arizona’s Mount Humphreys later this year.
Steve Parker, M.D.