Vulture Peak And Thumb Butte Loop

On 12 April 2018, Zosia Zgolak and I scrambled up Vulture Peak just south of Wickenburg, Arizona.  We had originally planned to bag this peak near the end of our two-week vacation in Arizona, but we were so ahead of schedule that it made sense to tag Vulture Peak while we transitioned from the south to the north with impromptu plans to visit Sedona.

From I-10, take Exit 103 and drive north on North 339th Avenue for 3.4 kilometres to a T-intersection with West Indian School Road.  Turn left and drive west for 3.2 kilometres to the intersection with North 355th Avenue.  Turn right and drive north for 27.0 kilometres to the intersection with Vulture Mine Road.  Turn right and drive north for 20.0 kilometres before turning right again into a large pullout where RVs might be camped.  This pullout can also be reached from the north.  From the junction with Highway 93 in the town of Wickenburg, drive west on Highway 60 for 4.5 kilometres and turn left onto Vulture Mine Road.  Drive south for 11.0 kilometres and turn left into the same large pullout.  Follow a gravel road past the pullout for another 700 metres to the first trailhead (toilet and shelter).  Vehicles with high clearance can drive to a second trailhead (no facilities) about 2.4 kilometres further.

From the first trailhead, we followed the continuation of the dirt road and dropped into Syndicate Wash before climbing out on a footpath heading east to the second trailhead.  The myriad of trails, roads and washes crisscrossing throughout this area can be a bit confusing, but thankfully, the proper route is signed and easy to follow.  Beyond the second trailhead, the trail climbs up the western slopes of Vulture Peak on well-designed switchbacks and ends at a high col just south of the summit.  We finished the ascent with a moderate scramble up a narrow gully that runs from the col right to the top.

After taking a lengthy break at the summit, we carefully descended the narrow gully without mishap.  The remainder of our descent was quick and easy, and we also took a couple of short cuts, possibly inadvertently, on the hike back to the first trailhead.

Upon returning to our car, we promptly packed our gear and headed north.

Gotta love these alpine starts for small hills!

Dawn arrives at Vulture Peak (silhouette at far left).


Again, watch out for the chollas! Zosia follows a good trail leading to the second trailhead.
Save some wear and tear on your car and just walk here; it's easy! Zosia reads an interpretive display at the second trailhead.  Vulture Peak is just ahead.
No need to climb the least not yet! The trail climbs up alongside these red cliffs.
I actually look like I'm enjoying this hike! Sonny passes a couple of saguaro cacti just before reaching a high col.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

This is where the fun begins! At a high col, Zosia heads for the narrow gully at left.
Lotsa fun and no annoying agave plants here! Zosia scrambles up the narrow gully to access the summit.
It's about the same height as the true summit. Zosia tags a lower point along the summit ridge.
And a whole lotta nothing else out there! The view to the west includes Black Butte and Harquahala Mountain on the central horizon.  The approach trail for Vulture Peak is also visible at bottom right.
A bit chilly up here today, but that's not a bad thing! Sonny and Zosia stand on the summit of Vulture Peak (1104 metres).
Mmmmm...I wonder how many times that Vienna sausage has been heated up in this hot desert... The summit register is in an ammo box along with other curious items.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Looks a bit more intimidating going down... Zosia carefully descends the narrow gully on the return trip.
But I'm doing it with a smile! Sonny slithers down an awkward section in the narrow gully.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

It probably would have been fun to scramble up some of these rocks, but we had a lot of driving ahead of us and needed to get going. Back at the high col, Zosia regains and descends the approach trail.

Zosia is the Queen of the Desert!

Zosia blends in nicely among the saguaro cacti.


Another short outing which might not be worth the drive from Phoenix, but at least it's not crowded! Total Distance:  6.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  3 hours 48 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  344 metres

GPX Data

Later in the day, we arrived in Prescott and stopped for lunch at Thumb Butte Recreation Area ($5 USD day use charge but free on Wednesdays).  The recreation area is accessed by heading west on Gurley Street for 5.6 kilometres from the intersection with Montezuma Street.  Gurley Street eventually turns into Thumb Butte Drive, and the recreation area is on the right.

After lunch, we hiked Thumb Butte Loop, a popular hiking path which climbs over the southwest shoulder of a prominent outcrop of rock overlooking the town of Prescott.  Unfortunately, access to the summit of Thumb Butte is prohibited between February and July every year in order to prevent disturbances to the courtship and breeding of peregrine falcons.  Disappointingly, we had to settle on reaching a lower viewpoint which has some interpretive displays about the surrounding landscape.

Upon returning to the recreation area, we continued our drive to Sedona and ultimately stopped just on the outskirts of the town to camp for the night.
I'm a little "over-geared" for this short walk! Sonny hikes along the western section of Thumb Butte Loop.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

You know it's chilly when Zosia is hiking with her toque on! The top of Thumb Butte appears behind Zosia.
Not bad for a consolation prize! The viewpoint grants a nice perspective of Thumb Butte and the town of Prescott.
I guess they're serious about keeping people out! A fence blocks access to the summit of Thumb Butte.
Is the summit worth a $150 fine? A sign explains the seasonal closure of Thumb Butte's summit.
We shoulda brought rollerblades! Zosia heads down a paved section of the loop.
Just came here during the wrong half of the year! Total Distance:  3.7 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  1 hour 53 minutes
Net Elevation Gain to Viewpoint:  178 metres

GPX Data