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U.S. Forest Service

Southwestern Region Viewing Area


A the smooth red bark of manzanita. Smooth red bark of manzanita. The leaves in this photo are other plants. Photo by J.S. Peterson, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

beardlip penstemon. Beardlip penstemon (Penstemon barbatus) is common in the Southwest. Photo by Gary A. Monroe, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

Thumb Butte

Forest: Prescott National Forest

District: Bradshaw Ranger District

Description: Thumb Butte is a distinctive landmark just west of Prescott, Arizona, and also a popular hiking destination. A picnic area at the base of the butte has several trailheads for exploring the area. The most popular trail, Trail 33, climbs Thumb Butte gaining about 600 feet in elevation in a little more than a mile. The trail has benches for resting and signs identifying the vegetation and special features.

This area has an interesting mixture of vegetation with ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, scrub oak, manzanita, yucca, and cactus. At elevations of 5,700-6,300 feet, it is in the transition zone, between Sonoran Desert to the south and conifer forests to the north.

Manzanita (little apple in Spanish) is one of the more interesting shrubs found here. It is in the genus Arctostaphylos, which has about 75 species in the United States. Of these, 56 species are endemic to California and most of the rest are confined to the West Coast or Southwest. Pointleaf manzanita (A. pungens) and Pringle manzanita (A. pringlei) occur in northern Arizona. These are evergreen shrubs with smooth waxy leaves, twisted stems with smooth shiny red bark, clusters of white pendulous urn-shaped flowers, and later clusters of red berries; altogether making a very attractive plant.

Safety First: Summer heat and low humidity are real hazards for people unfamiliar with hot climates. A person can loose up to 5 quarts of fluid a day and it is easy to become seriously dehydrated without realizing it, so drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel very thirsty. When going on a hike, even if a short one, take a day pack with water, snack foods, protective clothing, flashlight, first aid kit, compass, and map. To avoid sun injury, wear light loose clothing, use sunscreen on exposed areas, wear a hat, and have sunglasses.

Directions: From downtown Prescott, travel west on Gurley Street. It becomes Thumb Butte Road. Continue on to the Thumb Butte Picnic Area (3 miles from courthouse). Trails 315 and 316 begin at the loop road on the north side of the parking area. Trail 33 is across the road south of the parking area.

Contact: Prescott National Forest, Bradshaw Ranger District, 344 South Cortez Street, Prescott, Arizona 86303. Phone: (928) 443-8000.

Closest Town: Prescott, Arizona.