This 100 foot rock spire is one of the most distinctive natural features adorning the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Its shape is reminiscent of an index finger pointing skywards with a closed fist at its base. Finger Rock is flanked on the east and west by shear rock walls, the eastern formation is called Finger Rock Guard, while to the west is Prominent Point. The exposure atop the summit is formidable, with a 2000’ drop to the canyon bottoms below and a teetering summit block.
To get to the base of The Finger, you travel on a faint use trail that is often poorly marked and very steep. The strenuous approach limits most, and you may be the only person on the route on any given day. Yucca, Saguaro, and Prickly Pear cactus will slow the ascent, but the reward is worth the difficult approach. From the Finger Rock saddle, you are greeted with excellent views of Tucson to the south, and Pima Canyon and Catalina to the north.
The Finger Rock Trail #42 proper does not go to The Finger, but rather to Mt. Kimball
, a 7,255 ft nearby summit, that makes for a more leisurely
hike. To get to The Finger, however, you will start out on this trail for the first 3 miles or so, then diverge onto the use route, see the ‘Approach’ section for more.
Whether you hike to the Finger Rock saddle, or continue the grade III 5.6-5.8 route to the summit proper, you will be rewarded by amazing views, wildlife including possible
big horn sheep, and the unique Sonoran desert flora.
From Tucson head north up Swan Road to Skyline Drive. Turn left onto Skyline heading west (there’s a 7-11 here for any last minute supplies - namely water). Continue until Alvernon Way, and turn right (north). Follow Alvernon until it dead ends at the foot of the mountains, look for the parking area on the left. The parking lot is open daily from sunrise until sunset, permits are required for overnight parking, call (520) 877-6000.
Start by following the Finger Rock Trail (#42) from the parking lot at the end of Alvernon Way. Be aware that the trail splits, and the Pontotoc Ridge Trail (#410) diverges off to the east. Continue north on the Finger Rock Trail, climbing gently for the first mile or so. Keep your eyes trained on the ground early on to avoid seeing the gaudy houses that flank the trail. After just over 1 mile, you will reach Finger Rock Spring, a turn around point for most leisure walkers, as the trail now steepens significantly.
From here, the Finger Rock Trail switches back up the east canyon wall, and the vegetation changes in accordance with the increasing elevation. You will begin to encounter many types of yucca including the dreaded amole (shindagger), that blankets the surrounding hillsides.
After a total distance of about 3 miles, you will come to a flat grassy area that overlooks the canyon bottom. This point will follow several sections of steep rock slabs, and is at an elevation of about 5000 ft. Finger Rock will be directly to your west, but will be hidden by Finger Rock Guard. At this point the trail turns east and continues to Mt. Kimball, but you will not. Look for a use trail that heads north, dropping down almost 200 ft into the canyon bottom. Follow this trail as it heads back up the canyon to a saddle north-east of Finger Rock. The route will be steep and loose, look for cairns to guide you. After reaching the first saddle, you will want to aim for the west
side of Finger Rock. The use trail splits, with the left hand branch leading to the Guard and the right hand branch to the Finger. The trail steepens as you approach the final saddle, or the Finger Rock saddle, where you will be greeted by views of Tucson to the south. The rock formation will be directly east of you, and the technical route starts here.
Another narrative of the final approach (by juh33):
The path comes up out of Finger Rock Canyon and reaches the 5980' saddle between Mt. Kimball and Prominent Point (which it is much closer to). It turns left at the saddle and goes SSW for only another minute or two before splitting. The more traveled path (which was cairned when I was there) continues SSW toward Finger Rock Guard and eventually will take you to the top of the Guard. A fainter trail goes off WSW/SW towards Finger Rock. This second, fainter trail, is the one you want. It zigzags up the steep north face of the mountain, finally leading you to the eastern foot of Finger Rock.
(Author's note: the standard
technical route ascends from the west side of Finger Rock, beginning at the western
saddle. However, many others have climbed successfully from the eastern
saddle - see for example juh33's trip report
for good route beta.)
Allow about three hours for the approach, and bring lots of water. To descend, simply retrace your steps. Avoid the temptation to descend the direct (south) gully to the canyon bottom, as this will lead you into some nasty terrain. Also avoid the temptation to follow the canyon bottom out to the trailhead rather than ascending back to the trail, you will encounter many chockstones, as well as a maddening web of thorny bushes and cactus.
No permits required for day hikes. Overnight parking requires permit, call the Pima County Parks and Rec. at (520) 877-6000. No dogs are permitted on this trail.
This area is part of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Wilderness Area, and as such, is subject to seasonal closure. During the period from January 1 through April 30, hiking and camping off trail
is prohibited, as is hiking on use trails, or those not maintained by the Forest Service (this means the route to The Finger is off limits).
Check the Santa Catalina Ranger District
website for more information.
When To Climb
Respecting the seasonal closure and the local weather, the best times to climb are fall and spring (after 4-30). Summer temperatures at the trailhead will often be over 100 degrees, and it wont cool down much as you work to get up higher. At the end of summer during the monsoon season, expect afternoon showers and be aware of lightning, the Finger is seriously exposed. In the winter, you can expect cold and windy conditions high on the mountain, and snow is possible. With all that said, spring and fall conditions should be lovely, and with some good Tucson sun, the hike and the rock should be at pleasurable temperature.
From the Santa Catalina Ranger District website: “The steep, rocky terrain of the Coronado National Forest provides a limited number of flat areas suited to camping. As a result, many of the campsites are used repeatedly and show the signs of human activity. However, campers are encouraged to use these existing sites (instead of creating new campsites) when possible to limit the expansion of newly impacted sites. When camping in a remote area with no existing sites, select an area with a sandy surface, or one covered with thick leaf or needle cover and without vegetation. Always avoid camping near water, in meadows or near cliffs and rockslides since these areas are important to wildlife.”
The Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700, has current trail conditions, and check the Ranger website for additional trail information: Finger Rock Trail
- Local climbing organization: Southern Arizona Climbers Coalition: www.gosacc.com