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Hike Arizona: Sierra Estrella
Estrella Mountain Regional Park
Gadsden Trail
Quartz Peak
Rainbow Valley
Rock Knob Loop

Freeman, Roger and Ethel, Day Hikes and Trail Rides in and Around Phoenix, (2nd. ed.), Gem Guides, Upland, CA, 2000.
Phoenix area trail descriptions are given to the nearest hundredth of a mile and illustrated on maps.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

This hike will explore the desert trails and wide-open vistas of Estrella Mountain Regional Park, which is on the northwest end of the Sierra Estrella. We will start on the Rainbow Valley Trail. Various trails branch off and loop back to the trailhead, allowing for a shorter or longer trip as the group desires. Bring a sack lunch, water and hiking boots. General park information:
  • Best Time of Year to Hike: fall through spring
  • Distance: approximately 7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: approximately +-800'
  • Range of Elevation: 1100' to 1500'
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Directions to Trailhead:
Go west on Interstate 10 to Estrella Parkway, exit 126. Take that exit, turn left (south) and go 5 miles to Vineyard Ave. Turn left (east) and go 0.5 mile to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park entrance on the right. Pay $5/vehicle at kiosk (you can pick up a map of the park trails here). Stay on main park road as it curves around the grassy picnic area, then curves south. Just before the Rodeo Arena, the road splits at a "Pavement Ends" sign. Bear left at the split into a gravel parking lot. Park on left (east) side of lot by two large bulletin boards, one of which says "Trailhead" — meet here. The dirt road (gated with "Road Closed" sign) is the beginning of the Rainbow Valley Trail. If you go past the Rodeo Arena to another trailhead on its west side, you are in the wrong place.
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Gadsden Trail

The trail first goes across creosote bush flats, through some small passes, then across rolling hills of hardpan before turning to the starting point at a rental stable parking lot in the park.

From the trailhead (for several trails) at the horse stables/arena, we will be heading south to our first junction with the Gadsden Trail. From there, we will head east and around a small mountain (Peak elevation of 1500'). Heading back west, we will continue back to the main north-south trail (Rainbow Valley Trail). This route will take us around 2 more peaks (on our right) before heading north and back to the trailhead. Elevation change over the course of the trail is 300 ft. We will be passing by several smaller mountains and over several wash areas between mountains. For those wanting to cut the hike short, there is a cross trail back to the east-west portion of the trail after going around the first mountain. This will reduce your trip by approximately 2 miles.

The Estrella Mountains, all perpendicular granite rising up to 4,337 feet at the Montezuma Peak, provide a spectacular backdrop to the south and west.
  • Best Time of Year to Hike: Late September through the desert flower blooms of February and March.
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 7.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation Change: 300 ft
  • Elevation: 1000 - 1320 ft.
  • Weather Conditions
Take I-10 west approx. 20 miles of Phoenix to Exit 126 (Estrella Parkway). Turn left (south) at the exit. A freeway sign points to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, seven miles ahead. After you cross the Gila River bridge, turn left and follow the park perimeter road about a half mile, then take the road to the stables. The trailhead is located at the parking lot with a covered picnic ramada.
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Quartz Peak

Quartz Peak is a long and difficult hike, with lots of slippery debris on the steep trail and (depending on how much work they've done since last April) up to 1 mile of boulder-hopping up a steep ridge after the trail ends. Probably comparable to Siphon Draw in its overall difficulty. There are also rattlesnakes to watch for.
  • Best Time of Year to Hike: Winter, Spring, Fall
  • Difficulty: "B" [moderate]
  • Length: 6 mi RT
  • Elevation change: 2500 ft.
  • Weather Conditions
Drive:   Route Map 

Here are directions for getting to the Quartz Peak trailhead from the west side:
  • From Phoenix, take I-10 West.
  • Exit at Estrella Parkway and turn left (south). 8.5 miles later you will have entered the community of Estrella.
  • At the stop sign (Elliot Road) take a right, and then a left on Rainbow Valley Road about 2.5 miles later. Follow Rainbow Valley Road for about 9.5 miles, then take a left on Riggs Road. Continue on Riggs Road for 4 miles until you come to a stop sign.
  • At the stop sign, jog a bit to the right (do not turn right) and continue east on the dirt road which parallels a power line made of wood poles.
  • Within 3/4 mile you will cross a cattle guard. A sign just pass the cattle guard will warn you that this is a "Dead End Road - Impassable."
  • A little over 3 more miles you will pass Rainbow Rancho on your left which has a cannon in front with a humorous sign posted on it.
  • The road from Rainbow Rancho winds through the desert for about 1 1/4 miles where it ends at another road. Here there is a BLM stake with the word "Trail" on it pointing to the right.
  • Take a right and continue for almost 2 miles where you will see another BLM stake pointing left.
  • Take a left here and continue just under 2 more miles until you reach the trailhead.
Here are approximate directions for getting to the Quartz Peak trailhead from the east side:
  • Take I-10 southward out of the city.
  • Exit onto 347 South (Firebird sports complex) just past Chandler Blvd.
  • Just before the town of Maricopa, turn RIGHT onto 238 toward Mobile/Gila Bend. Go about 12 or 15 miles.
  • Somewhere around 90th Ave, there will be a right turn onto a gravel or dirt road just past a building. The building may have been a school. I don't remember the road's name, but it's about the only road around, so it should be easy to find. Turn RIGHT.
  • Go about 3 to 5 miles. The road ends at the main gate of an airport. A short distance BEFORE the airport (probably a hundred yards or so) on the right will be a very narrow primitive road. I couldn't believe it was a road, personally, but it is. Turn RIGHT onto this road.
  • After a little over a mile, just past the end of the airport fence, turn LEFT. Stay on this road for something like 3 or 5 miles until it reaches the power lines which parallel the mountains.
  • Turn LEFT on the access road under the power lines. Drive for something like 6 or 8 miles until you come to an obvious intersection. On the left will be a small BLM trail marker pointing to the road on your right.
  • Turn RIGHT. It is less than 2 miles to the trailhead. You'll have to stop and open a gate, then close it again behind you.
clip  Trip Report - 1998
Trip Report - 2001

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updated December 16, 2017