The Sierra Estrella Wilderness, which includes roughly one-fourth of the Sierra Estrella Mountains, is 15 miles south of the metropolitan Phoenix and east of Rainbow Valley, Arizona. Bordered entirely on the north and east by the Gila Indian Reservation, the wilderness is only accessible from its western boundary. It contains knife-edged ridge-lines, steep slopes, and rocky canyons, one of the most rugged mountainous areas of Arizona. In the northeast corner, Butterfly Mountain rises 2,600 feet above the desert plain to an elevation of 4,119 feet in only two miles, a challenge for backpackers and climbers. These extreme elevation changes have produced diverse plant communities. Down lower you will find saguaro, cholla, ocotillo, paloverde, and elephant bush while higher elevations support shrub live oak and a few junipers. A remnant herd of desert bighorn sheep roams these mountains. Other permanent residents include the Gila monster, giant spotted whiptail lizard, desert tortoise, mountain lion, mule deer, coyote, javelina, golden eagle, prairie falcon, and Cooper's hawk. This area receives 8.5 inches of precipitation annually with temperatures ranging from 82.9 to 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit in July and from 43.7 to 67.6 degrees in December. Spring and fall temperatures are more moderate.
Though Sierra Estrella is not far from Phoenix, it is remote and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required to reach the two public-access points. Along the way you'll cross some extremely sandy, deep washes. Primitive two-track trails near the Wilderness boundary are sandy or silty and wash crossings are rugged and deep. Old mining activity is present in areas. The Quartz Peak Trail accesses the summit of Sierra Estrella. In total, there are 2.5 miles of maintained trails in this wilderness.
Leave No Trace
Leave the area as you would like to find it. Pack out all trash; do not bury it, as animals will dig it up after you leave. Dogs disturb wildlife and other visitors; if you bring a dog, keep it under control at all times. If you need a fire, keep it small and away from rock outcrops. If you build a fire ring, please dismantle it when you are through and bury the ashes before leaving the area. Cigarette butts, pull-tabs, orange peels, etc. are all liter. PACK IT IN - PACK IT OUT.
Take Interstate 10 to exit 126 and travel south on the Estrella Parkway for 8.3 miles, take Elliot Road west for 2.6 miles turning left on Rainbow Valley Road for 9.4 miles. Turn left going east on Riggs Road for 4 miles to Bullard Avenue. Cross the road (jogging just a little south) and continue east, following the unsigned dirt road that parallels the power lines. Proceed 5.3 miles east, then turn south at the "T" intersection, where a small sign indicates the direction to an unnamed trail. Proceed south two miles, then turn east on another unsigned dirt road. Follow it 1.9 miles to the trailhead. Only the western boundary of the wilderness is accessible to the public. Due to land ownership patterns, legal access is not assured.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Although distinguished as one of the closest wilderness areas to metropolitan Phoenix, four-wheel drive vehicles are required to approach the wilderness boundary. Primitive dirt roads near the wilderness boundary are extremely sandy or silty, and wash crossings are rugged and deep. Only the western boundary of the wilderness is accessible to the public; elsewhere the area is bounded by the Gila River Indian Reservation. Some lands around and within the wilderness are not federally administered. Please respect the property rights of owners and do not cross or use these lands without their permission.
Quartz Peak Trail, in the 14,400-acre Sierra Estrella Wilderness, leads visitors fro mthe floor of the Rainbow Valley to the summit of the Sierra Estrella at Quartz Peak (elevation 4,052 feet)in just 3.0 miles. Along the way, visitors are treated to a variety of Sonoran Desert plants and animals, scenic vistas, and evidence of the area's volcanic history. The views from the summit are spectacular to the west is a dramatic panorama of rugged mountain ranges and desert plains, and to the east, metropolitan Phoenix unfolds over the valley of the lower Gila River. Quartz Peak Trail is extremely steep and difficult to follow in places. The is a hike for experienced and well-conditioned hikers only! Overnight stays are primarily associated with hunting; however, hunting camps are usually located outside the wilderness boundaries.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
High use periods are from October through May. Be preparded for 100+ degree weather during the months of May - October. Hiking poles are a definite plus.
Safety and Current Conditions
As with other types of outdoor activities, wilderness travel poses some potential hazards. You may encounter flashfloods, poisonous plants, snakes and insects, or lightning storms. Be aware of your exposure to heat and cold. Don't panic if you get lost. Carry an ample(at least 2 quarts) supply of water with you since many areas may have inadequate or contaminated water sources.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.