The Sierra Estrella Wilderness Area isn’t far from Phoenix, Arizona. Designated as a wilderness in 1990, this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and consists of 14,400 acres. The wilderness area is made up of rugged mountains with rocky, steep slopes and is a habitat for many types of desert wildlife.
The wilderness is popular for hiking, climbing, and hunting. Hiking the Quartz Peak Trail is certainly not for the faint of heart. Only experienced hikers should attempt this trail with its elevation gain of 2500 feet in just three miles. Climbers will find that there are many routes within the wilderness considered to be Class III climbs. Hunting is also popular. Deer are commonly hunted, though many other types of animals also live and pass through the area, such as bighorn sheep and coyotes.
Visitors to the wilderness should plan for their trip. The most popular time of year to visit is between October and May. Summers are hot in the desert climate and there is no shade at the wilderness. There are some established primitive campsites near the trailhead, though it isn’t accessible for most RVs due to the rough roads. Many campgrounds are located within an hour of the Sierra Estrella Wilderness, including a KOA located just east of Phoenix.
The Sierra Estrella Wilderness is located about 15 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona. Though the wilderness isn’t far from town, visitors will want to be sure to pick up plenty of water for their visit and fill their gas tanks for navigating the boundary roads. The wilderness area can be reached by taking exit 121 off of I-10 to Rainbow Valley Road.
From Rainbow Valley Road, the roads leading to the wilderness are dirt and unmaintained. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended. These roads are sandy and have deep wash crossings. It isn’t advisable to bring an RV or tow a trailer on these roads. Road conditions can vary. Visitors should check with the BLM office prior to their visit for conditions.
The wilderness is adjacent to the Gila River Indian Reservation. The only public access into the wilderness is on the western end. Additionally, some areas in and surrounding the wilderness are privately owned. Visitors shouldn’t cross these areas without permission.
The Mesa/Apache Junction KOA is about a 50-mile drive from the Sierra Estrella Wilderness. Due to the rough boundary roads, this may be a more suitable option for wilderness visitors with RVs and travel trailers. The KOA is also only 30 miles west of Phoenix where there are many attractions and entertainment.
RVs of any size can be accommodated at many of the sites at the KOA with 70 feet as the longest site. There are 30 and 50-amp sites offered. If there are any tent campers in your group, this KOA has a few tent sites that can be reserved. Most sites have full hookups, but there is a dump station at the facility for guests that don’t have a sewer connection.
Many activities will make each stay at the KOA pleasant. In between planned day trips, play a round of corn hole or horseshoes. Take a swim in the pool or relax in the hot tub, both of which are open year-round. Kids will enjoy playing on the playground equipment not far from the pool. Campground amenities include restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a water station.
There are some primitive campsites located outside of the wilderness boundary near the trailhead for the Quartz Peak Trail. These sites are great for those who arrive late and plan to get an early start on their hike or climb. The primitive campsites are often used by hunting groups during hunting season. Camping on BLM land is limited to 14 consecutive days.
There are no amenities in or outside of the wilderness. However, a pit toilet is located at the trailhead. Visitors should come prepared for the desert climate with layers of clothing and plenty of water. The best times to visit or camp are from October to May with summer temperatures reaching well into the 100s. There is no shade within the Sierra Estrella Wilderness.
The Quartz Peak Trail leads hikers from an elevation of 1550 feet to 4050 feet at the summit. While the trail is just three miles in length, only experienced hikers should tackle this hike. The trail is steep and rugged with scrambling necessary over some boulders and on talus slopes. Hiking poles are recommended on the trail.
Quartz Peak Trail isn’t well marked in some areas. Hikers should come prepared with a map of the wilderness. Those that complete the grueling hike will be well-rewarded with fantastic views of the desert plains, mountains, and the city of Phoenix.
The Sierra Estrella Wilderness provides plenty of climbing opportunities. Many of the routes are considered to be class III. Each potential route has rocks, cactus, and brush that climbers should watch out for.
There are many areas where scrambling may be necessary. After conquering the rugged and brushy terrain, climbers will enjoy views of the surrounding landscape from mountains to plains.
Hunting is permitted within the Sierra Estrella Wilderness. The Arizona Game and Fish Department enforce hunting regulations in the area. Mule deer are popular hunting game in the wilderness in addition to smaller game such as quail.
During hunting season, hunting parties often camp along the wilderness boundary. Visitors who plan to hunt should become familiar with the state’s hunting laws and ensure that they acquire any necessary tags and permits.
If hoping to see desert wildlife, the Sierra Estrella Wilderness will not disappoint. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of a small herd of bighorn sheep that still live within the Sierra Estrella Mountains. Desert tortoises are often seen crawling along the rugged terrain. Mule deer, coyotes, and various desert birds such as golden eagles and prairie falcons are common in the wilderness.
The wilderness boundary roads can be enjoyed by off-roading enthusiasts. These unmaintained dirt roads are perfect for those new to OHVs. The roads can be rough and conditions often vary. Many of the roads are sandy and silty with many deep wash crossings.
Visitors planning to enjoy their OHVs should be aware that these roads are little-traveled. Come prepared to help yourself in case you get stuck. Bring tools such as a shovel and a spare tire.
The little-visited Sierra Estrella Wilderness has many photo opportunities whether you plan to take landscape images or capture shots of the area’s wildlife and vegetation. Pack your camera along to capture the moment and the scenery. You never know when a bighorn sheep may appear in the distance or you come across a desert tortoise. The rugged and steep ridgeline of the Sierra Estrellas provides a great backdrop.