|The uniquely rounded dome-shaped Woolsey Peak is a familiar landmark in the deserts north of Gila Bend, about an hour southwest of Phoenix. Woolsey Peak is apparently named for King Woolsey, an early rancher in the Arizona Territory and a member of the first Territorial legislature in 1864. The mountain can be seen from the north on Interstate-10, where is appears as a noticeably taller, rounded summit compared to the craggier peaks that surround it and that compose the Gila Bend Mountains. However, it possesses a much more striking profile when viewed from Gila Bend, along highways Interstate-8 and AZ-85. The rounded top is encircled by a palisade of cliffs, and below that by steep boulder-strewn slopes of basalt rock, set at its angle of repose. The peak is the centerpiece of the Woolsey Peak Wilderness, covering 64,000 acres.|
Despite its appearance, a climb of Woolsey Peak does not require special gear or advanced climbing skills. Some breaks in the cliffs allow for relatively straightforward passage to the summit. There are some class-3 scrambles, there are some sections that are slightly exposed, and cholla cactus is everywhere, so one must use care. Otherwise, it's a steep hike up boulders, and some fun scampering to attain the top. Peakbaggers like Woolsey Peak for its range highpoint status, and its inclusion on the 2,000-foot prominence peaks list.
November through March is the best time to tackle Woolsey Peak. The weather in winter is usually calm and clear with highs in the 60s and 70s. The heat builds fast and summers are very hot, with highs regularly approaching 120 degrees.
|From Gila Bend, slightly west of where state routes AZ-85 (from Phoenix) and AZ-238 (from Maricopa) meet, find Old US-80 and travel north. After about a dozen miles, pass over an old truss bridge spanning the Gila River at the Gillespie Dam, and proceed another few miles to Agua Caliente Road on the left (west). Agua Caliente Road is graded dirt, and be sure to follow the signs as it bends in places. A paved road leads to the big Gila Compressor Station. Angle right onto the dirt continuation and soon thereafter (about a quarter mile), turn left (south) onto an unnamed road. On my visit, some pink surveyors ribbon was tied to the trees near this junction.|
Drive mainly south and southwest on the main road, ignoring side roads. Some of these do lead close to the peak, but not where it's convenient to hike. You are aiming toward a low pass to the right of Woolsey Peak. A smaller 2,030-foot pointed peak comes into view. Aim toward that generally. You will cross a very eroded arroyo that demands 4-wheel drive and has some very nasty leans to it. If you can, you should park at a fence line near a junction with a road that heads south, spot elevation 1,180 feet. This point is about a mile north of the peak and 6.8 miles from where the end of the pavement.
This road cannot be passed by passenger vehicles and 4-wheel drive is necessary for the worst sections.
Mountain ConditionsContact the BLM Phoenix Field Office at 623-580-5500 for the latest information.
Topo Maps: Woolsey Peak; Spring Mountain; Arlington.
CampingLow-impact primitive camping is permitted, but there are no developed campgrounds immediately nearby Woolsey Peak. There are some minorly-developed campgrounds north on AZ-85 at the Buckeye Hills Regional Park. Gila Bend has some cheap hotels that harken back to the 1960s. They advertise color TV and refrigerated air. Gila Bend has gas and food, and is the quintessential "dusty desert highway town". It has no charms, but it is a clean, functional place.
Gila Bend Website
|Walk south along the road toward the peak, then aim southwest and hike cross country through increasingly rockier terrain. You are aiming for the saddle formed between Woolsey Peak and Peak 2030. You will cross at least one large drainage, and you may have to follow your nose here. Just hike up, following whatever paths of least resistance you can find. Soon, you'll be above the saddle and on the west-facing slopes of Woolsey Peak.|
Continue steeply upward. The boulders here are usually solid, but enough are loose so that you must take each step with care. The slope is steep (about 35-40 degrees) and it constrains as it nears the base of the cliffs. Once above the slope, you then climb over a series of ledges, chutes and small cliffs. Some route-finding skills are necessary. Beware: cholla cactus is everywhere.
Soon, you reach the top, which is a slightly sloped flattish plot of land covering about two acres. Little teddy-bear cholla is everywhere. It's actually a beautiful scene, but never touch, pet or cuddle the cholla.
There are two "highpoints", both along the west rim. Visit both to be sure you have summitted Woolsey Peak properly. The views are remarkable. Past visitors have arranged the rocks up here into little pathways, like a little park.
The one-way hike covers about 2.5 miles with about 2,000 feet of net gain. Moving carefully and efficiently, a round trip time of between 4 and 6 hours is reasonable. Don't rush and enjoy the scenery and solitude!