Maple Peak is a well-hidden mountain, rarely visited, but set amid some of the most remote, untouched natural countryside left in the state. Located in central Greenlee County in extreme eastern Arizona (the peak is just about 3 air-miles from the AZ-NM state line), Maple Peak straddles the transition between the lower desert ranges such as the Peloncillos and the Black Hills, and the elevated highlands of the White Mountains. It is best viewed from the east along highway NM-159, the narrow road that leads into Mogollon Ghost Town. Unfortunately, down lower it is obscured by foreground foothills. Some maps identify Maple Peak as part of the Sierra Aguilada, which runs mostly inside New Mexico, but visually it seems to be a more 'stand-alone' peak than anything. Despite this, it has enough prominence to place it in the Arizona Top-50, with 2,370+ feet.
Black bear and wolf are common in the region, and hikers relatively rare. Although these hills are crossed by a large network of trails, Maple Peak is set back far enough to remain mostly unvisited. The approach trails and the peak are contained in the Apache National Forest (on the NM side, the Gila National Forest). The trails are well-marked at the junctions, but not all regularly maintained. The remoteness of this peak virtually assures you of having it all to yourself should you choose to climb it.
Maple Peak massif from near Smoothing Iron Camp
The peak is easiest attained by coming in from the east in New Mexico. Get yourself to the small community of Alma on US-180, about an hour's drive north of Silver City. In Alma, pass south over a concrete bridge spanning Mineral Creek and turn right (west) onto the first gravel road you see (about 200 feet past the birdge). On the latest maps this is marked as Catron County Road 17. CR-17 passes through some residential plots and fields then comes to a Y-junction - go left, now on CR-8. Then, very quickly, the road merges into CR-4 (all this in about 0.3 miles from the highway). Follow CR-4 about 1.2 mile west to a signed junction with CR-3, to Smoothing Iron (9 miles, says the sign).
CR-3 works its way up a broad mesa, passes through a beautiful open meadow (Roberts Park), then, about mile 7, comes to a junction with CR-45. On the map this is listed as the continuation of Smoothing Iron Road, but it's not a good road. Instead, stay south on CR-3 and sure enough, it'll take you right to Smoothing Iron Camp, which is just a broad basin of juniper and pinon trees, a residence of a local ranch family, and a forest service sign.
All the roads are gravel and in good shape and passable to most vehicles in dry conditions. Washboarding can be tiresome. Even so, some of the roads gain steeply with exposure, so go slow and be careful. In wet conditions, give this a miss. The road in places has a discomforting outward slope to it, ever so slightly.
From Smoothing Iron Camp, a road continues up a mesa for another 1.5 miles to top out on a rise, then descend to a wire-gate, just inside the AZ state line. This road would require 4wd, mainly for some nasty rutting and chunky rocks. Passenger vehicles won't make this last portion.
If you can park at the above gate, the r/t hike to the peak is 11 miles and about 2,200 feet of gross gain (including some drops and regains). If you have to stay back at Smoothing Iron Camp, you're looking at about 14 miles r/t and an extra 400 feet of gain.
Ah, the summit.
There is no fee to drive, camp or hike. However, Smoothing Iron Camp is a residence, a ranch family who run cattle on the patchwork of private lands in the area. There is a nice glade of trees along a dry creek bed at this camp, with some fire rings and a well-hidden privy, and camping is allowed. We met the father and son, out for a ride on their horses, and they had no problem whatsoever with us being there. They are very friendly and tell us the area sees lots of hunters but not too many hikers. Even so, be mindful that you're near a residence (we camped about 500 feet from the house), and be respectful of their privacy.
Old corral in Snare Canyon
You can camp at the above-mentioned glade of trees, where the ground is open and flat. You can also camp at the gate. It's all undeveloped primitive camping.
Full Moon rising above Smoothing Iron Camp
External LinksApache - Sitgreaves National Forest, General Information
Trails specific to the Blue Range Primitive Area
My Maple Peak Trip Report 5/13/06