Margies Peak is the northwesternmost of the Maricopa Mountains, which are enclosed within the Sonoran Desert National Monument and the peak itself within the North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness. The range and monument generally are bordered on the west by state route AZ-85 and on the south by Interstate-8, and feature many rocky summits with steep lines, offering challenging, off-trail hiking. Few people actually hike these peaks, so you stand a good chance of having the peak to yourself if you choose to come here. Margies Peak is supposedly named for the proprietress of an old restaurant that used to be located nearby on old US-80. The benchmark atop the summit reads "Skull", and the wood-lath that the surveyors assembled on the peak still stands, with guy-wiring that looks original going back 70-80 years.
Margies Peak's elevation is 2,493 feet, but does have 1,093 feet of clean prominence. It is a rocky peak with few large trees, but a lot of Sonoran Desert flora such as saguaro cactus, cholla, ocotillo, palo verde, creosote, a few ironwoods, and grassy brush. However, the peak is not covered in brush. Instead, you'll encounter one rock after another, although a well-chosen route should avoid any cliffs. The summit is low enough in elevation so that saguaro grow to very near the top.
The views from the top are outstanding, with the numerous bumps of the Maricopa Mountains to the south and east, the Gila Bend Mountains to the west, the Buckeye Hills to the north, and the big ranges such as the Sierra Estrella and White Tanks to the north and east. The logistics of getting here and of the climb are generally simple, but do expect a rocky, sometimes-scrambly hike, with lots of cholla.
When in the area, check out Old US-80, which runs generally parallel to newer AZ-85. You can follow Woods Road one mile west of AZ-85 to Old US-80, which was decommissioned back in the 1960s. A few miles to the north is a fascinating old truss bridge spanning the Gila River at Gillespie Dam. The dam itself was breached in 1993 and will likely never be rebuilt. There are many farms in the area, and lots of bird and wildlife in and around the Gila River.
Margies Peak to the left, the main ascent ridge is in the center.
From Phoenix, drive west about 35 miles on Interstate-10 to State Route AZ-85 (Exit 112), and go south about 20 miles to Woods Road. You'll see Margies Peak to the left, the first big peak one encounters when traveling south on AZ-85. Ease left (east) onto a cross-over, then cross the northbound lanes. The pavement ends immediately and you'll cross over a cattle grate a few dozen feet later. Go another 100 feet to a junction, where a straight goes slightly downhill. You want to go left. Follow this road aiming for some power lines. Some white flagging is tied to the brush along this road. Meet the power line road near a wooden log, which is a good marker for this intersection when leaving. This is BLM-8006, but it is not marked here.
Go north with the power lines, then ease onto BLM-8001, where you'll see the entrance to the Sonoran Desert National Monument. This is a total of about two miles from AZ-85. Margies Peak stands to your left, behind some foreground peaks. Drive about two more miles until you are south of the peak, just past some smaller peaks that come right up to the road. Pull off and park where convenient.
If coming from Tucson, it's probably faster to drive to Gila Bend on Interstate-8, then north on AZ-85 about 12 miles to the Woods Road alignment.
The roads are hardpack and sand, but generally solid. At times, the road goes "against the grain", meaning that you cross an arroyo every few hundred feet. Once inside the Monument boundary, the road is much better. Four-wheel drive is not needed, but you'll want reasonable clearance to handle some of the ruts and erosion along the way. Otherwise, you may scrape your undercarriage occasionally.
Margies Peak is in the background.
Viewed from the south along the road, the summit has two main ridges, one emanating south and the other emanating east. The south ridge looks very steep and rocky. The east ridge looks friendlier. You'll see a prominent sub-ridge coming off the main ridge two bumps to the right of the summit. This is a good ridge to ascent. Once on the main range crest, turn left and walk/scramble to the summit.
This is a very rocky range. When possible, stick to the brown-colored rocks which usually are set more solidly than the looser, whiter rocks. Stay as high as possible on the ridges at all times, no matter how tempting a sidehill may seem. Trust me, every time you'll get into looser material if you do that. Just stay high.
There are no cliffs, but the rocks can be jumbled so that some scrambling will be required. At worst, I'd rate the scrambling to be very low class 3. Of more concern will be the thickets of cholla cactus that may block some routes. Other common plants are saguaro cactus, ocotillo, staghorn, creosote and bursage. Look out for snakes when it is slightly warm, and wear long sleeves, pants, hat and gloves. Bring pliers for the cholla.
It is about a three mile round trip hike, but allow about 2-3 hours to ascend, and about the same to descend.
The ascent ridge.
Margies Peak as seen from the main ridge.
All lands other than the road are Wilderness, so one must abide by wilderness rules. Other than that, no permits are needed and there are no fees to pay.
When to Climb
The climb is best done and most enjoyable when it is cool, generally November through March. The heat is extreme during the summer, and can start as early as March and linger well into Fall.
It is permissible to camp within 50 feet of the road. There are good flat spots along the road. Pack everything out and leave no trace. Fires are not allowed in the North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness.
There is a developed campground at the end of the road, but it is farther from the peak. If the peak is your primary goal, you probably don't want to drive all that extra distance.
External LinksTrip Report (12/21/14)
Margies Cove Trail.
Beware: you may find references to the Margies Peak Trail. This is actually a trail that follows old roads, but does not go anywhere near the summit.
The last hundred feet is very rocky.