Saddle Mountain is a landmark peak in the deserts west of Phoenix in the town of Tonopah, south of Interstate-10. Travelers driving eastbound will see the distinct saddle shape of this peak, which is a "volcanic upthrust". The mountain is composed of tuff and rhyolite, and features many cliffs, spires and odd formations. Nearby peaks such as Burnt and the Palo Verde Hills have more of the "bread-loaf" shape of ancient lava blobs and flows, so the whole area clearly shows evidence of volcanic activity.
The eastern summit is the highest, at 3,037 feet, with 1,777 feet of clean prominence. From a parking area on the north, there is a decent trail that leads to a small saddle high on the ridge, and from there, simple scrambling and scanter trails lead to the top. The climb is short, just 1.6 miles each way, but a workout, as you gain nearly 1,600 feet. The views are spectacular the whole way up and down. The summit ridge is famous for its sheer west-facing cliffs. Bighorn sheep are in these hills.
Saddle Mountain and the adjoining Palo Verde Hills are enclosed within a patch of BLM land surrounded by private and state lands. The Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant is nearby, and the area is mostly farms and scattered residences. Although the peak is well-known to Arizona peakbaggers, it's still far enough out in the desert so that you stand a good chance of being the only people on the mountain. Logs at the summit show about five or six parties per month reach the top in Winter. A local group known as the Friends of Saddle Mountain
help manage the area in conjunction with the BLM.
Saddle Mountain as viewed from the south
Saddle Mountain: the east half as viewed from the north
From Phoenix, drive Interstate-10 west to 411th Avenue (Exit 94) in Tonopah, about 45 miles west of downtown Phoenix. Go south for 2.7 miles to Salome Road, then right (west) a little over five miles to a Y-split, with Courthouse Road on the left. Stay on Courthouse about 0.7 mile to a dirt track, BLM Road 8211, on your left (south). You'll see a kiosk/signboard nearby. Drive south on this road about a mile to its end. There is a cleared parking area with some fire rings. The ground here is a red-brown color. BLM-8211 is slightly rocky but not bad. A passenger car should be able to handle it. If not, park where convenient and walk the road.
Tonopah is an unincorporated community essentially stretching from the western city limits of Buckeye (at the Hassayampa River) all the way to the Harquahala Valley and the La Paz County line, about a 35 mile stretch. There is no formal "downtown" of Tonopah, but the center of the town is roughly at 411th Avenue where the gas stations and restaurants are located, and some schools and businesses north of the freeway. There are a lot of farms out here. The town tried to incorporate a few years ago, but the push failed.
From the parking area, drop into the gully about 20 feet. You'll see cairns and then angle left, ascending out of the gully and soon, come to a T-junction where the right-turn trail heads up toward the mountain.
Stay on the trail all the way to the small saddle high on the ridgeline. The trail is very good and easy to follow. In a couple places, you may need to pay attention since it gets thin in spots. Higher up, the trail switchbacks up a steep scree slope. People have cut in "shortcuts", but I'd advise to stay on the main trail. The shortcuts save you 20 feet at most. The trail lets off at the small saddle, about 1.1 mile from the parking area and about 1,200 feet higher.
From the saddle, angle right as you face the cliffs. There is an obvious gully and to its left, a slope of bare whitish-colored rock. A large saguaro grows at the base. You can ascend the gully, or cut left a third of the way up and ascend the rock slope, which is steep, but neither are more than Class-2 scrambles. After gaining about 40 feet, angle left and you should pick up the trail again (there are cairns in spots, too). Stay on the trail as it gains steeply, then moderates. You'll see the summit ridge up and to your right.
The trail peters out, but by now, you have the summit in view, so navigation is very easy. Stay close to the rim (but no too close), and pick your way up to the top. The whole climb is about 1.6 miles each way. It took us 90 minutes up and 80 down. Some people have brought along their dogs, too, although I question that wisdom.
Birds apparently nest in the cliffs, and as usual, be cognizant of snakes and bees.
From the parking area, a trail works up the slopes to the small saddle in the center
Once at the saddle, look west and your options for ascent.
There's the saguaro again. My hiking partner gives a sense of scale.
There are no fees. The BLM asks people to limit their hiking during the Bighorn lambing season, usually the winter. However, they do no prohibit access and it is unclear just what effect a hiker might have. I suppose if you see a bighorn actively giving birth, be respectful and stand a distance away.
When to Climb
Between late October and mid March is best. Otherwise, it is dangerously hot. You may get lucky with a "cold" spell in April or May, or September, in which case a morning climb is possible.
This is the main "west peak" of the range.
There is no formal camping in the immediate area. The surrounding lands are BLM and open to low-impact camping. There are pullouts along BLM-8211 and 8212 that have been used for camping in the past. There are no hotels in Tonopah. The closest hotels would be about 30 miles to the west in Avondale and Goodyear, along Interstate-10.
It appears that people have used the parking area as a skeet-shooting site. We saw dozens of shotgun shells and clay pigeons scattered about. If people are here shooting when you roll up, I am not sure what to tell you. You may have to hike somewhere else.
External LinksMy Trip report (5/9/15)
View of the saddle and the upper slopes and cliffs.
Looking north. Big boulders cleave from the cliffs and roll down. Burnt Mountain is in the background.