|The Sierra Estrella, or Star Mountains, are located in south-central Arizona. This rugged desert range forms the impressive southwestern skyline of the Phoenix metro area. The Sierra Estrella rise sharply from the desert floor, and tower over 3,000' above the Gila Valley. The distinctive pointed summit of the Sierra Estrella highpoint is perhaps the most noticeable natural feature of the Phoenix skyline. However, despite their close proximity to the Phoenix metro area, relatively few people venture into these mountains. Most of the Sierra Estrella are located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, but significant areas of the range are located in the BLM’s Sierra Estrella Wilderness, and Maricopa County’s Sierra Estrella Regional Park. The unnamed highpoint of the Sierra Estrella, which is sometimes referred to as Sierra Estrella Peak (and Hayes Peak, see below), rises to an elevation of 4,512 feet, and is listed at #21 on the Arizona Prominence List.
Technically, any peak on the Gila River Indian Reservation is off-limits to the public. In this case, your climb from the west side will be on BLM land for most of the ascent, only crossing the invisible boundary into the GRIR somewhere high on the ridge. The GRIR do not patrol nor do they place sentries on the ridge, but if you are willing to battle bad roads and steep rocky trails to situate yourself on the ridge, be a good citizen and leave the place cleaner than you found it.
There are no convenient "Phoenix-side" approaches to the mountain. The Gila River blocks all access. Instead, you must come from the southwest.
The most reliable route starts from the Jackrabbit Trail Exit off of Interstate-10 in Buckeye-Goodyear. Go south on Jackrabbit (also signed as 191st Avenue) about 8.5 miles. The road bends southwest for the last mile, where it crosses the Gila River (the road is now signed as Tuthill Road). The first intersection south of the river is Elliott Road: go left (east). One mile later, go right (south) onto Rainbow Valley Road. Follow Rainbow Valley Road south and southeast about 9 miles to Chandler Heights Road, and turn left (east). Proceed 2.5 miles to a gate on your left (north). This is the only substantial gate in this area. It is dummy locked with a chain, but open to the public. Pass through the gate (closing it behind you) and go north along a dirt track for one mile to another road at a dead standing tree. This road is on the Ocotillo Road alignment, but no signs mention this while there. Now go right (east) for 5.5 miles toward the base of the range. A wide clearing directly underneath a set of power lines is probably the best place to stop. The road goes farther but not in the direction you want, and the powerlines serve as a good navigation device to find your vehicles when returning.
The roads to the gate are all paved, but Chandler Heights Road is in poor shape. The roads past the gate are dirt and sand. Beware some erosion gullies along the way. The sand's sturdiness can vary. On my visit, it was reasonably solid, but others have reported it to be very soft in spots, which means you may have to park farther out.
There used to be an approach from the south from state route AZ-238 at the little town of Mobile, but in November 2009, we found segments of this road to be "blocked" by berms of sand. Although we were able to get past these obstacles, it required 4wd, driving through soft sand, and ultimately, isn't worth the trouble.
The road net out here is very primitive, despite what road maps may show. Most roads shown on the DeLorme atlas aren't there, or exist as simple desert tracks. This whole region is very remote with no services. There are a few farms and ranches out here. Recently, the city of Goodyear annexed the entire Rainbow Valley south to the Sonoran Desert National Monument boundaries. Presumably the plan is to build this out with thousands of homes, but for now, it's just remote desert.
City of Goodyear Road Map, 2009
Notice (Nov 2015): A recent visitor mentions that the gate off of Chandler Heights Road has a No Trespassing sign on it. I personally have not been out there to view it myself. It's not uncommon for locals to post these signs when they're not allowed to, trying to bluff visitors away from these areas. If the gate is unlocked, I would feel safe venturing past it. Otherwise, you might try exploring alternative road cuts in the area using detailed maps and satellite images to help.
Please review EKassan's comments below. He came in from Riggs Road, which is a good alternative if the directions stated above become impossible.
The public access areas of the Sierra Estrella Mountains are administered by the BLM and Maricopa County. The summit lies on the Gila River Indian Reservation, but they do not patrol the range out this way. Still, pack out all trash and leave the land better than you found it.
You will likely camp at the trailhead. There are fire rings, evidence of past visitors. Developed camping is available at the Estrella Mountains County Park. Lodging is available near Interstate-10 in Buckeye, Goodyear and Avondale.
|There are a few options to gain the summit. All routes have significant brush, rocks and cross-country travel, but some routes are better than others.
A good route suggested by "goat14er" and followed by our team in November 2009 follows a long subsidiary ridge to the main range crest, then a long trudge across the range crest to the summit. This route is steep, very rocky and relentlessly brushy, but it is cliff-free and at worst may involve hands to clamber over 6-foot barriers, nothing more. It is marked in red on the thumbnail map below.
Generally speaking, aim for an obvious low saddle low on this sub-ridge. Getting here is very easy. Then trudge up about 1,700 feet to gain a small ridge-bump at elevation 3,660 feet. From here, walk north along the range crest, up and down the various intervening bumps, to a saddle below the last slope to the top. From here, just work up the slope, then across to the summit, which is marked by a simple building and solar-collectors. Workmen service the top by helicopter.
It's probably best to just go up and over the intervening bumps. Sidehilling is extremely tedious and tiring, not to mention rocky and brushy. Although not technical, be prepared for a long day hiking. The going is slow given the relentless rocks and brush.
Update 2011: A couple of Phoenix-area climbers successfully followed the "green line" route I had suggested in the below image. Their report is here.
Update 2013: More people have reported success with the "green" route, so I am leaning toward making that the default route. Future visitors should consider it. Here is a report and GPS track from peakbagger.com.
There is a grass-roots effort to name the summit of the Sierra Estrella as Hayes Peak, in honor of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from the Gila River Indian Reservation who is most famous as one of the flag raisers on Iwo Jima, during World War II. Hayes had a troubled life and died young, at age 32 in 1955.