Hiking Quartz Peak Trail near Phoenix, Arizona, USA, isn’t something that a lot of people do. It is very out of the way, and it is a difficult trail. But it is also a fun challenge, with beautiful views, and ends in one of the most unique peaks in the Valley. This is the kind of excursion that I would only suggest to experienced hikers. For those who are working up to harder trails, or who have no desire to do really hard, steep hikes, this guide will provide a peek at this beautiful mountain.
Why You Might Consider (or not) Hiking Quartz Peak Trail
Quartz Peak is one of the larger peaks in the Estrella Mountain range, which looks down on Phoenix, Arizona from just beyond South Mountain. It is a spectacular, desert mountain from afar. What you can’t see from anywhere but the end of this trail, however, is the very cool Quartz formation at the top of the peak.
This is the main draw to this trail, and I would say, the main thing that will keep you climbing up, up, and up. Along with that, there are some very amazing views of the wild Sonoran Desert.
Alternatively, hiking Quartz Peak Trail is pretty difficult, and it isn’t even easy to get there. This trail is 6 miles round trip (RT), with 3 miles of upward climbing. For perspective, Piestewa Peak, the popular urban peak in Phoenix, is only 1 mile uphill. Piestewa is considered challenging and a lot of people go there to train for the Grand Canyon. So, you can imagine, I hope, that a trail three times as hard might not be for everyone.
Furthermore, the trailhead is not accessible to those of us without the luxury of a high clearance, 4WD vehicle.
Need to Know Information
Trail difficulty: Difficult
Trail Length: 6 miles RT (out and back)
Trail Type: Dry dirt/rock, rock hopping and navigating via cairns, scrambling (at the top only)
Bathroom facilities: Yes, outhouse at the trailhead
Vehicle Access: High clearance and 4WD needed
I suggest navigating to the trailhead with the assistance of a downloaded Google map. You can cross check the route with AllTrails and a guidebook with directions.
On the Trail
From the trailhead, you will walk on some flat ground to the base of the mountains. (Enjoy it while you can! And be sure to sign the guest book on your way out). After that, it will be up… and up… an up.
And this trail does not ease you into anything. Pretty much as soon as you reach the mountain, you will find yourself on a steep, and rocky track. This climbs to the top of a small ridge that stretches down from Quartz Peak. From the base, you can just barely make out the top, from behind another large peak.
The elevation gain is pretty steady when hiking Quartz Peak Trail, as the trail leads you towards the quartz crown of the mountains. You will weave your way between cholla, walk at the top of the ridge, and sometimes get a little bit of a breather when you can trek along the side of the mountain.
The trail is fairly clear most of the way up, until about 2.5 miles, at which point the path will fade away. At this stage, you will remain on top of the ridge, and Quartz Peak will be clear in the distance. There are cairns here and there to help you navigate as well.
Once you get up near the peak, the trail will officially end. Some people do scramble to the top, although I didn’t. I would suggest being extremely careful if you do do any climbing. Remember, you are 3 miles up a trail in the middle of the wilderness, that is a bad place to get hurt. I have never climbed to the top of Quartz Peak; but I thought that the view from the trail was special enough.
This is a very remote trail, although it isn’t technically far from Phoenix-metro. So, everything that I normally say about safety on the trail is still relevant PLUS you need to be EXTRA aware. True accidents cannot be prevented, but there is a lot you can do to protect yourself.
Remember, your safety is your responsibility. Do not attempt this trail unless the conditions are safe, you are in good health, and you are completely prepared. Even then – this guide is no guarantee of your safety.
That being said – Along with what I outline above and in my other hiking posts, here are some of my top tips for this trail.
(1) Bring sufficient water and food for the trail and store some extra in your vehicle.
(2) Always let someone at home know where you are going and when you plan on coming back.
(3) Bring blister prevention and appropriate footware. Treat your blisters before they fully form. If you start to feel a hotspot, it is time to stop and tape up your feet. I like to combine moleskin with medical tape, but another great option is moleskin plus KT tape. Also, I know this sounds silly, but trim back your toenails to avoid bruising.
(4) Don’t risk yourself for a picture. I know that the top is cool, but you don’t want to fall on this trail. Be careful with your selfies, particularly if you insist on climbing to the top.
Keeping Cairns in Mind
As I mentioned above, towards the end of hiking Quartz Peak trail, you will have to start navigating via cairns.
First, what is a cairn? It’s basically a nice little stack of rocks.
In recent years, these little guys have gotten increasing attention due to (1) people starting to make them everywhere to photograph them, and (2) people have started sharing how these little things can harm the environment.
The extreme proponents of either of these create some problems for us hikers. The people who make random cairns can hurt the environment, and they also create a dangerous situation. People can be lured off trail by useless cairns.
Those who are encouraging others to knock down cairns because of the harm that useless ones can do also create a dangerous situation. Without these little guideposts on the trail, you can become very lost. I’ve been on many a trail where that was the only way to find your way was cairns.
In short, please only build cairns if they are necessary for safe navigation. And please do not knock down navigational cairns.
More to Explore in Arizona
As a lifelong Arizonan, I’ve got a lot more to share about my homeland than just hiking Quartz Peak trail. We’ve got tons of hiking guides. Last week, for instance, I posted a guide to the Estrella Mountains Regional Park (part of the same mountain chain as Quartz Peak). I also have a page that will link out to most of my Phoenix-area hiking guides over time.