In an effort to control trail erosion and damage caused by the miss-use of off-road vehicles, a large section of the Sonoran Desert National Monument was temporarily closed to motorized vehicles. A decision was expected to be made in September of 2012 according to BLM documents. At the time of this writing (September 2015), the area remains permanently closed with no re-opening scheduled. Consult the BLM website here for more information: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/info/nepa/environmental_library/sdnm_temporary_closure.html
We’ve included a general route description should the trail ever open back up.
How to get there: From the West Valley (I-10/Loop 101 Junction), head west on I-10 for 20 miles. Continue south onto Highway 85 towards Gila Bend. Follow this for 33 miles to the town of Gila Bend and turn left onto AZ-238/Maricopa Road. After 10 miles you’ll come to the west entrance and after 16.5 miles, you’ll come to the east entrance. The trail can be ran either way and staging is available at both entrances.
The trail: From the West Valley (I-10/Loop 101 Junction), head west on I-10 for 20 miles. Continue south onto Highway 85 towards Gila Bend. Follow this for 33 miles to the town of Gila Bend and turn left onto AZ-238/Maricopa Road. After 10 miles you’ll come to the west entrance and after 16.5 miles, you’ll come to the east entrance. The trail can be ran either way and staging is available at both entrances.
The trail (from the easternmost entrance): Begin heading northwest on the lightly traveled trail. Remain on the more traveled road as it winds through the desert, staying straight at 1.4 miles. Stay straight again at 2.5 miles, where another road continues left into the National Monument. After 4.4 miles, you will come to a 4-way, continue left. You are now on the historic Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Route. Be sure to stop at the informational signs along the way, including the one at 5.7 miles.
Continue on the narrow trail as it winds and climbs towards Butterfield Pass (1,745’) at 5.9 miles. Pass through the gate here and continue west. This point marked one of the most dangerous points on the entire stagecoach route. Just after 8.2 miles, you’ll reach Happy Camp Cistern, another historical point along this trail. Happy Camp Cistern was used to water the horses. Water was hauled here from the Gila River as it was the only source of water for miles. The trail continues west, remaining at about the same difficulty and retaining the same type of scenery. At 11 miles, turn left to return back to AZ-238/Maricopa Road. At the 12.4 mile mark, you arrive back at AZ-238. If you have an OHV, you are not required to do the whole trail, and will be forced to return back the way you came. If you took a Jeep or other SUV, you are able to continue on AZ-238 back towards Gila Bend.
Summary/Trail Ratings: Overall, the trail from the easternmost entrance through Butterfield Pass to back to AZ-238 at the western entrance and back is 25 miles. Allow for about 3 hours. Add more time if you like to spend a lot of time at the stops or less if you decide only to ride to Happy Camp Cistern. Overall, this is a very historic and scenic trail. It is shame it is closed. Hopefully it’ll re-open in the future. Consult the Google Earth file for a map of the trail. Since this trail closed before we could run it, we don’t have any pictures or video from the trail.
Status: Closed | Trail Type: Out & back/1-way | Length: 25 miles roundtrip | Approx. Time: 3-4 hours
Once a fun and historic trail through pristine desert along the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Route, today remains closed. A large portion of the Sonoran Desert National Monument was temporarily closed to control trail erosion. See below for more details.
Page last updated: 9/30/2015
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