Harquahala Mountain Byway
Climb over 3,000 feet in just 10 miles on this trail to the summit of the Harquahala Mountains, the highest point in the southwest of the state. Picnic benches and historic buildings await you at the top.
Where to go:
Take I-10 west from the West Valley 53 miles to exit 81, Salome Road. Take a right as you exit the freeway and follow Salome Road for 9 miles. Turn right onto Eagle Eye Road and follow that north for just over 8 miles. The turnoff is signed but easy to overshoot. Plenty of parking, informational signs, and a vaulted toilet are all available at the staging area, just to the right after you turn off Eagle Eye Road.
From the staging area, return to the main trail and head west. At 0.8 miles, stay right as the road to the left leads to the Alaska Gold mine via a small narrow trail. Stay right at the one mile mark. To the left also leads to the Alaska Mine but this route is a little easier. From here on out, the trail begins climbing. You will gain over 3,000 ft in just 10 miles.
The trail is also marked by waypoint markers which make finding the correct path easier. At 2.1 miles there is a picnic area with seats, a good place to stop for a quick break to take some pictures. At 2.4 miles, the trail begins to follow a rocky creek bed. Bear left uphill at 3.5 miles. The right is an optional side route to a mine. At 5.5 miles the trail begins climbing up tight a set of switchbacks. At 8.1 miles, the trail becomes difficult as it climbs a series of steep, rocky hills and switchbacks. A segment at 8.8 miles is so steep that it had to be cemented in order to prevent erosion as well as to help drivers quickly climb up the trail. At just about 10 miles, you’ll climb to the left uphill and reach the end of the trail.
There are several small parking lots but the best place is at the very top in the fenced off area. At the top, there is an enclosed CAP (Central Arizona Project) building with solar panels used to help regulate the flow of CAP water far below. Also, there is a small helipad, a windsock and a USGS marker. At the summit there is a peanut butter jar with a notepad in it which serves as an unofficial log book (there is an official one put up by the BLM towards the observatory). Walking down the path toward the observatory, are informational signs which were very faded the last time we were up here. Along with breathtaking views, there is a lot to see at the top. The observatory was used by Smithsonian Scientists from its construction in 1920 to 1925. Here they studied the sun and its effect on weather. Make sure to sign in at the log books at the top and bottom to help show the BLM that you appreciate this trail.
There are three side-trips along this trail. They don’t take long and they have some neat historic sites to check out. The first one is at the top of the mountain. When heading down take your first left (located at 10.3 miles). Follow this trail southwest. The trail is challenging and should only be completed with a quad or small 4-wheel drive vehicle. Turn left and ride through a rocky creek bed until it ends at the remains of a mining camp. Take some time to check out this area - there are a lot of ‘hidden treasures’. Once back on the main trail reset your odometer (or reset it when you pass this trail if you choose not to take it). Wind (or coast) your way down the trail back towards the start. The second side trip is at 6.0 miles in which you bear left off the trail. After a short ride through a rocky creek and come to a clearing with mining buildings. Continuing up hill, you make your way to a mine, however the trail is also steep and rocky. The third and final side trip is at 8.4 miles. Continue straight for 0.6 miles to get to the Alaska gold mine. A short walk takes you by some remnants and even by the main shaft. Simply go back or go through the creek and turn left to get back to the main trail.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
The trail is about 20 miles roundtrip and should take 2-3 hours plus an extra 1-2 hours for the side trips. This is probably the most user-friendly place we have been to - there are lots of facilities and informational signs along the route. This trail is rated a "6" because high clearance is required for this trail and 4-wheel drive is recommended. The trail is only 10 miles long but climbs the whole way so make sure your vehicle can handle long, steady climbs. Overall, this is a great day trip to a very scenic and little-known historic spot west of Phoenix.