Robbins Butte/Gillespie Dam Trail
Take a ride through the scenic Buckeye Hills and two wildlife management areas on this easy, 15 mile trail. Along the way, you’ll pass abandoned farm buildings near Powers Butte before ending at the historic Gillespie Dam and Bridge at Old Highway 80.
Permits: A State Trust Land Permit is needed for this trail. Permits cost $15/individual or $20 for two people and are good for 1 year. Get permits here.
Where to go:
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. After 7.1 miles, take a right onto Robbins Butte Game Road. The turnoff is signed and the road turns to dirt immediately. Staging is available on the right after 0.3 miles.
Immediately after leaving the staging area, the trail forks. Stay left following the signs towards Powers Butte & Robbins Butte (Mountain). Going right takes you into the Robbins Butte Wildlife Management Area, a popular hunting spot. After half a mile, the trail turns right to head due west. The road remains wide but has a ton of washboards as you drive along a fence that is part of the wildlife management area. At 1.8 miles you’ll cross a large wash, continue to the right as the trail leaves the wash. At 2.9 miles you’ll come to a large clearing at the foot of Robbins Butte, a small volcanic hill. Continue left as another trail joins from the right.
Leaving Robbins Butte remains wide and easy as you cross numerous washes. Off to the right at 3.6 miles is some cattle tanks and private buildings, stay on the main path. At 4.1 miles, the trail enters a shady and scenic riparian area as you come within close proximity of the Gila River, just to the north. The trail becomes narrower as the dense trees make it hard to see around a few curves in the road. The trail returns to desert before crossing through one more riparian setting at 5.2 miles. Continue left at 5.5 miles where a private road goes right. Things get more scenic as the trail twists and climbs to the foot of Powers Butte at 7.0 miles. It is only after this point where you begin to get into the more scenic and remote parts of the area. The views to the southeast (of the Buckeye Hills) are also quite impressive. Thing get slightly rockier as you climb, then immediately descend back towards the Gila River.
At 7.9 miles you’ll pass over a cattle guard as you enter Powers Butte Wildlife Management Area. There are also several abandoned farming buildings to check out. Use caution when exploring the buildings, which were likely built in the 1950s based on the style. Also keep an eye and ear out for hunters, who travel by foot to the west of these buildings. When you’re done at the buildings, Head back towards the cattle guard, but turn right just before it. There is a lesser traveled trail that heads due south along power lines. From here on out things get rougher. Keep an eye out for occasional washouts at the numerous small water crossings. Continue to the left at 10.8 miles when the road forks. The trail meanders southward as you have a set of scenic hills to your left and the Gila River to your right. The road swings left and then back south at 12.0 miles. At around 13.1 miles you’ll make a fairly steep climb and come to a pass. As you descend, the trail gets very rocky and narrower. You’ll have to watch tire placement until you reach the bottom of the hill at 13.5 miles.
At 13.8 miles, you’ll come to a junction. ATV’s, side-by-sides, and other smaller vehicles can continue right as the lesser traveled trail passes over a gas pipeline, then follows only the edge of a canal before ending at a foot bridge at 14.2 miles. Other street legal vehicles can continue left, along the edge of the canal for 1.6 miles until you reach a crossover point. From there, turn right onto the paved Old Highway 80 and continue to a small pullout at the dam and bridge. We took the lesser traveled path along the canal. We parked our quads, walked over the bridge and proceeded to check out the historic highway bridge (built in the 1960s) and the Gillespie Dam. You’ll notice that the dam is broken. This happened in the 1990s when a record amount of rainfall caused the dam to overflow and break. There is still a good amount of water here at the Gila River, although much of it is pumped into a canal system. It is worth walking around the area – it is pretty scenic. When you’re done, return back to the staging area the way you came, or if you’re in a street-legal vehicle, can continue along the highway to Gila Bend or Phoenix. Agua Caliente Trail begins just a few miles northwest of the bridge in the town of Arlington if you want to extend your day.
Notes & Trail Ratings:
This trail from Highway 85 to Gillespie Dam and Bridge is 14 miles one way. If you’re doing the trail roundtrip allow for 1-3 hours to complete the 28 miles. The trail is mostly wide graded roads. South of Powers Butte, it gets narrower and rockier. We’ve rated the trail a ‘4.5’ out of 10. High clearance and 4WD are required to do the whole route. An aggressive SUV with good clearance can make the trail. It is also great for ATV’s, dirt bikes, and side-by-sides. Use caution during hunting seasons as the northern sections of the trail (near the wildlife areas) gets a lot of traffic. Overall, this is a great scenic ride close to Phoenix.