The trail system located in Estrella Mountain Regional Park offers many opportunities to explore these mountains. Make sure you ask the clerk at the park entrance for a map of the trail system.
There are 9 or so different trails that start from the Rodeo Area area. You can combine them to create your own hiking loop. Pay close attention to the trail brochure because not all the trails start from the same area.
From the paved parking lot you can jump on the Rainbow Trail or the Toothaker Trail. The trails begin just West of the bulletin board. The Rainbow Valley trail heads West while the Toothaker trail heads South.
On this day I decided to take the Rainbow Valley trail. The trail starts by heading West and climbing to a ridge along the foothills. It then descends for a bit only to climb even higher to what the trail book calls "the tallest peak in the area". I found the trail brochure a little misleading. None of the trails take you to the actual peak of these foothills, but instead you climb high along side them.
After catching your breath at the "peak", you follow the trail downhill to the West. The trail continues this way dipping into washes and inching closer to the custom homes of Estrella Mountain Ranch. The trail then starts to head South.
At 2.2 miles from the trail head lies the intersection with the Dysart trail. The Dysart trail allows you to "quit early" and head East to link up with the Toothaker trail. I did not take the Dysart trail, and I'm glad I did not. The best part of this hike is yet to come.
To really enjoy these hiking trails you have to hike deep into the Estrellas. Making small loops out of the trails never allows you to escape the views of the park picnic areas, homes, racetrack, and city. If you are feeling good, keep going on the Rainbow Valley trail for another mile.
In the mile of trail after the Dysart junction the hike finally takes you deeper into the Estrellas. From here you start to get a sense of being "away" from the craze of the city. There are more plants and wildlife back in these areas. Also, the high peaks of the Estrella start to show themselves.
Finally the trail junctions with the Toothaker trail. This was a tricky junction that could easily be missed. Make note that as you are heading East on the Rainbow Valley trail towards the Toothaker trail, the junction is shortly after you can start to see views of Phoenix again. The junction marker is to the left and not very visible when you are staring at the beautiful views to the South.
If I had more time I would have taken the Toothaker trail further South. However that would have added another 4 miles to my hike. So I opted to take the Toothaker trail North back to the parking lot. The section of the Toothaker trail before the junction with the Rainbow Valley trail is not very interesting. My guess is that the "boulder peak" the trail guide says in on the Toothaker trail must have been on the Southern stretch of the trail. I'll be heading that way next time I visit.