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Brittlebush Trail - N Maricopa Mountains, AZ

Guide 20 Triplogs  2 Topics
  2.5 of 5 
51 20 2
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance One Way 6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,191 feet
Elevation Gain 654 feet
Accumulated Gain 692 feet
Avg Time One Way 3.5
Kokopelli Seeds 8.31
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Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
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Page 1,  2
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 61 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jan, Dec, Feb, Nov → 9 AM
Sun  5:44am - 7:28pm
Official Route
5 Alternative

moderate (for distance)
by Randal_Schulhauser

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Motorized access to the trailhead is currently not permitted, most likely due to smuggling activity. The trail itself is open and may be accessed from Margie's Cove Western Trailhead.

The brittlebush is a member of the sunflower family and grows two to five feet tall, covered with brilliant yellow blooms from March to June. The long, ovate, silver-gray leaves are one to four inches long. Brittle, woody branches contain a fragrant resin. This flower lends its name to this trail due to its abundance along the hillsides adjacent to the trail.

In my opinion, this area contains the best examples of signature saguaro forests close to Phoenix's southern city limits. The Sonoran Desert National Monument was declared during the last stages of Clinton's presidency in 2001 (January 17th, 2001). I applaud this act of preservation to counterbalance the fate of other saguaro forests consumed by Phoenix's urban sprawl! The monument is comprised of three separate and subtly distinct wilderness areas; 1) Table Top Wilderness, 2) South Maricopa Mountains Wilderness, and 3) North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness. The monument also contains a much-used trail corridor in which are found remnants of several important historic trails, including the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the Mormon Battalion Trail, and the Butterfield Overland Stage Route. The corridor is also a favorite with rail fans as the Union Pacific Railroad mainline bisects the South and North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness. The Brittlebush Trail follows a combination of former jeep trails and wide, unmarked desert washes. The BLM kiosk warns that there is infrequent trail signage or directional marker and the warning is quite correct. We found the occasional rock cairn to help keep you on the trail but found ourselves doubling back at the occasional wash junction when we couldn't find a cairn! Although the trail did not appear on our topographic map, my trusty Magellan GPS showed the path. Be prepared for self-sufficiency on this hike. Having experienced multiple hikes within the North Maricopa Mountain Wilderness, I've yet to encounter a fellow hiker on the trail. If you are searching for solitude close to the city, this may be the hike for you! I'll describe a recent "south to north" complete trail hike;

Mile 0.0 - At the south trailhead parking lot (GPS: N33o02.223' W112o33.264'), there is a BLM trail kiosk and trail logbook to sign-in. If we are to believe the logbook, we are the first trail travelers in over ten days! The trailhead represents a natural boundary between a flat expanse of a wide-open desert and the western boundary of the North Maricopa Mountains. The trail at this point follows an old jeep path. The recent January rains have made the desert VERY green!

Mile 2.8 - Deep sandy washes have long since replaced the old packed jeep path. Low mountains on all sides surround us. Although the elevation gain is minimal, the sand is affecting our thighs! We decide it is time for lunch on a large sandy flat (GPS: N33o03.350' W112o31.324') beside some conveniently placed shade. Bob and Mike break out a spread...

Mile 3.8 - Multiple washes converge along the path. Watch for the rock cairns to keep you on the correct route. I took the occasional wrong path and had to double back. The sand continues to pound on the thighs! Some rest and water beside the huge boulders (GPS: N33o04.010' W112o30.895') is required. Buster is drinking more than usual. Good thing both Bob and Mike have extra bottles of water...

Mile 4.5 - The trail walks out of the wash and onto a ridge. The solid footing is a relief to the thighs! An appearance by one of the infrequent trail markers (GPS: N33o04.733' W112o31.112') shows the way.

Mile 6.0 - The trail meanders down from the ridge and into the wash joining Margies Cove East Trail. No signage exists, but a stake is driven into the ground with a neon orange flag (GPS: N33o05.481' W112o30.843') to mark the north trailhead. At this point, you may want to head back to the Brittlebush South Trailhead to complete a 12.0-mile "in-and-out" hike. Other options include heading 3.3 miles east to Margies Cove East Trailhead or heading 5.7 miles west to Margies Cove West Trailhead. Leaving a 2nd vehicle at the Margies Cove East Trailhead will make for a combined 9.3-mile hike. It is possible to loop back to the Brittlebush South Trailhead via the Butterfield Stage Route Trail (15.1-mile off-road drive) described elsewhere.

This trail offers multiple recreational possibilities, and I try to take advantage as often as possible. Enjoy!

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2005-01-23 Randal_Schulhauser

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    West Trailhead
    From I-10 take exit 164 for Hwy 347 and travel south 15 miles to the town of Maricopa. Turn right at the Hwy 238 (aka Maricopa Road) intersection and travel 31.4 miles west towards the town of Gila Bend. Between mile marker 11 & 10, turn off at the primitive dirt road near a wooden sign for the Butterfield Trail (GPS: N32o59.569' W112o31.310'). Travel north on the dirt road about 1.4 miles to reach the Butterfield Stage Route Trail junction. Continue northwest about 4.6 miles to the trailhead (GPS: N33o02.223' W112o33.264'). A high-clearance, two-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for safe access to the Brittlebush Trailhead. My 2WD Ford F-150 found the road easy passage.
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
    Avoid Heat Illness - stay cool
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