2012 AH Classic Wall CalendarShop the AH Store >>

Our 2014 calendars are now available!

Classic Wall Calendar

CL14 $10.99

Our classic 13-month spiral-bound calendar features 30 full-color photographs and a handy map of Arizona on the back.

Order Now >>
Purchase Camping GuideShop the AH Store >>

Featured Book

Arizona Highways
Camping Guide

AGCS3 $22.95

Our newest book, which includes Arizona Highways iconic photography and maps, is sorted by region and is written for car-campers and families. Detailed information about accessibilty, amenities and fees is included for each campground.

Order Now >>
2011 AH Wildlife CalendarSee Selection of Images >>

Featured Prints

Poster Prints
Special Edition Prints

Many of the extraordinary images found in our award-winning magazine, scenic coffee-table books and exquisite calendars can be purchased as fine posters and prints.

Order Now >>
Shop the AH Store >>

Featured Gift Item

Centennial Issue Reprint

SPCENN2 $4.99

If you missed our February 100-page Centennial Issue on newsstands earlier this year, here's your second chance to get a copy of this special collector's edition of Arizona Highways magazine..

Order Now >>

  • print page
  • Tell a Friend
  • Post to Facebook
  • YouTube
  • past to del.icio.us
BULLEThiking archive
Scenic Drives Archive Photo
Trekking along Josephine Saddle on
Old Baldy Trail, hiker Alexis Mills
checks out the scenic views.

© Peter Noebels


>> Click on image to view
it larger in a separate window.

Editor's Note click to expand
Arizona Hiking Guide BookFrom "backyard"
hikes to overnight
excursions, our
Arizona Hiking
guidebook has
something
for everyone.
To order, call
800-543-5432
or click here.

Old Baldy Trail
Not to be confused with Mount Baldy, Old Baldy is the highest point in the Santa Rita Mountains, and this trail takes you there.

By Robert Stieve

The first thing that'll come to mind when you catch your first glimpse of Mount Wrightson is, HOLY MOLY! Your second thought will be, There's no way! It's only 5.4 miles away on foot, but it's way up there. And it looks even farther than that — at 9,453 feet, Mount Wrightson, also known as Old Baldy, is the highest point in the Santa Rita Mountains.

The trail begins at the end of Madera Canyon. Even if you're not a bird-watcher, you have to appreciate the unique nature of this place. Birders come from all around the world hoping to spot an elegant trogon, a broad-tailed hummingbird or a yellow-billed cuckoo. Hikers come for the rocks and the trees and the challenge of reaching the summit.

From the trailhead, you'll start to feel the incline immediately, and it won't let up until you're on your way down. Within about 10 minutes, the groves of trees change from sycamores to ponderosas. Also, this is where that first view of Mount Wrightson comes in. As you continue climbing, the forest gets thicker, shaggy almost, and after an hour or so, you'll come to a spectacular slope covered with ferns. There's something about ferns that seems out of place in Arizona, but there they are.

Beyond the ferns, the ponderosas start getting taller, and they're mixed with silverleaf oaks and Apache pines. They're beautiful. Equally impressive is the Josephine Saddle, which sits at 7,080 feet, 2.2 miles from the trailhead. There are some great views off to the east, but what will really catch your attention is a wooden memorial. On November 15, 1958, three young Boy Scouts, ages 12-16, died at this spot when they were caught in a sudden snowstorm. It's a good reminder that whenever you're hiking in Arizona, you need to check the forecast before you leave the house.

From the saddle, the trail gets noticeably steeper and includes some challenging switchbacks. It's beautiful every step of the way, with brilliant green everywhere, but your legs and your lungs won't really appreciate it. That said, if you're not breathing too hard, keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, black bears and some very fat squirrels, especially around Bellows Spring, which you'll pass along the way.

After about 3 hours, you'll finally arrive at Baldy Saddle, an almost treeless place that's used as a campsite by backpackers. The summit is still about a mile away, and in places, the trail is better suited for mountain goats than day-hikers. It's steep and rocky, and one misstep could ruin an otherwise perfect day. At the top of the mountain are the remains of a fire tower that was built in 1928, and remained in use until the 1950s.

Today, all that's left of the tower is a section of its foundation, but the views are still the same. On a clear day, you can see Sierra San José in Mexico, as well as several surrounding mountain ranges, including the Rincons, the Galiuros and the Chiricahuas. Also, to the west, you'll see the Smithsonian Institution's Whipple Observatory, which looks like a misplaced igloo at the top of Mount Hopkins. To some observers, the telescope is an eyesore. To others, it's a scientific marvel. To the hikers who make it to the top of Mount Wrightson, it's just one more thing to look down on as they think to themselves, HOLY MOLY, I made it to the top.

Trail Guideclick to expand

Map of Area Length: 11.4 miles round-trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation: 6,505 to 8,263 feet

Directions: From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson, drive northeast on the Catalina Highway for 4.2 miles to the Forest Service boundary and continue 19 miles to the Palisade Visitors Center.

Special Consideration: A $5 day pass is required.
Vehicle Requirements: None; accessible by all vehicles Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)

USGS Map: Mount Bigelow
Information: Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado   

Leave No Trace Ethics:
  • Plan ahead and be prepared.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly and pack out your trash.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Respect wildlife and minimize impact.
  • Be considerate of others.
  • >> Back to Hiking Archive


    Story ArchivesFind previously published stories online... [more]

    Global SnapshotsSend us a photo of you or someone you know posing with Arizona Highways. We'll post it on our website. It's that simple... [more]

    Photo of the DaySend us a photo of you or someone you know posing with Arizona Highways. We'll post it on our website. It's that simple... [more]

     

    Social MediaJoin our Facebook, Twitter and Flickr communities for behind-the-scenes glimpses at Arizona Highways... [more]

    Events & PromotionsEscape, experience and explore Arizona, one event at a time... [more]

    Best of AZ50 of our favorite things around the state, including photography, nature, dining, adventure, lodging... [more]

    site map  |  terms of use  |  privacy policy  |  corporate sales  |  about us  |  contact us

    Arizona Highways Television AZ Dept. of Transportation AZ Dept. of Public Safety Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

    © Copyright 2014 Arizona Department of Transportation, State of Arizona. All rights reserved. Reproduction in part or whole without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. The images on this Web site are copyrighted, digitally watermarked and registered with the Digimarc tracking system. All rights reserved. Copying and downloading images from this site are strictly prohibited.