Tucson and Southern Arizona Hiking Guide << page 1
This beguiling passage through the Chiricahua Mountains foothills to Fort Bowie in southern Arizona, gives hikers the opportunity to experience the original Arizona Territory and some of the hardships its settlement demanded. Situated within the Fort Bowie National Historic Site, few hikers will find the 1.5-mile trail to the post ruins overly demanding, but you'll spend as much time reading interpretive signs as you will hiking. Rich history occurred here. Beginning in the late 1850s, the Butterfield Overland Mail Co. operated a stage station in the pass, and in February 1861, Lt. George Bascom had his seminal encounter with Cochise on this ground. The bitterness from that bloody episode led to years of warfare. The trail also passes the replica of an Apache rancheria, complete with brush wickiup, and Fort Bowie's cemetery. It holds numerous white headstones with the simple inscription, "Killed by Apaches." Its most famous occupant? A 2-year-old Apache child named Little Robe – Geronimo's son. The spring at Apache Pass gushes year-round and was the pivot point in the struggle to control this area. Without it, Butterfield never would've routed through Apache Pass, which would have made Fort Bowie and its soldiers unnecessary. After all, the military built the post to secure the pass for wagon travelers moving east and west during the days prior to the arrival of rail travel. Today, visitors can inspect its ruins, mostly chest-high adobe walls and a few stone foundations. The site also includes a visitors center and picnic facilities.
Trail GuideLength: 1.5 miles, one-way
Elevation: 5,040 feet
Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east 75 miles to Willcox and State Route 186. On State 186, drive 30 miles southeast to the upaved turnoff to Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Turn left (east) and drive 8.2 miles to the Fort Bowie trailhead.
Information: Fort Bowie National Historic Site, 520-847-2500; www.nps.gov/fobo.
Seven Falls, Bear CanyonThe hike to Seven Falls comes with a warning label. Look out for mountain lions because they like to hide on cliffs and steep slopes and in thick brush, where they can rush prey and drag their kill back to a protected area. The trail into Bear Canyon, adjacent to Sabino Canyon on Tucson's far northeast side, consists of nothing but cliffs, slopes and ambush brush. Mountain lions find this area perfect for their hobbies and habits, which lately include such aberrant behavior as daylight prowling, showing no fear of humans and even stalking humans. The 4-mile round-trip hike along Bear Canyon Trail offers the ultimate desert hiking experience, with the sublime payoff, under the correct conditions, of powerfully cascading water and rock pools in which to frolic. For most of its length, the trail parallels Bear Creek, and includes a sufficient number of guideposts to keep hikers on course. But it jumps the creek numerous times, and for a hundred yards or so the trail disappears. Hiking temporarily turns into high-stepping and boulder-jumping, with arm-waving landings, during which you plot your next leap. Magnificent cliffs shelter the trail on both sides, and they soar taller as you proceed. Canyon shadows and midday light conspire to confound your perception of shapes and distance, and this allows those of properly wild imagination to see whatever they choose.
Trail GuideLength: 2 miles, one way, from the trailhead at end of the shuttle road to Bear Canyon, or hikers can also begin at the visitors center, for a one-way trip of 4 miles.
Elevation: 2,740 to 3,500 feet.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Directions: In Tucson, take Speedway Boulevard east to Wilmot Road. Turn north onto Wilmot Road and continue 1.7 miles. The road will become Tanque Verde Road. Turn left onto Sabino Canyon Road. Take Sabino Canyon Road north 4.5 miles to the park entrance, on your right, just after the intersection with Sunrise.
Travel Advisory: A shuttle operates between the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center and points along Bear Canyon Trail. Cost is $3 for adults and $1 for children ages 3 to 12. Always carry plenty of water, at least 1 gallon per day per person. This trail is popular in the winter, when melting mountain snow creates the falls. But the falls might also be running in the spring, the fall and after the summer monsoons. Parts of the trail are rough due to summer monsoon landslides.
Information: Coronado National Forest, 520-749-8700; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado.
Snowshed TrailThe Snowshed Trail winds up and out of Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The adventure begins at an opening in a barbed-wire fence near the trailhead marker at the cave. After about 2 miles of gradual incline, the trail begins to steepen as oaks and ponderosa pines fight for dominance. A clearing in the forest reveals a spectacular view of craggy, burnt-orange colored cliffs and the prominent spire of Cathedral Rock. At mile 5, near 7,578-foot Pine Park, Snowshed Trail and Basin Trail intersect. Taking the Basin Trail makes a leisurely 8-mile loop hike. On the way back down to the floor of the canyon, the trail crosses the middle fork of Cave Creek, where sycamores and cottonwoods shade weary hikers.
Trail GuideLength: 8 miles, round-trip
Elevation: 5,480 to 7,920 feet
Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east 139 miles to U.S. Route 80 (in New Mexico). Turn right (south) and drive 28 miles, and then turn right (west) onto Portal Road, and drive 7 miles, crossing back into Arizona. At Portal, the road turns into Forest Road 42. Drive west approximately 4 miles on FR 42 to the trailhead.
Information: Coronado National Forest, Douglas Ranger District, 520-364-3468; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/forest/recreation
Carr Peak TrailThis 5.75-mile round-trip hike gains 1,800 feet in elevation to Carr Peak, which measures in at about 9,200 feet, making it the second-highest peak in the Huachuca Mountains. Two miles from the start of the hike, lies the signed junction to Carr Peak. The route switchbacks up between large Douglas fir trees to the bald summit, which offers impressive views of the vast southeastern Arizona landscape.
Trail GuideLength: 5.75 miles, round-trip
Elevation: 7,400 to 9,200 feet
Directions: From Tucson, travel southeast on Interstate 10 to Exit 302. Turn south onto State Route 90 and travel through Sierra Vista to State Route 92. Turn right and drive south for 7 miles to Carr Canyon Road, marked Forest Road 368 on some maps; turn right onto Carr Canyon Road and drive 6.5 miles to the Reef Campground. Park at the trailhead, across the road from the campground.
Travel Advisory: A high-clearance vehicle is preferred for travel on the dirt road to the trailhead.
Information: Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista Ranger District, 520-378-0311.
Scheelite Canyon TrailHiking the 4-mile Scheelite Canyon Trail in the Huachuca Mountains can turn into an exciting experience for humans if they meet the local wildlife. Besides crossing paths with a black bear in the steep gorge, hikers may catch sight of a colony of female coatis scampering up trees or of a solo male traipsing across a tree branch. Cocooned in a wooded steep-walled canyon, perfect habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, the trail starts its almost nonstop 2,800-foot climb along a drainage and eventually tops out at 8,350 feet on Scheelite Ridge. Gambel oak trees form a canopy over the trail as the path crisscrosses the canyon drainage. Squat canyon walls start to grow by mile 1, where a peculiar collection of limestone formations and boulders briefly appears. By about mile 1.5, the canyon narrows enough to force the trail into the drainage, where it continues for a while, twisting over dryfalls under the arching shade of bigtooth maple trees. Finally, the canyon widens enough for the trail to separate from the drainage, vacillating between mild climbs and arduous ascents up the canyon. At about mile 2.5, the trail begins a relentlessly steep slog up to its finish at the Huachuca Crest Trail. Panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the city of Sierra Vista at trail's end make every steep step of this hike worth it.
Trail GuideLength: 4 miles, one-way
Elevation: 5,550 to 8,350 feet
Directions: From Sierra Vista, enter the main gate of Fort Huachuca and stay on the main road for 9.5 miles, following the signs to Garden Canyon at all intersections. The trailhead starts at .7 mile from the pavement's end.
Travel Advisory: On U.S. military property, Garden Canyon is open to the public, but visitors must check in at the main gate. Trail access is subject to military exercises and national security.
Information: Fort Huachuca Public Affairs Office, 520-533-7083 or www.sabo.org/birding/huacspv.htm#scheel
Brittlebush TrailRising less than 100 feet per mile, the Brittlebush Trail might feel more like a desert stroll than a hike. But the land traversed is not ordinary desert. Located in the Sonoran Desert National Monument, the trail enters a surrealistic-looking terrain – pristine, untrammeled and extraordinarily remote for its close proximity to Phoenix. Hikers on this trail might find themselves all alone during their 6-mile walk to the Margie's Cove Trail. The trail crosses a Sonoran Desert landscape where creosote bushes and cholla cactuses feel at home, and saguaro forests cover low-rising mountain slopes. Just past mile 2, the route transitions from old roadway into a wide wash between low-rising ridgelines. Civilization drops in at about mile 4.5 in the form of a signpost signaling the route's separation from the wash as it takes up on a remnant of road. The last mile of trail follows the faded roadway through a series of oxbowlike twists across the desert floor to its end at the edge of an east-west wash near the midsection of the Margie's Cove Trail.
Trail GuideLength: 6 miles, one-way
Elevation: 1,400 feet
Directions: From Phoenix, drive south on Interstate 10 to the Maricopa Road exit. Drive south on Maricopa Road (State Route 347) to the town of Maricopa, and turn right (west) onto State Route 238. Drive 31.4 miles to an unmarked primitive road, and turn right; drive 3.2 miles and veer right; drive 2.0 miles and veer right again; drive 0.8 miles to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle is required.
Information: Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix Field Office, 623- 580-5500; www.az.blm.gov/pfo/bbush1.htm.
Mount Lemmon TrailFollowing the Mount Lemmon Trail at the summit of Mount Lemmon and the West Fork Sabino Trail, this 21-mile hike descends through forests of Douglas fir, maple and aspen trees, traveling from an elevation of 9,157 feet, to the lowest point in Sabino Canyon at 2,750 feet. The Mount Lemmon Trail intersects the Wilderness of Rocks Trail 4 miles below the summit, which is a good turning point for a shorter hike, and winds 5 more miles to end at the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area, below the mountaintop village of Summerhaven. Passing this junction, hike along the Romero Pass saddle. To the west, you'll look down into Catalina State Park, marking the end of the range. To the east, scan Central Canyon, where you'll would spend most of your hiking hours, and far away, along the skyline, the ridge of the eastern wall of Sabino Canyon, this hike's destination. Oak, juniper and maple trees canopy the descent into Central Canyon on the meandering West Fork Sabino Trail. Farther down, the woods evanesce into yellow grasslands dotted with flame-tipped ocotillos and then into Mexican blue oaks and Arizona sycamores in the lush drainage of Sabino Basin. The last 6 miles include easy switchbacks climbing out of Sabino Basin to the abrupt drop into Sabino Canyon and the 3.7 miles of paved road weaving through the cottonwood and sycamore trees banking the canyon's perennial stream.
Trail GuideLength: 21 miles
Elevation: 9,100 to 2,750 feet
Directions: To reach the Mount Lemmon Trail, follow the Catalina Highway north from Tanque Verde Road until it ends near the summit of the mountain, about 2 miles beyond Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. The trailhead is east of the parking area.
Travel Advisory: Coronado National Forest requires a $5 parking fee payable at one of several locations on the mountain. This rigorous 10- to 12-hour hike should be attempted only during cool fall or spring weather. Carry plenty of water and an area map. Plan your hike so you have transportation waiting at the Sabino Canyon parking lot, or you can phone from there. For early spring hikes, check with the Forest Service to be sure the summit road is open beyond Ski Valley.
Information: Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado. Mount Lemmon Highway Construction Information Line, (520) 751-9505.
Box Camp TrailThe Box Camp Trail begins at 8,050 feet, and an energetic high-achiever can turn it into a long, steep walk of 7 miles from the pine forests of the Catalinas down to the Sonoran Desert in Sabino Canyon. An even higher achiever can walk it uphill from Sabino to the top of the Catalinas, a strenuous hike of more than 20 miles. But most hikers drive up the paved Catalina Highway to the Box Camp trailhead, a quarter-mile beyond Milepost 21, and walk the first 1.8 miles of the trail to the point where it joins the spur that leads to Box Spring. That 1.8-mile stretch should not be sniffed at. A shady downhill walk under the pines, it crisscrosses small fields of ferns. In the dappled light of morning, it's a beautiful sight. The terrain is downhill and drops just 500 feet, but you will be walking up that same distance on the return trip. If your lungs aren't adjusted to the thinner air at 8,000 feet, you'll find yourself huffing and puffing.
Trail GuideLength: 7 miles, one way
Elevation: 8,050 to 3,700 feet
Directions: From Tucson, take the Catalina Highway north from Tanque Verde Road to just past Milepost 21. Watch for trailhead parking on the left side of the road.
Information: Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado.
Cody TrailIn the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, northeast of Tucson, the Cody Trail is named in honor of late-19th-century showman William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The 4-mile (one-way) trail is part of the Arizona Trail, which spans the state from Mexico to Utah. With an elevation gain of almost 1,200 feet, the hike is strenuous, but worth the work. The trail's destination, Oracle Ridge, features spectacular aerial views. From a hilltop, the trail drops down to a sandy wash, shaded by large oak trees. Follow the dry creekbed, which, in the spring month after winter rains, is lined with purple desert verbenas, golden desert marigolds and delicate pink fairy dusters. The trail meanders uphill to an old jeep road. Two miles from the trailhead, a spur trail leads 50 yards to the entrance of High Jinks Ranch, once the property of Buffalo Bill.
Trail GuideLength: 4 miles, one-way
Elevation: 6,250 to 7,470 feet
Directions: The Cody segment of the Arizona Trail begins at the American Flag Trailhead, 4 miles southeast of Oracle. In Oracle, travel east on American Avenue to a Y junction. Take the right fork, Mount Lemmon Road, south for 3 miles. At the end of the pavement, bear right. Mount Lemmon Road is also signed as Forest Road 38. Travel 1 mile to the trailhead, marked with a large Arizona Trail sign on both sides of the road. Park on the right (west) side of the road.
Information: Coronado National Forest Ranger District, 520-749-8700; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado.
Scotia Canyon TrailOnly 7 miles north of the Mexican border, this section of the Arizona Trail (AZT) leads from a lussycamore-shaded riparian canyon through rolling shortgrass prairie to a lakeside environment, offering opportunities for viewing plants and animals in three very different habitats. The route drops down a rocky path from the parking area, into sycamore-lined Scotia Canyon. The trail follows the drainage as it wanders through shady woodlands of Chihuahua pines, silverleaf, Arizona white oak and huge alligator juniper trees. A mile from the starting point, the trail passes a windmill, and then follows remnants of an old road. After another mile, you'll arrive at a fence and gate, where the trail turns to the left — not through the gate — and climbs a steep, wooded hillside. Following an eroded track down to Forest Road 48 affords views of the rolling Canelo Hills region to the west. The trail climbs a hill to trail markers that direct you across a dirt road, and down into a shallow, rocky drainage. The final hill proves an easy climb to the start of the AZT-Parker Canyon Lake Trail, located on South Lake Road. The AZT continues west, through the Canelo Hills to the small community of Patagonia.
Trail GuideLength: 6 miles, one-way
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Directions: From Interstate 10 southeast of Tucson, drive south on State Route 83. Parker Canyon Lake is 29 miles south of Sonoita. To reach the trailhead, turn left onto Forest Road 48 for 2.2 miles to Sunnyside Road, Forest Road 228. Turn left onto FR 228 for 2.7 miles to a T-junction. Park off the road to the right. It's a short walk up the hill to the AZT marker.
Travel Advisory: The last 12 miles of the route to the trailhead are unpaved.
Information: Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista Ranger District, 520-378-031; Parker Canyon Lake Store, 520-455-5847; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado
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