Miller Peak Wilderness, Coronado National Forest
Don’t let the name fool you. This trail has nothing to do with sauerkraut, strudel or Sergeant Schultz. The name comes from Henry Hamburg, a prospector from St. Louis who developed a mining camp at the head of Ramsey Canyon. Adding to the confusion is the fact that most people refer to this hike as the Ramsey Canyon Trail. Nomenclature notwithstanding, this is one of the most scenic and diverse hikes in Arizona, and even though we’re featuring it in February, it’s a great option all year long.
Before you get started, you’ll have to obtain a permit from The Nature Conservancy’s visitors center — the first part of the hike crosses its preserve. The fee is minimal, and it’s well worth the expense, especially if you appreciate wildlife.
In particular, Ramsey Canyon Preserve is considered one of the best bird-watching sites in the world. In the winter, if you know what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance of seeing dark-eyed juncos, yellow-rumped warblers, red-naped sapsuckers and ruby-crowned kinglets. And even if you can’t tell one of those birds from a pterodactyl, there’s something appealing about knowing that they’re out there. The same goes for the Coues whitetailed deer, which wander in and out of the creek without any apparent fear. No doubt they’ve been conditioned by the benign nature of the resident bird watchers.
The trail begins at the back door (literally) of the visitors center, and the first thing you’ll see is Ramsey Creek, a key tributary of the San Pedro River. About 10 minutes later you’ll come to the James Cabin. It was built in 1902, and as you stand there looking around, you’ll agree that few cabins in the history of westward expansion could have had a better view. It’s impressive, and so is the Arizona sycamore nearby. It might not be the oldest tree in the canyon, but it dates back to 1760, which makes it old. Very old. Even older than Cochise, by a long shot.
From the big tree, the trail moves uphill and includes some minor switchbacks before crossing into the Coronado National Forest and the Miller Peak Wilderness. Your reward for climbing this far is a good overlook of lower Ramsey Canyon and the San Pedro River Valley. Above the switchbacks, the trail drops back down to the creek and follows it through a riparian zone as lush and beautiful as any you’ll find in the Southwest. Imagine having Oak Creek Canyon all to yourself. It’s that remarkable.
Along this stretch, small waterfalls tumble past gnarly sycamores and lacy-limbed firs, and the trail crosses the creek five or six times as it climbs toward the upper elevations of the Huachuca Mountains. Eventually, after an hour and a half and 2.5 miles, you’ll come to a point where the Hamburg Trail intersects the Wisconsin Trail, which leads into Wisconsin Canyon. This is the turnaround point for this hike, but before you head back, make a perimeter check. Along with the scenic beauty, this area includes the remains of some leveled homesites that were part of Henry Hamburg’s mining camp. There’s not much left, but the area makes a great place to stretch your legs and grab a snack. Strudel would be good if you have it.
Length: 5.6 miles round-trip
Elevation: 5,498 to 6,826 feet
Trailhead GPS: N 31°26.860', W 110°18.443'
Directions: From Sierra Vista, go south on State Route 92 for 6 miles to Ramsey Canyon Road. Turn right onto Ramsey Canyon Road and continue 3.5 miles to The Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve.
Special Consideration: Because the preserve is on private property, a $6 permit ($3 for TNC members) is required to hike across it to the Hamburg Trailhead. The preserve is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
USGS Map: Miller Peak
Information: The Nature Conservancy, 520-378-0311 or www.nature.org/arizona