Rincon Peak

by Dave Baker Tuesday, January 19th 2010

Among all the high places surrounding Tucson, Rincon Peak, at the southern end of the Rincon Mountains, is on my “top three” list of the area’s most beautiful peaks (the other two are Cathedral Peak and Mt Wrightson).

 Rincon Peak

Rincon Peak seen from a view point near Manning Camp

It is tall, massive, pleasingly shaped, and capped with a distinctive granite dome. Standing alone, separated from the rest of the Rincon range by Happy Valley Saddle, it rises high above the Vail area east of Tucson. Rincon Peak is nice to look at!

According to a Park Service history of Saguaro National Park, some of the earliest American visitors to Rincon Peak were probably loggers harvesting timber for use in the valleys far below. An Army officer surveyed Rincon Peak in 1890 looking for a heliograph site and “encountered a logging trail which led to the top of the peak”.

Taking a break near Happy Valley Saddle

It takes hard work to reach Rincon Peak’s summit. The Miller Creek approach described here is far and away the most popular route, but demanding, with a 4,300 foot elevation gain and a round trip distance of about 16 miles. Adding to an already long day is the drive to the somewhat remote trailhead on the east side of the mountain range. Some parties break the climb up by camping half way at Happy Valley Saddle, but this strategy is complicated by the fact that water sources at the Saddle are somewhat unreliable. So, day trips to Rincon Peak are often the norm, but an early start and headlamps are recommended.

Rincon Peak summit monument

The summit monument

Park your car at the Miller Creek Trailhead just off Mescal Road (32.15188 N, 110.48173 W, WGS84), about 15.5 miles north of Exit 297 on I-10. This is a dirt road, but medium clearance passenger vehicles should have no problems other than having to drive slowly through some sections. Walking west from the parking area you soon reach a fence with two gates – the Miller Creek Trail passes through the left one. After a mile or so in the bottom of Miller Canyon, the trail strikes uphill towards Happy Valley Saddle on steep hillsides strewn with boulders, Manzanita and oak trees. At the top of this first long climb you catch a great view of Rincon Peak’s rocky summit and come to a trail junction with the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. Bear left (south) here, and walk a half a mile through a lovely Ponderosa Pine forest to another trail junction where you turn left (south) towards the final push up Rincon Peak. The steepest and most strenuous section of trail is very near the top, but it eases up a bit as you pick your way up the final granite cap to the summit. Enjoy the magnificent views and take a well deserved rest, but don’t linger too long – it’s a long way back to the trailhead!

Evening sky above Miller Creek

Late in the day above Miller Creek

Season: Fall and spring preferred. Winter snow and dangerously slippery ice can impede or halt progress altogether on the high north facing slopes near the top. During summer months this hike can be very hot especially in the lower elevations, so early starts and an ample supply of water are recommended.

Water: A water source near Happy Valley Saddle campground is seasonal and unreliable. Bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Very difficult. Sixteen miles round trip and 4,300 feet of elevation gain tells the story! Get an early start and bring a headlamp just in case.

Note: A $6 per night camping permit is required from the Park Service for camping at Happy Valley Saddle. An application form is available here.

Maps: Green Trails Saguaro National Park; or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.



Click Map for larger image


Linda Vista Trail

by Dave Baker Monday, January 11th 2010

The Linda Vista Trail is really a network of three or four trails, all tucked under the north side of Pusch Peak in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Very easy to access, trailhead parking is just a few hundred yards off Oracle Highway. This is a great place to enjoy a high quality yet short hike; especially for those living or staying in the Oro Valley area.

Along the Linda Vista Trail

Rugged hillside above Linda Vista Trail

The trail traverses a rich Sonoran Desert landscape along the base of mighty Pusch Ridge. Linda Vista delights with quiet little desert nooks, grand views across the Oro Valley area, and just a taste of the rugged and steep hillsides that leap up towards the high reaches of Pusch Ridge. It is wonderful and surprising to find such enjoyable hiking so near civilization.

Oro Valley from the Linda Vista Trail

A view of Oro Valley

Find the trailhead a few hundred yards east of Oracle Road on Linda Vista Blvd (3.1 miles north of Ina Road). The Linda Vista Trail network allows one to put together a variety of hikes, including short in-and-out walks, and longer loop hikes up to about 2.5 miles in length. (At the far end of the main loop, watch for a trail junction marked with a blank, metal sign. An old hiker’s route to the top of Pusch Peak leaves the Linda Vista Trail here and heads uphill into a steep and rocky canyon. This steep and difficult route has a completely different character than the mellow Linda Vista Trail loop.)

Saguaro nursery

Young saguaro cacti sheltered by a palo verde “nurse tree”

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This low elevation hike can be very hot in the summer, take care.

Water: None. Bring your own

Easy to Moderate: The Linda Vista Trail network offers several loop opportunities up to 2.5 miles in length, with a maximum elevation gain of about 480 feet.

Note: Dogs are not permitted in this area.

Maps: Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains.


Click Map for larger image


Saguaro Census 2010

by Dave Baker Wednesday, January 6th 2010

Its census time again. Saguaro National Park is looking for volunteer help to conduct the third Saguaro Census since 1990. The Park conducts a saguaro cactus census every ten years, which curiously coincides with the U.S. national population census.


This past November, four Summit Hut staff volunteered for census work with the Park as part of our 100 Days of Service program, where Summit Hut donates staff time and labor to local environmental and outdoor causes.

We had a great time counting and measuring cactus, and contributing to the knowledge and understanding of the Park’s saguaro population. Plus we learned a whole lot about the health of our saguaro forests and the local ecology along the way.

The Park could use your help too. Its fun! Six census outings are planned for January, beginning January 8th.

Read more about the Saguaro Census here.

To make a volunteer reservation and get more information, contact Don Swann or Kim Diamond at 520.733.5178, or email [email protected]


Phoneline Trail

by Dave Baker Tuesday, December 29th 2009

There is little doubt that Sabino Canyon is the most visited recreation area in southern Arizona. Surrounded by the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Sabino Canyon is wild and spectacular, yet very easy to access from the Tucson area. Most visitors ride a commercial tram or walk the road (closed to traffic) that runs four miles along the canyon bottom from the Visitor’s Center. An alternate way to reach the end of the road is to hike the Phoneline Trail, which traverses the steep and rugged canyon wall hundreds of feet above the creek bed.

Phoneline Trail was built in the early 1900's to facilitate the construction of a proposed dam about a mile beyond the end of the current roadway. Happily, the dam was never built. As you travel the trail, watch for a few remaining rusted poles that once supported the phone line for which the trail is named. A long section of the Phoneline Trail is surprisingly level, allowing you to fully enjoy the many commanding views of Sabino Canyon that the trail is well known for.

Thimble Peak

Thimble Peak rises above Sabino Canyon and the Phoneline Trail

There are many ways to enjoy the Phoneline Trail. My favorite is to make a loop by walking up the 5.2 mile Phoneline Trail and then return to the Visitor’s Center via the road in the canyon bottom. This loop is about 9 miles long and involves a 930 foot climb to reach the flattish sections of the trail.

Or, you might chose to purchase tickets at the Visitor’s Center, ride a tram to the end of the road and then walk the Phoneline Trail back to the parking lot. This 5.2 mile walk involves about a 330 foot elevation gain.

You can also create a shorter 3.6 mile loop by taking advantage of the Phoneline Link Trail, which leaves the Phoneline Trail about 1.75 miles from the Visitor’s Center and switchbacks down to the canyon bottom and the road below.

Phoneline Trail

Long sections of the Phoneline Trail are nearly level

Park your car at the entrance of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a short drive from mid town Tucson. This is a fee area. To pick up the lower end of the Phoneline Trail leave the east end of the parking lot and follow a wide dirt path east until it joins a paved road. Continue east on the paved road as it swings into the bottom of Sabino Creek and a road junction where a sign will guide you right towards Bear Canyon. Just after crossing Sabino Creek, watch for the trailhead, marked by a sign “Phoneline Tr. #27”. A few steps from the pavement, turn left (north) onto the Phoneline Trail. From this point, it is about 4.5 miles to the end of the trail and the junction with the road’s end in Sabino Canyon.

McFall Crags

McFall Crags seen from the Phoneline Trail

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be very hot, especially in the summer. (The hike does receive quite a bit of traffic in the summer months; an early start and plenty of water are recommended.)

Water: None. Bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Moderate; up to 9 miles with a 930 foot elevation gain.

Maps: USGS Sabino Canyon, AZ ; Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains; or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.


 Click map for larger image


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!