A Mount Wrightson Loop Hike

by Dave Baker Monday, April 13th 2009

Loop hikes are wonderful. It can be exhilarating to take in a big sweep of country without retracing steps. You usually see more and get to enjoy a feeling of fresh discovery the entire way.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a great loop hike which starts in the bottom of Madera Canyon and passes through Baldy Saddle, just below the top of Mt Wrightson.

Rising to an elevation of 9,453 feet, Mt Wrightson is the high point of the Santa Rita Mountains and also the highest of the peaks surrounding the Tucson valley. The vast majority of visits to Wrightson’s summit are made hiking the very popular Old Baldy and Super Trails which start at the end of Madera Canyon Road.

Arizona Gray Squirrel

Arizona Gray Squirrel near Bog Spring

The loop hike described here is a more demanding way to reach the top of Mt Wrightson, but is very scenic and visits some less travelled areas of the Santa Ritas.

Find the trailhead (31.72681 N, 110.8803 W, WGS84) on the east side of Madera Canyon Road just past the turnoff to Bog Spring Campground. Marking the turn into the parking lot, a sign declares “Madera Trailhead, PICNIC AREA”. In the parking lot, the trailhead is conveniently marked with another sign: “BOG SPRING TRAILHEAD”.

Mt Wrightson

Mt Wrightson from the Four Springs Trail

Early on, the route passes the lovely sycamore grove at Bog Spring, then climbs and traverses to Kent Spring and the beginning of the Four Springs Trail. Above Kent Spring the Four Springs Trail enters some of the vast area that was ravaged by the 2005 Florida Fire. The trail traverses the head of Florida Canyon past the seasonal water seep at Armour Spring, in an area where the devastation was particularly intense.

Head of Florida Canyon

Burn near Armour Spring

The Four Springs Trail is followed all the way to the Crest Trail, which runs 3.2 miles south along a high crest ridge to Baldy Saddle and the base of Mt Wrightson’s summit pyramid. From Baldy Saddle, you might as well scamper up to Mt Wrightson and back before following the Old Baldy Trail down to Josephine Saddle and on to the trailhead at the end of Madera Canyon Road. To close the loop, walk about 1.3 miles along side Madera Canyon Road to the original trailhead.

Season: Though this hike can be done year round, there are seasonal considerations. Winter snow and dangerously slippery ice can impede or halt progress altogether at the high elevations, especially on the summit dome of Mt Wrightson. During summer months this hike can be very hot in the lower elevations, so early starts and an ample supply of water are recommended.

Water: There may be seasonal water at or near Bog Spring, Kent Spring, Armour Spring, Baldy Spring, and Bellows Spring; but as always, bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Strenuous. This hike is long and hard. There is a 4,600 elevation gain. According to my GPS odometer, the loop is 17.5 miles long, but a Forest Service map at the trailhead suggests a mileage closer to 16.3 miles. No matter, this is a hike for those in good physical condition, and one should allow a full day to complete it. I recommend bringing along a map of the route.

Note: The trailheads are in a Forest Service fee area.

Maps: Green Trails Maps – Santa Rita Mountains.


Click Map for larger image


You've Been Warned!

by Dave Baker Monday, April 6th 2009

Check out this pair of warning signs, displayed back to back on a sturdy wood post near a popular southern Arizona trail head. Many thanks to "The Curmudgeon" for a hearty laugh, and thought provoking warnings.

Leaving the road head, this sign with its dire warnings is prominently displayed as you head into the back country:



Leaving the back country, as you approach the road head, this sign with its somewhat different set of dire warnings is prominently displayed on the back of the same sign post:



Banff Film Festival and Pima Trails Association

by Dave Baker Thursday, April 2nd 2009

This past Friday evening, March 27, the Summit Hut hosted the Banff Mountain Film Festival for the 11th consecutive year in Tucson. Nearly 1,000 people filled the historic Fox Theatre to watch 7 films which ranged in length from 3 to 55 minutes.

My favorite film of the night was Patagonian Winter, the story of a failed attempt by two British mountaineers to make the first winter ascent of Torre Egger. The scenery was spectacular and the conditions truly daunting, but what set the film apart for me was the delightful humor expressed throughout by the two climbers, Andy Kirkpatrick and Ian Parnell.

I was also surprised at my own reaction to Journey to the Center, a film documenting the first BASE jump into an incredibly deep limestone cavity in the middle of China known as the Heavenly Pit. As each jumper committed to releasing himself into the misty void, I couldn’t help but get anxious.


Without a doubt however, the most lasting impact of the evening came courtesy of all the attendees through their ticket purchases. The Summit Hut was pleased and proud to donate $1,000 of the proceeds to Pima Trails Association, a volunteer advocacy group that has worked hard for the past twenty years to protect trails and to insure public access to public wild lands all through Pima County.

Thousands of us enjoy the fruits of their effort every year. For example, Pima Trails Association was involved in preserving access to Ventana Canyon, Finger Rock Canyon, Agua Caliente Hill, and Fantasy Island to name just a very few.

This organization merits your support; their work is an immeasurably valuable gift for all outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the wild lands of southern Arizona. Pima Trails Association has a number of projects in progress. Learn about these projects and how you help on their website.


The Miracle

by Dave Baker Monday, March 30th 2009

Milagrosa means “miraculous” in Spanish and indeed, it is a little miraculous to find such a pleasant loop hike tucked away in the far northeast corner of the Tucson valley. The hike dips in and out of both Agua Caliente Canyon and La Milagrosa and cruises ridge tops on both sides of the canyons as it traces its loop. On the ridges the trail sports views of canyons, towering cliffs, and the city of Tucson. Both drainages can show seasonal water and pools, and many hikers forego the loop trail and linger near the water in the canyon bottoms. This is a low elevation hike, one to avoid in summer heat.

Agua Caliente Canyon

Seasonal water in Agua Caliente Canyon

To reach the trailhead, turn east off the Catalina Highway onto Snyder Road and drive for about 1.4 miles before turning left (north) onto Avenida de Suzenu. Park where Avenida de Suzenu dead ends into Horsehead Road near signs warning that night time parking is prohibited. (Public parking is prohibited at all times east along Horsehead Road; please respect this private property.)

Loop Trail 

Agua Caliente – La Milagrosa loop trail

From the parking area, walk east along Horsehead Road through a residential area for about 0.6 mile till it ends at Wentworth Road. Just past Wentworth step east across a fence near a metal gate, cross Molino Wash and then hike east up a jeep road that contours around a hillside. The jeep trail soon passes a small abandoned rock house and then reaches an intersection with another jeep trail taking off left (north) up a ridge. This intersection marks the beginning and end of the Agua Caliente Canyon – La Milagrosa loop trail. We are describing the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, so bear right at the intersection and continue to the wash below. After crossing the wash, the trail turns left (east) just before a gate marked with a “Private Property” sign. Four or five hundred yards later the trail abruptly turns right (south) and switchbacks very steeply to a ridge top above before continuing east about 1.4 miles to a trail junction. Turn left (north) at the junction and begin the descent into the bed of Agua Caliente Canyon. Once in the creek bed, the trail heads upstream a few hundred yards before leaving the bottom again and switchbacks up the north side of the canyon to the ridge top between Agua Caliente and La Milagrosa. The trail passes another junction (stay left) as it works west back towards the beginning of the hike. Before closing the loop, the trail crosses La Milagrosa, finally descending a broad ridge to the jeep trail junction.

Above La Milagrosa

Saguaro sentinels above La Milagrosa

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be hot, especially in the summer.

Water: There can be seasonal flows in Agua Caliente Canyon and La Milagrosa but bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Moderate. The full loop is about 6.1 miles long with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet including all the ups and downs in and out of Agua Caliente and La Milagrosa.

Maps: USGS Agua Caliente Hill AZ, 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!