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


Comments (1) -

6/20/2009 5:59:00 PM #

Dave we had a nice visit this AM about this loop. As I indicated this morning I did not  go to the summit when I hiked this the first time,as I go to the summit monthly (using Old baldy trail). Tomorrow I"m going to do the full loop as a fathers day gift to myself. I may do this monthly instead of Old baldy trail, much more scenic, and and much, much tougher.
Great sale today, I got some good deals.
Nice visiting with you, sorry if I took time away from other customers.
Rey Johnson
Green Valley

Rey Johnson

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!