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 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 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.
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