The hike up Mt Wrightson is one of the very finest outings in southern Arizona.
At 9,453 feet, Mt Wrightson is the high point of the Santa Rita Mountains and also the highest of all the peaks surrounding the Tucson valley. The mountain is named in honor of William Wrightson who was killed by Apaches in 1865 on the east side of the range not far from present day Sonoita and Patagonia.
Enjoying Wrightson’s summit
Far and away the most popular way to approach Mt Wrightson is via Madera Canyon, a major north facing drainage that supports a rich and relatively cool, moist environment. Madera is a southern Arizona treat, with its great beauty, diverse ecology and excellent hiking. Many trails leave Madera Canyon Road and the canyon is known worldwide for its fantastic bird watching.
Two trails to the top of Mt Wrightson originate in the same parking lot at the end of Madera Canyon Road: the Super Trail and the Old Baldy Trail. The trails crisscross half way up the mountain at Josephine Saddle and finally join together again a mile below the summit. The Old Baldy Trail is the shorter and steeper of the two, and probably the most popular, especially during the warmer months of the year since its route favors north facing slopes that offer more shade on hot days.
Mt. Wrightson, or “Old Baldy”, south of Tucson
A trip to the top of Wrightson via The Old Baldy Trail is strenuous, climbing nearly four thousand feet on the 5.3 mile trip to the top. The trail is often used by area hikers preparing themselves for trips to the Grand Canyon and other destinations with big elevation gains.
Find the trailhead at the very end of the Madera Canyon Road (31.71232 N, 110.87404 W, WGS84). The Old Baldy Trail leaves the upper-most parking lot at its southwest end. Walk southwest from the parking lot up a jeep road for two or three hundred yards, watching for the Old Baldy Trail junction on the left side of the path.
Above Baldy Saddle
The trail doesn’t mess around and immediately begins climbing steadily, early on passing many Arizona madrone trees mixed among oak, juniper and Ponderosa pine. In two and half miles one arrives at Josephine Saddle, an excellent destination and turn-around spot for those looking for a more moderate, yet rewarding outing.
Above Josephine Saddle the trail continues uphill as it switchbacks across the steep northern slopes of Mt Wrightson before reaching Baldy Saddle (8,700′), a fine place to rest and catch your breath.
Descending summit switchbacks
From the Saddle it’s another mile of climbing and switch-backing to the top, and the panoramic views for which Wrightson is so well known: Mexico, Baboquivari Peak, Tucson, the Catalinas and Rincon Mts, the Huachucas, Sonoita and Patagonia, are just a few of the landmarks to be seen.
Season: This hike is done year round, but seasonal weather conditions must be taken into consideration. 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 is hot in the lower elevations, so early starts and an ample supply of water are recommended.
Water: There may be seasonal water at Bellows and Baldy Springs; but as always, bring plenty of your own and treat any water you might collect.
Difficulty: Strenuous. This hike is on the hard side with a 4,000 elevation gain and 10.5 mile round trip distance.
Note: This is a Forest Service fee area.