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An alternate approach to the forested inner bowl of Madera Canyon via a less-often visited western canyon, passing through a dense scrub forest then into the Madera pine country in route to Agua Caliente Saddle. From here an easy jaunt along the flanks of Mt. Hopkins and Jack Mountain to Josephine Saddle. This hike offers plenty of shade, and in the summer there are tons of flowers.
From the signed trailhead this trail heads off east into scrub country and basically follows the north flank of Agua Caliente Canyon most of the way. Right away you can see the differences of this side of the range - the peaks are more rocky and severe. Periodic breaks through the trees afford wonderful views northeast towards Mt. Hopkins and the huge MMT telescope. There are really no route finding issues on this trail, it can be a little overgrown but that's about it. The trail up to Agua Caliente Saddle is bascially a nonstop climb of varying severity. It's about 2.3 miles to the saddle. The first half generally stays north of the canyon bottom. There are a couple of canyon crossings thereafter, mostly over northern drainages feeding into Agua Caliente. These are easy to navigate and generally forested, so that it really just seems like you are crossing back and forth over the main canyon. The climbing is much more severe once this starts. A little over half way you may notice a couple of mine shafts beneath you to the right. There are three and they are uncovered so please be careful. One of them is labeled Treasure Vault Mine on the maps. Soon thereafter you make a nondescript grassy canyon crossing (truly over Agua Caliente this time) then the last 1/3-1/2 mils is up the south flank of the canyon. At this point you also transition into the pine forest. And then you are at Agua Caliente Saddle - marked by an old rusty sign. There are some great huge juniper here, perfect for resting under.
The rest of the hike is simple, the hard over being achieved on the climb up. From here, follow the sign and head right or southeast on the Agua Caliente trail to Josephine Saddle. There are magnificent views over Madera Canyon and to Wrightson and the Santa Rita ridgeline for much of the way, sometimes forested and sometimes wide open. The trail is a narrow little path along the northern flanks of Mt. Hopkins and then Jack Mountain. It's fairly level, with constant little ups and downs but no major climbs. Within 1/3 mile from the saddle, the Vault Mine trail will come up from your left. Just stay on Agua Caliente the whole way. It is almost 2.5 miles to Josephine Saddle, the last stretch being through a magnificent pine forest.
Return the way you came.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This is a moderately difficult hike.