Go prepared! - Caving Checklist
Background The Cave Canyon trail is a little-known cousin to more popular Gardner Canyon trail, and its neighbor. It is difficult to speculate as to the age of the trail; however, the canyon in which it resides almost certainly was named due to the presence of two well-known limestone caves - Onyx and Cave of the Bells (Both are gated). USGS maps dating to 1953 show a Jeep trail for part of the trail's current course, and a faint foot trail for the remainder; neither appear named. The current USGS Mount Wrightson quad shows the trail in its entirety and distinguishes between the sections that are a jeep trail and a foot path. The trail passes a number of old mine workings along its initial course, including a large shaft that belongs to "rock Candy" mine. Some of the intriguing geology in the canyon might explain that choice of name for a mine.
The Hike The course of the Cave Canyon trail #192 has recently changed to incorporate a 1.8-mile section of Forest Service Road 92, making it a 3.8-mile climb from the eastern foothills of the Santa Ritas into Florida Saddle. After leaving the parking area at the signed trailhead marking the end of FSR 92, the trail is still essentially an unimproved dirt road leading west and slightly northward. After just an eighth of a mile it encounters the junction with the Gardner-Cave Cutoff Trail #10. Follow the larger track leading right and alongside the creek bed. This section of trail has recently been closed to OHV activity and is strewn with downed trees for roughly another an eighth of a mile. The trail is flanked on one side by a new fence and the other by a hill preventing circumvention of the vehicle barrier for the course of this eighth-mile track. After passing the vehicle barrier, the track seems to end at a fence stretched across the trail terminating at an unkempt tree. The track leads to the right around this tree, allowing only foot traffic to pass. The tree will probably be overgrown, however, making route finding difficult at this point.
After passing the tree barrier, the trail makes the second of its many creek crossings. Cairns may or may not be present at all crossings; however, the trail is easy to find during these first two miles as it its the remnant of an old Jeep trail so its track is almost always wide and gravel-laden. The trail winds its way beneath the Sycamore and Juniper, generally following close to the creek. Many small waterfalls exist along the course of the creek and they are frequently visible at the crossing points. This section of the trail is quite lush and inviting. The trail climbs only slightly and is well-shaded. Birds and other wildlife frequent the area. After following the bottom of the canyon for roughly 1.8 miles, the trail drops into a small natural amphitheater and encounters another 'trailhead' marker.
From the second marker, the trail narrows to a foot path and beings its climb toward Florida saddle. Over the course of these next two miles the trail will gain almost 1800' of elevation. For the first six-tenths of a mile the trail climbs gradually but continuously along a ridge climbing away from Cave Creek. This section of the trail offers spectacular views of both Cave and Gardner canyons. The trail then takes up a course of extended switchbacks. Route finding will finally become a challenge along this section of the trail, as the track will frequently disappear under low brush growing in to repopulate after the fires that damaged much of this area not long ago. At one point, roughly one mile in, the trail encounters a large downed tree that requires one to shortcut up the side of the canyon to the track on its return course from the switchback. This might be the only time anyone could actually be advised to shortcut a switchback.
As the trail begins to approach the saddle, roughly one half mile before joining it, it makes another longer and more gradual climb along the final sections of canyon wall. The trail approaches a small drainage and the track is almost lost, as it makes a sharp and steep step up and turns almost 180-degrees leading into a switchback. The track is easy to lose here, and caution should be exercised to not follow the drainage. The trail continues to switchback, now in a much more pronounced fashion, for another half-mile until approaching the slope of Florida saddle which houses a forest of burned and dead Aspens. The mood here is eerie, as the skeletons of these once tall and imposing trees hang hollow and empty above like the ribcage of some long-departed prehistoric giant. The saddle comes into view as denoted by numerous signs marking trail intersections. The track turns sharply north and climbs gradually on its final approach to Florida Saddle. From this point it is possible to connect to the Crest and Florida Canyon trails, as well as the Sawmill Canyon and Four Springs trails. Amazing views of both Cave and Florida canyon abound, though Mount Wrightson is now masked. Return the way you came.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
Coronado FS Details
Cave Canyon Trail leads from Cave Creek Basin to Florida Saddle and the northern end of the Santa Rita Crest. Florida Saddle is one of the two main trail hubs in the Santa Ritas. Trails radiate from it to virtually every corner of the mountain range. Cave Canyon Trail is one of two major trails that provide access to this spectacular high country from the east. The other is Gardner Trail #143 which is located a few miles to the south. These two little-used trails are connected via the Crest Trail #144 and Super Trail #134 along the top of the mountain range and via a short trail called the Cave Gardner Cutoff Trail #10 which provides a path between their two access roads. (While we're talking about access, please note that the road leading to the Cave Creek Trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle, especially when the stream has water in it.) A loop can be put together using Cave Canyon and Gardner Canyon trails and various combinations of other high country trails (See the Guide sheet on Gardner Trail #143). The climb up Cave Canyon Trail is relatively steep, so you'll most likely find yourself enjoying the view as you take time out to catch your breath or rest your horse. From the heights of the trail, the smooth, muscular-looking slopes of the Mustang Mountains stand out across the broad lower Cave Creek Valley. North of the Mustangs lie the Whetstones, and beyond is the San Pedro Valley. Farther south, the horizon is defined by the massive Huachucas capped by 9,466-foot Miller Peak. The high slopes of the Santa Ritas are home to a forest that varies according to aspect (the direction it faces) and altitude. Forest communities range from scrub oak and high desert pinyon-juniper woodlands on lower or south-facing slopes, to stands of ponderosa, Arizona and Chihuahua pines and Douglas-fir on higher or north-facing slopes. This diverse ecosystem provides excellent wildlife habitat for large animals such as Coues white-tailed deer, black bear and an occasional mountain lion. Smaller animals such as Arizona gray squirrels and a number of songbirds and hawks are usually easier to see and, unless you're a hunter with a particular quarry in mind, just as rewarding.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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