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Cave Canyon Trail #149, AZ

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Guide 18 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson S
4.4 of 5 by 5
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance One Way 3.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,720 feet
Elevation Gain 2,105 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,105 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 10.81
Interest Ruins, Historic, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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6  2017-10-07
Wrightson Gardner Canyon /Cave Canyon Loop
23  2015-08-08
Big Casa Blanca-Cave Canyon Loop
11  2014-11-10
Cave Canyon Trail #149
29  2014-10-11
Cave Gardner Loop
10  2012-11-29 JuanJaimeiii
11  2012-06-15
Gardner Canyon #143
15  2012-05-19 GrottoGirl
9  2011-03-22
Gardner-Cave Loop
Page 1,  2
Author Jeffshadows
author avatar Guides 28
Routes 20
Photos 672
Trips 169 map ( 1,088 miles )
Age 41 Male Gender
Location Old Pueblo
Co-Author fricknaley
co-author avatarGuides 93
Routes 383
Photos 3,724
Trips 2,743 map (18,146 Miles)
Age 43 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Sep → Early
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:09am - 6:25pm
Official Route
4 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Go prepared! - Caving Checklist
Why crawl in mud when you can walk in pines?
by Jeffshadows & fricknaley

Likely In-Season!
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.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2008-08-04 Jeffshadows & fricknaley
  • Cave Canyon Trail 149 Map
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    Cave Canyon Trail 149 Map

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.

One-Way Notice
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.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Cave Canyon Trail #149
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Mt Wrightson from Gardner Canyon Rd
We drove up on Friday night and car camped at the Trailhead off Gardner Canyon Road. We were both surprised at how many RV’s were parked along the road. This is a very active camping area.

We woke on Saturday morning and got situated for the hike and started hiking around 9am. The first mile follows an old road along the creek. This is a very enjoyable section and is relatively easy. The grade steepens after roughly a mile as you steadily gain elevation. This goes on for a really long time as we progressed toward the Florida Saddle and then followed the Crest Trail towards Mount Wrightson Summit.

The peak eventually comes into view as you descend to the saddle and then make the final push to the summit. There were only a handful of people up there and we took a break to eat some lunch and enjoy the views. From there we flew down the Link Trail and were back to the jeep around 4pm.

This was a great hike! I really enjoyed approaching Wrightson from the east. The Gardner Canyon Road is in great condition and is easy to follow. All the trails we followed were in good condition besides some random dead fall along the way. Wrightson is a beautiful summit and I might hike it again before summer sets in.
Cave Canyon Trail #149
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Cave Gardner Loop
Had to run an errand with Team Buford™ to wine country to pick some grapes. And Jon had a car-camping birthday thing to do. So I tagged along but made them do a hike too.

I needed the county high-point. None of us had ever hiked Wrightson.

The east side is an absolute dream. No fees. Not a single car at the trailhead. Didn't see a single other person all day, except a few at the peak who had come up from the more popular west side.

There was running water absolutely everywhere. It was a real nice surprise. The top of the Cave trail gets really steep, and it was a grind up to Florida saddle. The traverse over the Crest trail to Wrightson was a bit more rolling, with some downhills for a break. Some juvenile aspen have started to sprout, and they were just beginning to turn.

Made it to the summit in 4 hours, and took a short break before heading back down trying to beat sunset. The trip down was a relentless descent. It looked to be a bit more exposed and I think it would be tough to come up this way during any kind of sunny/hot season. There's a stretch of trail where the ponderosa is really making a comeback. It's remarkable to see.

The mileages marked on the signs around the mountain are wrong for both Cave and Gardner due to both of them now having closed sections of road leading to the trailheads -- essentially the trailheads for each trail are now just farther away than they were before. No biggie, as both of them parallel their respective creeks and the sounds of flowing water is always refreshing.

A nice night at camp was followed up by a morning in Sonoita gathering grapes and loading a 55-gallon drum into my truck for the drive back to the pub--with a stop in Tucson for lunch :))

We stopped at DQ at picacho peak to load up on some nitrates but the line was 15 deep so we just got back in the car and kept going :(

I've never hiked Wrightson from Madera Canyon, but I have a tough time believing it's any better than the east side ascent. And making a loop out of it is just an added bonus!

New growth aspens up top just starting to yellow. Some sycamores in the lower drainages are beginning to turn. No other colors yet.
Cave Canyon Trail #149
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Gardner Canyon to Mt Wrightson
i finally got to hike in the same direction as johnlp :y:

i was blown away by how nice gardner is and what great shape it's in. yet another great trail in the santa favorite local range

met some nice runners on the summit. crest trail rocks as always though it's still in very early spring mode up there. trip down cave was nice and easy, nice to be back out here after so many years.

awesome hike. nice lunch afterwards. sorry we missed you Dave :(
Cave Canyon Trail #149
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I was traveling Hwy. 83 southward from I-10 into the higher elevation of the Baja Arizona this past Friday. Even though it was past mid-afternoon, I decided to take a hard right to the west at Gardner Canyon Road - hoping to get out for a bit of a walk in an area I was familiar with. It had been more than a year since I had been down this dirt road and I was pleased to find many TH improvements (new detailed signage, limiting vehicular access,etc.) had been recently made...Sky Island Alliance at work perhaps. At any rate, the AZT has been greatly developed for increased access via Gardner Canyon Road. New to me anyway, as it was nothing like this last spring. At the same time, similar themed work was obvious re: the Gardner Canyon TH so as to limit access with a new gateway recently installed where Link Trail's switchback joins Gardner Canyon Trail (a new TH sign was just lying there awaiting proper installation) from below via Cave Canyon Trail's new gateway. This type of work being indicative of SIA around the SE quadrant of the state, etc. Lots of campground renovations were apparent as well...what a wealth the outback of this state affords the average citizen who will just get out there! Avg. Grade 59.6% GPS Route Available

Spent the next day engrossed in a long circuit R&D drive around the Chiricahua Mountains via Rodeo, NM - through Portal...Cave Creek Canyon, etc. The season's first rain was the ideal amorphic backdrop to another amazing AZ outback run.
Cave Canyon Trail #149
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As Jeff said, we attempted a Cave Canyon-Crest-Gardner Canyon loop only to find (ahem...or not find) the Gardner Canyon trail totally washed away. So we had to backtrack a long way.

Does nothing to take away from the hike though. The Cave Canyon trail is actually wonderful. Lush on the bottom half and a burned-out recovering haunted wonderland on top.

The Crest trail is the star of the show. I must admit I have a new favorite trail in Tucson.
Overgrown and wild, the Crest trail is a showstopper. The meadow at the nameless saddle is worth the effort alone. Plus it's kind of cool that whatever route you choose to access the Crest trail, it's gonna take some work.

I will be back...time and again.

Permit $$
Visit this link for full details.

There are four specific day use areas that require a Coronado Recreational Pass or a National Pass/America the Beautiful Pass.
1) Sabino Canyon - located on the Santa Catalina Ranger District (520)749-8700
2) Madera Canyon - located on the Nogales Ranger District (520)281-2296
3) Cave Creek - located on the Douglas Ranger District (520)364-3468
4) Mt. Lemmon at 11 day use sites.

Catalina State Park $6 per day. Sabino Canyon Tram is $10 extra.

Coronado Forest
MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

Map Drive
FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

To hike
From Interstate 10, take State Route 83 south toward Sonoita. After roughly 21 miles, turn onto Gardner Canyon Road, signed on SR-83 as the turnoff for "Kentucky Camp". Gardner Canyon Road (FR-92) is an improved dirt road. Ignore the numerous side roads and trails, following signs for the Cave Canyon Trail which begins when the road ends 8.6 miles from SR-83. The road makes two creek crossings and caution should be exercised during or just after a heavy rain.
page created by Jeffshadows on Aug 04 2008 8:16 pm
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