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Heartbreak Ridge Trail, AZ

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Guide 21 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson
4 of 5 by 8
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 4.65 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,155 feet
Elevation Gain 2,077 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,322 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 12.39
Interest Historic & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
35  2019-04-05
Rincon Backpack
22  2019-04-02
Turkey Creek & Misc Trails
14  2018-11-11
Rincon Peak
5  2018-03-17
Rincon Peak
12  2018-03-17
27  2016-09-17
Rincon Manning Camp Turkey Creek
2  2015-11-14
Devil's Bathtub Trail - Coronado NF
18  2015-08-29
Rincon Peak
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
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Sep, Oct, Aug → Early
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Autumn
Sun  6:06am - 6:27pm
Official Route
11 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
The views won't break your heart...
by Jeffshadows

Likely In-Season!
The Heartbreak Ridge trail is a backcountry connector trail located in the southern Rincon Mountain area partially along its namesake ridge. It emanates from Happy Valley Saddle and terminates at the Four Corners junction not far from the summit of Mica Mountain. The trail gains just slightly more than 1500' along its 4.2 mile course. This description will assume an ascent.

The lower trailhead is at a junction with the Miller Creek trail located roughly one-half mile from the Happy Valley Saddle campground. The trail begins to climb through mixed scrub along a sandy course that is characteristic of this elevation in the Rincons. The climb here is not severe, but seems relentless as you surmount a number of minor saddles before the scrub gives way on a rocky platform that marks the beginning of a staircase climb. This is the first real vista, providing excellent views of Rincon Peak and Madrona and Rincon Valleys.

The trail now beings a switchback course along the exposed ridgeline that is studded with stone steps. The steps are well spaced and had seen recent maintenance in the spring of 2010. The ascent continues this way for slightly more than a mile and a half with intermittent patches of scrub providing escape from the southern exposure along the way. The views of Rincon Peak and the valleys below only get better with each few dozen feet of elevation gain, most of which occurs during this section of the trail. The price paid for these views is exposure and the trail gains most of its elevation along this section. The staircase ascent ends abruptly as the trail winds around to the west and then east of a minor peak along the ridge. The views disappear but the Heartbreak Lookout trail appears in their place. The views from the Lookout area of Happy Valley, Turkey Creek, and beyond are unlike anything found elsewhere in the Rincons.

After leaving the junction with the Lookout trail, Heartbreak now meanders through a welcome riparian meadow shaded by mixed oak and a few scattered pine. The trail keeps a nearly straight northerly course as it slowly ascends through the meadow. There are sections where the course becomes difficult to follow in the grass and understory, but route finding is made greatly easier by the fact that the trail keeps along a basically straight course. There are a few small washes along this section that probably house pools in the wetter months. This is probably also an excellent area for wildflowers when in season.

After about a mile, the ridgeline reappears and the trail surmounts a minor saddle. After this saddle, the trail descends slightly and then begins to level, encountering the junction with the Deer Head Spring trail. After the junction, the trail beings to climb once again and the views disappear permanently as pine become more abundant and the track starts to change from mixed grass to a pine bed. After one-half mile, the trail ends abruptly at the Four Corners Junction between the Heartbreak, Fire Loop, Devil's Bathtub, and Spud Rock trails.

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2010-11-02 Jeffshadows
  • Rincon HAZ Map
    area related
    Rincon HAZ Map
  • Rincon Mountain Distric East
    area related
    Rincon Mountain Distric East
  • Tucson Mountain District West
    area related
    Tucson Mountain District West
  • SNP Cactus Forest Map
    area related
    SNP Cactus Forest Map
  • nps related
  • sub-region related

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
Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
For some reason, I'd never previously set foot anywhere in this sky island, nor anywhere in Saguaro National Park. Spoiler Alert: Not a single Saguaro was seen the entire day! ](*,)

Miller Creek #28
This trail starts off with an easy warmup mile along the creek before the climb begins near the NPS boundary. The climb is steady and switchbacks frequently through bouldery terrain. The highlight of this trail is the half mile in the oak woodlands along Miller Creek below the junction with Heartbreak Ridge.

Heartbreak Ridge
The half mile between Miller Creek and Rincon Peak trails is fantastic. This area is called Happy Valley, and it's amazing. I kept thinking that this is what all the sky islands used to look like before catastrophic wildfire. There are enormous old growth ponderosa and fir along with sporadic desert scrub, nicely spaced and overall just healthy looking. Though not reliable, there was water flowing intermittently in the sandy drainage along the trail.

Rincon Peak Trail
The first mile of this one continues the pleasantness of Happy Valley, with a bit more climb. It passes through a couple of drainages that were lightly flowing with winter runoff. There's a tiny flat spot near the map marked point at 7330 where a sign indicates the end of stock use. From here the trail steepens significantly pushing the final 1100 feet to the summit. If I were to guess, this point was actually the end of the original built trail, with the resulting climb having been pieced together over time from use. It just doesn't seem to be a professionally planned or built route. Very odd actually. Nonetheless, despite it's steepness, I really enjoyed this final climb. A bit below the summit there's an affixed register box. It's in need of a new notebook as there is a single sheet of paper that is completely full of writing.

The summit features excellent views in all directions, including the largest summit cairn I think I've ever seen. Another oddity for this peak! The winds today were strong on the exposed summit so we dropped back down a bit to shelter for lunch, before heading back down to Happy Valley.

Happy Valley Campground
I was curious about this "campground" marked on the map and with a sign along the trail. It's really quite nice. Three sites with bear boxes and fire rings, and even a pit toilet! One site was occupied and the backpackers there reminded me that this is a national park, so camping there requires a permit and $8 nightly fee. Unfortunately, there is not a reliable source of water here, though there was still some running in this mid-March.

Happy Valley Lookout
Since I was feeling great, I suggested we continue north on the Heartbreak Ridge Trail, instead of heading directly back down. This was a 4-mile addition to the day and featured outstanding views and the best NPS-quality trail construction I've seen south of Grand Canyon! The lower part eases through shaded oak forest and other desert scrub before climbing into an old burn area and a steady climb. Near the peak, the trail exits the burn area that again reminded me how nice all the sky islands must have once been. We took the spur trail up to the old lookout but the cabin was boarded up and locked, providing no break from the wind which had now picked up even more. After a quick snack, we headed back down to Happy Valley and the return trip on Miller Creek to the trailhead.

This was a great intro to the Rincons and I'll definitely be back. :y:
Drive time to the trailhead was a little over 2 hours, and I think we counted 7 other people all day. My kind of crowds! :) Though the wind on the summits was a bit chilly, the temperature overall was ideal. Sadly no wildlife sightings, save for the loose heifers near the trailhead.

Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Headed over to Happy Valley on Christmas Eve to get up in the high country ahead of the big weather system that was predicted to dump a bunch of snow. No cars at Miller Creek, perfect clear cold weather. Miller Creek trail in good condition, a little confusing in a spot or two as it crosses some drainages. Headed up Heartbreak Ridge, my first time on that trail - wasn't sure what to expect as I figured it didn't get much traffic. Trail in excellent condition, surprised to see tons of steps build on a trail so far in the backcountry - a total contrast to the brushy thrash-fests on all the trails on the "back side" of the Santa Catalinas (like Samaniego Ridge or CDO). I guess the National Parks have a much larger budget for trail maintenance... Lots of water along the way to Devil's Bathtub, which I had never visited, which was also flowing strong. Headed up to Manning Cabin, nobody there either except for a few deer, think I had the whole mountain to myself. (Plenty of water at Manning, as always...)

Ran up to Spud Rock, and the weather started changing fast, was suddenly in a windy cloud with the temps dropping fast and smoky wisps of fog blowing through the forest. Put on some layers (tights, windshirt, buff), ran up to the summit and didn't even stop, and bailed down the Bonita trail, and by the time I hit Heartbreak, I was beneath the cloud ceiling that was enveloping Micah and back in the sun, but the temp kept dropping. Crazy wind along the ridge, literally pushed me off the trail a few times, lots of birds flitting around, couldn't figure out how they don't get blown off the mountain. Made time to run up to the Lookout on the way out, another first - incredible views of Rincon and San Pedro Valley, worth the side trip.

Tried to keep a strong pace coming down Miller, but that is one steep, boulder-filled descent. Returned to the truck in a total time a bit under six hours for 23mi and 6400aev, and cracked a beer just as the sky went black and that huge weather system hit, exciting drive back to Tucson rocking down the freeway in the old 4x4 truck with high winds, sideways precip, and wrecks here and there...
Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
A day hike to and from our camp at Spud Rock Spring to get water and to explore the area. The overall backpack trip is described at [ triplog ] .

Coming out of the Spud Rock Spring campsite, we weren't clear on whether to head back towards Deer Head Spring or up the Switchback Trail to catch the trail to Devil's Bathtub. It ended up we took the "wrong trail" or the Deer Head Spring Trail, causing us to drop about 500 feet. This trail, like the Turkey Trail, hasn't got much use or maintenance. But it was pretty, and at the end of the day, created a loop for us. We met the Heartbreak Ridge Trail, headed north for .5 miles until we got to Four Corners, then headed 20 minutes west to Devils Bathtub.

Water was plentiful here. After lunching and napping for an hour and a half, we headed back to Spud Rock Spring via the Devil's Bathtub, East Slope, and Switchback Trails.
Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Rincon Mountains
Day 1: Parked at Turkey Creek TH (not at the actual TH, just where the road gets bad), walked to Miller Creek TH, hiked up to Happy Valley, dropped our heavy stuff, and headed up Rincon Peak.

Day 2: HBR trail up to Spud Rock Campground via the Deerhead Spring Trail, again dropped stuff off, then waddled up the rest of the way to see Mica Mtn, Spud Rock, Manning Camp, and all sorts of other goodies I hadn't seen before. Everything up there was amazing and well worth the schlep...

Day 3: Down Turkey Creek Trail. It was a much nicer trail than I was expecting, but it's not something I would want to do during typical May weather given how exposed it is.

No issues aside from a few scary looking clouds the second afternoon and lots of very excited (but non-threatening) bees on the Heartbreak Ridge Trail on the way up to Happy Valley Lookout. The Manzanitas were blossoming and there was a constantly disconcerting buzz the entire time... :scared: Otherwise it's a fantastic trail.
Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Rincon Loop
Wanting to return to the Rincons since last fall, today was to be a great hike in the main body of the range, though without the Mica MT area. I was really pleased that my car got me to the four wheel drive trailhead, as I took it up the 2 track and started from there, instead of lower down. This gave me more time higher up, and I was able to visit Manning Camp, as a result. The 4WD road was less about clearance, than actual 4WD, and beefy tires would make a difference. However, a fictional AWD civic never would have made it.

The hike was better than expected and I was up in the pines in under 3 hours. I really just hiked through the Deer Head fire area and was less impressed with it than I hoped. This is no central Gila Wilderness. Most of the affects seem to be top killing brush and oaks, and needle cast consumption, but there was less grass than hoped for. I did hike up a ridge (not GPSed) and look at some old growth pines, still with some grass under them. I found the area around Manning Camp to be highly reminiscent of some of the low spots in the WOR, specifically around the nice camping spot with the massive pines. This is because it is almost all pine litter, little grass, and a dense stand of tall poles, with some larger orange barkers, but nothing characteristic of the way it would have been 120 years ago.

The Fire Loop is one of the nicer areas, and the granite domes are fun to look at, and climb on if you chose. In that regard, the Rincons have a Yosemite feel to them. Manning Camp itself is OK, but it just feels like a NPS camp area, nothing that special, save for the water and weather station. The Manning Camp trail south of the camp does have great canyons, falling water, and westward views to the Tucson Mountains. The Devil's Bathtub trail and area is really nice, and if flowing when warm might be a nice place to hangout, but I expect it is dry when warm. Heartbreak Ridge has great views, and as always looking east is fantastic.

With the current appearance of the east slopes, the species composition, and the fire affects, I would almost prefer it had not burned, since the oaks and other brush will coppice, some younger pines were killed, a lot of soil will and has eroded post fire, and it isn't going to return to pine, or mixed oaks over grass anytime soon. The grassy and pine covered areas do look better, and at least fuel loads are reduced. Still, the top of the mountain would benefit from something it will never get: mechanical thinning. The current composition of this area seems to have been influenced by (the Manning's?) grazing a lot more than Mica Mountain proper, but there appears to be slightly more soil here, too.

Overall, a great hike, my longest of the year, and with some serious AEG. It was nice down low, and cool, but tolerable while constantly switching between a sweater and t-shirt up higher. It was also breezy, but that created some lenticular clouds. I think it is still early in the higher terrain, as despite the above normal temps, it is still only late March, and there were fewer bird calls than expected. I did see some mountain quail, I think, or some other birds with flight sounds like a quail. Most of the life is still below 6,000'.
Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
Had a day off and was passing by Mescal, so I whipped it over to Happy Valley for a Rincon Mountain traverse. Not much to report, but with zero negative issues, it was as perfect as this day could get. Headed up the Turkey Creek trail, hit Spud Rock campsite, took the East Slope to Heartbreak Ridge, over to Happy Valley campsite, down the Miller Creek trail and back to the Exploder. Pretty much a sunup to sundown stroll :)
Heartbreak Ridge Trail
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
Friends in town who wanted to hit the Rincons

Day 1) Breezy but warm. I'm out of shape at this point, trying to keep up with Lynn and Teri up the Miller Creek trail. We dropped our packs at HV camp, headed up to Rincon Peak and back down to the camp to call it a day.

Day 2) NICE day. We headed out to Manning Camp via Devil's Bathtub, took some time to rest, then headed up the Fire Loop trail/s to Spud Rock, Mica and Reef Rock. I had not been to Mica or Spud Rock before. The Spud Rock views are unbelievable. Mica Mountain, though quite pretty, doesn't offer much for views. After our stop at Reef Rock, we headed down to Spud Rock Camp to settle in. I was beat by this point, but Lynn and Teri still had energy to explore the area. We started getting spurts of rain in the early evening, and the sky opened up a few times through the night (of course it always sounds worse when you're in a tent).

Day 3) It was quite a bit colder and pretty windy with not much for sun shine. Now worried about the threat of more rain, we hurriedly packed and headed out down the Turkey Creek trail. We made it back to the car by early afternoon just before the next round of rain hit.

Permit $$

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

Saguaro National Park
2019 $20 vehicle, $15 motorcycle or $10 for any individual on foot or bicycle - the receipt is valid for 7 days Fees

Map Drive
Connector trail - Not Applicable

To hike
Trail can be reached from Miller Creek trail or from the Mica Mountain complex by a variety of trails.
page created by Jeffshadows on Nov 02 2010 7:28 pm
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