register help
This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Cow Head Saddle Trail, AZ

0 13 0
Guide 13 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson
4 of 5 by 5
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 4.1 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,108 feet
Elevation Gain 2,014 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,140 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 11.23
Interest Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
79  2015-09-01
Rincon Mountains - AZT #9
16  2015-04-17
Cow Head Saddle Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
22  2013-03-27
Manning Camp via Douglas Spring
20  2012-05-26
Manning Camp Trail
170  2012-01-20
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
24  2011-12-11
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
15  2011-05-04
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
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
Expand Map
Preferred   Oct, May, Sep, Apr → Early
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  6:07am - 6:26pm
Official Route
4 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
No cows, just views...
by Jeffshadows

Likely In-Season!
Cow Head Saddle Trail is a backcountry connector trail located along the northwestern ridge of Mica Mountain in the Rincon Mountains. It emanates from Cow Head Saddle and terminates just above Manning Camp into the Mica Mountain Complex of trails. Along its 3.9 mile course, it gains just shy of 2,000' and provides truly unique views of prominent features that truly cannot be had elsewhere. This description assumes an ascent.

Cow Head Saddle is a natural confluence and is frequently host to running water in wetter months. The trail that bears its name begins to climb immediately after dipping south and turning sharply north to avoid a minor highpoint along the ridge whose course it uptakes. This pattern of winding around highpoints repeats itself continuously along the lower stretches of the trail. The course of the trail is sandy here and you are as likely to encounter steps in the form of a large root from a nearby oak as you are to encounter those comprised of sandy rock. The trail climbs relentlessly as it seems to senselessly wind around obstacles, but pays you back in spades along this lower section in the form of amazing views. The views of Redington pass and the eastern Catalinas are a sight to behold, but the real gem is the unusual view of the north slope leaving Tanque Verde Peak. This is a view you are not likely to get even from the Manning Camp trail, and it provides an excuse to stop and take an occasional break from the climb. In wetter months, this section of trail may host a stream course or a very muddy track.

After about a mile and a half, the trail makes its final diversion around a minor peak and the views once enjoyed begin to become intermittent before disappearing totally. The trail encounters the course of a small, unnamed canyon and the surrounding foliage begins to change from mixed scrub to pinyon and small pine. The transition between zones becomes more and more pronounced as the view of Tanque Verde appears and disappears in tune with the winding course of the trail, which is finalizing much of its ascent by climbing around clusters of trees and small boulders.

Now, after about three miles, the trail enters the basin of a shady canyon dominated by a tall pine canopy and begins to follow its watercourse. This welcome oasis boasts ferns and small waterfalls, though it is likely to be dry in the summer. The ascent ceases for a while as the track dances back and forth across a small stream in a fine specimen of Sky Island pine forest. The trail then begins to climb the bank of the valley and views of Helen's Dome become increasingly magnificent as the trail now follows a pine cone-laden, sandy course over and around rock outcroppings. As the trail passes by Helen's Dome, it makes a final rolling ascent onto a minor ridgeline where it meets its junction with the Fire Loop and North Slope trails. Manning Camp is less than a mile away along the Fire Loop trail.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

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
Cow Head Saddle Trail
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
Went out with the Tucson Trail Runners today. The goal was to make it to the top of Mica Mountain, which is ~27 miles round trip from the Douglas Spring trail head. I've only done this run once before, about three years ago, and do NOT have fond memories of it. That first time, I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, got torn up by the overgrown trail, ran out of water, and almost died from heat exhaustion (exaggeration, but it was rough). Today was the exact opposite experience. Michael Duer has cleaned up the trail a lot and it was in great condition, and it was way too cold for snakes to be out and about. It was overcast at the start but rain had moved out of the forecast, so I wasn't too concerned and started out wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The first few miles were very pleasant; I was moving at a good pace and enjoyed chatting with Ryan and some of the other TTR members I had just met. After Ryan and everyone else bailed on me at Douglas Spring Campground, things became less fun. A light rain started, which wasn't too bad, just chilly and persistent. As I neared Cowhead Saddle, the rain turned into snow. I had already mentally checked out of the run and knew I didn't have it in me to reach the summit under these conditions, but I still wanted to hit 20 miles. I continued past Cowhead Saddle for maybe a quarter of a mile until I lost patience with being pelted with snow and decided to log my extra miles down at a lower elevation. It snowed (and then rained) for another 8-9 miles and I eventually stopped being lazy and put on my long sleeve. I hopped over to Bridal Wreath Falls to see if it was flowing (just more than a trickle) and then added on another .7 to hit 20 just as I approached the parking lot.

I'm happy I got the miles in, but I'm pretty annoyed that the weather took such a turn. With very little training these days, I was feeling surprisingly strong on this run. I definitely had that last 7 miles in my legs, just not in my head (or in my choice of clothing). Mica Mountain - 2, Carrie - 0. :(
Cow Head Saddle Trail
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Douglas Spring/Mica Mtn/Grass Shack
Day 1: Finished work at 4, dropped of a car at Loma Alta, and got shuttled to Douglas Spring TH just before 6. We had to use headlamps almost the entire way, but it was a pretty smooth hike. Thanks to the camper at Site 1 who directed us to Site 2 and let us use his bear locker (even though there was a bear locker at Site 3 just about 40 feet away from us which we were too stupid to see in the dark). Since we got there so late, there was a lot of getting disoriented trying to find our way around, and hopefully our confused ranting didn't keep the other camper awake. I'm afraid we were quite close to being those campers...

Day 2: Went up to Cowhead Saddle, Spud Rock, and Mica Mountain, then down the Mica Mountain Trail to Manning Camp and down the Manning Camp Trail to Grass Shack for the night. A pretty big day, and the weather couldn't have been any better. Back in May I only lasted about 5 mins on Spud Rock before getting cold, but now in December it was warm with just the slightest breeze. The descent from Mica that afternoon as the sun was setting was about as good as it gets.

Day 3: Booked it down to Loma Alta in 4 hrs so that we could make it to work that afternoon. Remind me to never ascend this route in the summer. Gorgeous this time of year though.

Plenty of water at Grass Shack and Manning Camp, and pretty good flow at Douglas Spring. No beer at Grass Shack. :-({|=
Cow Head Saddle Trail
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
What a trip! I have been looking at this hike (or some variation) for some time now. I started from the Loma Alta TH about 3:30 after finishing up work, and about an hour later than I had wanted to start, but sometimes duty calls...Overloaded with more stuff than I need (as per usual) the grind up was pretty taxing, especially with the high humidity level. I was sweating buckets the whole way up! I had to navigate the last hour + by headlamp which made for really slow going, especially trying to find an overgrown trail and make my way across numerous wet creek crossings. There is flowing water everywhere in the Rincons right now, I have never seen so much water and green growth out here! All the washes are flowing, and there are waterfalls around every corner it seemed. The Quilter trail and the first 4 miles of the Mannig Camp trail are really overgrown, lots of annuals and grasses going to town with all of the moisture. Soaked my boots making the crossing to the Grass Shack campground, my destination for the night. I had enough energy to set up camp and filter some water, but I was too wiped to even worry about dinner. Slept really well in the tent, temps were in the mid to low 60's so very comfortable. Got up a bit before the sun on Wednesday for some breakfast, and then loaded up for the trip up the mountain. Made good time up to Manning Camp where I stopped for a break to look around, have a snack, and filter some water. Clouds were looming in and the thunder started up as I was approaching Mica Mountain, but I had come too far to not make my goal. Made it to the top and signed the register, saw a few familiar names in the book. From here I continued on the Fire Loop over to Spud Rock and made the scramble up. Fantastic views up above, simply breathtaking! Enjoyed a summit brew and had to skedaddle, there was a big dark cloud hanging over Mica and I knew better than to chance it. I went down the Fire loop to the Cow Head Saddle trail when the sprinkling started. This kept up for about 45 minutes, and then the real rain started. I had to take a break to stow my electronics in a dry bag and I got out my rain jacket, all the while trying to get further down the mountain and away from the potential lightning...Made the Cow Head Saddle and took the Douglas Spring trail on back to camp. It rained hard enough that my boots got soaked through in pretty quick fashion, this ended up rubbing a pretty nasty hole under my right ankle once I was back to camp to assess damages. I finally ate my lunch about 3:30, and dozed in the tent waiting for the bugs to go away with the dark. Woke up for a quick snack and to send off a SPOT signal to my wife so she didn't fret too much. Thursday I woke up about 5:30 to get in an early breakfast and get packed up for the trip out. I had my first human contact in two days when I ran into Andrew from the NPS trail crew about a mile or so onto the Quilter trail. I stopped to chat for a few and share some experiences, nice guy! From here I powered down to Rincon Creek (I am pretty sure) for a snack and to filter some more water. Finally made it back to the trusty Quest van about 11:30 to take off my boots and see that I had a big blister on my left foot and a few more rub marks form all of the wet boot hiking. I don't think my boots were ever dry on this trip, I might have retired this pair in style. Headed back into Tucson for some much needed lunch at one of my favorites, La Parilla Suiza. Promptly inhaled a chile relleno, enchilada, rice, beans, two bowls of chips, two cups of water, and two cups of iced tea. Refueled, I headed back to Phoenix for a nice shower at home and then some family time. Simply amazing trip, any time you can go through 6 different bio-zones on a hike you know you have done well. P.S., if anyone makes it up to the Grass Shack in the near future, there are a few extra Sunspot Gold ales in the bear box at site two, if the rangers do not get to it first...

Huge amounts of color from about 3500' to 5000', spotty above there.
Cow Head Saddle Trail
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Up TVR and Cowhead Saddle trails to the Rincon high point at Mica Mountain, an outstanding ridge hike with huge views and gradually changing flora, cactus-to-conifers. Then back down on AZT #9 to the Camino Loma Alta trailhead. Juniper Basin was dry, good water at Manning Camp and Grass Shack. Bike shuttle between start/end.
Cow Head Saddle Trail
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
This was a long trail. Not too rough, just lllonnng. The grade averages only 10%, but it's really long. The weather was quit nice, 60 deg while I was at Manning resting. The air was pretty dusty, making for few decent pics. Coming down was not much easier than going up. Either way it was Really Long !!! :stretch:
Cow Head Saddle Trail
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
This was my first backpacking trip into the Rincons, and I did it solo since I didn't have many friends who were quite as crazy. It was a 3 day 2 night trip, with the first and last days spent heading to Juniper Basin, while day 2 was a day hike to Manning Camp. I turned around a little short of Manning camp though, which I'll explain later.

Day 1 was the toughest, carrying a loaded pack on a non stop climb all the way up Tanque Verde Ridge. I needed very frequent stops, but every stop gave an increasingly better view of Tucson and the surrounding mountain ranges. The first mile or so is the steepest as you head up to the first ridge. It turns to easier rolling hills after you hit the grasslands at about 4000ft,although its still a constant elevation gain. (I didn't use a GPS, so all these elevation numbers are estimates) With the warmer than normal winter this year, all the springs were flowing well, so there's no shortage of water.

Day 2 started off later than I expected, as I waited for the sun to rise to warm myself up, which I later realized was just not necessary as I would get warmer much quicker if I just started moving. It was just below freezing during the night, by the way. Probably 30 degrees, another rough estimate. The climb to Tanque Verde Peak gets steep about 1 mile before and after the peak, though still not too bad. As usual, the views are stunning in all directions. I'll let the pictures elaborate on that point. The trail gets a little overgrown after the peak, and the biggest pain was the thorn bushes that grow outwards into the trail and all directions, making it impossible to avoid. I didn't care so much about the cuts that I got, but I wanted to avoid them snagging onto my backpack as they were strong enough to rip tears in it.

After losing significant elevation and arriving at Cow Head Saddle, its all uphill again to Manning camp. The trail is very well maintained here, being much wider and with lots of rock steps leading up the steeper sections. It didn't take long to reach the pine forest, and there was much less snow than I expected, even in the warm weather. Apart from a few patches, there was almost no snow at all covering the trails. The streams were flowing strong as well. Unfortunately, with my late start and the early sunset, I had to set a cut off time for myself to turn back, and less than a mile away from Manning camp, I made the tough choice to turn back. With the clouds rolling in, I didn't want to take any chances. With most of my food consumed, I could fly back down the trail and back to camp. And, as foreshadowed by the clouds that evening, it did snow at night, with significant winds blowing. Thankfully, the trees provided adequate shelter from the elements, and the winds barely reached my tent.

Day 3 was the easiest, with just a little water and food left reducing my pack's weight by nearly half, it was all downhill back to the trail head. I did start off earlier by layering more the night before, so I didn't need to warm up with a fire or wait for the sun. The return journey was fast and easy, and I met the first other people after 2 days alone, about 2 miles away from the trail head. Being a weekday, there wasn't many other hikers out, so it was a nice and quiet return to civilization.

I'm already planning for the next time I do this hike, although I would probably approach it from the Douglas Spring trail next time so that I can spend more time exploring the top of Mica Mountain, which was my initial intention for this trip.

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
The trail can be reached from the trails that reach Cow Head saddle from below or the trails that enter the Mica Complex from above.
page created by Jeffshadows on Nov 02 2010 8:25 pm
$17 3L Hydration Bladder
help comment issue

end of page marker