Desert Peak Delight
Overview: This is one of my favorite winter Tucson hikes that has plenty of route finding, rock scrambling, exposure, and views.
Warning: This is a winter hike only. Only attempt if you are used to off-trail hiking and rock scrambling.
Hike: Start at Sanctuary Cove and follow one of the most direct trails up to a saddle that is right on the edge of Saguaro National Park. From there follow a well defined route that heads south along the east side of Safford Peak. Once you hit a saddle that is almost to the east of Safford turn right onto another route and started hiking upwards. The rocky route steeply ascends and one must take care not to slip on the loose rocks. Make sure you kept to the left at any more obvious decision points along the route. You will want to swing around to the southwest side of of the peak and then up a drainage. That's where the real fun begins. You'll scramble up to the top where you can have lunch and enjoy the view.
Safford Peak is just never enough, right? Therefore, you can take the ridge from the top of Safford towards Panther Peak. If you're not that crazy about rock scrambling, you can go down the drainage to the desert floor and swing around over to Panther. However, that is not the plan with this hike. Instead you will follow the ridgeline pretty closely scrambling up and down the peaks along the way. Keep an eye out for a window/arch, you can actually dart through the mountain! When you are about to the last peak you'll want to pay attention as to not cliff-out. I recommend that you head off the ridge to the south to a cholla forest. From there you can find a gap in which you can descend slightly to a spot where we could get contour around to the saddle between Safford and Panther. From the saddle you can walk up to the top of Panther using a well defined route. This is the tamest part of the hike. After a short break, head back the way you came to the saddle.
Back at the saddle between Panther and Safford head down on the north side, opposite from where you came earlier. It is steep descent down a well defined route. Follow that route until you came to the desert floor. From there you'll take a right turn at a junction with another route that typically would take you to White Stallion Ranch. When the trail turns to go into White Stallion Ranch you'll want to bushwhack up to the first saddle that you hit when I starting from Sanctuary Cove. From there return down to the cars using the same trail you went up.
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.