Douglas was likely last to see the spring flow...
2014: Stats for this hike have been adjusted to this route. It looks clean and justified.
Preamble: The Douglas Spring trail was recently rerouted to deal with erosion in its old course and incorporate a popular social trail that lead to a waterfall overlook. I recently (2011-2012) hiked its entire course several times so I made a few notes for this description. It begins at 2748' at the east end of Speedway and gains 3,752' over its course of roughly 8.7 miles. Take note that this distance calculation is based on my own GPS captures and that it contradicts what you will see on the signs in the Park, which probably have not been updated (The sign at the trailhead will tell you the trail is 8.3 miles long.)
Hike: The trail takes an initially flat course through a lovely stand of saguaros. After passing the Garwood Trail intersection at 0.2 miles, it begins to take on a more winding character with steeper banks. The track of the trail remains sandy and little elevation is achieved until it passes a major wash at about 0.7 miles. It is here that the foothills of the Rincons are encountered and the trail turns south and begins to climb. Built-up steps are initially encountered and then the course alternates between rocky and sandy until the new section of trail is reached. This portion is relatively flat and winds north to view a waterfall in the drainage below that is active in wetter seasons. The trail resumes its climb and quickly achieves a minor plateau that houses the junction with the Carrillo trail at 1.1 miles. Emilio Carrillo was the original owner of the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch and he grazed cattle in this area in the early 1900's.
The trail leaves the plateau and resumes its climb into the foothills of the Rincons. It passes through a minor saddle and then drops into the basic that forms the confluence of two drainages from the south. If you look immediately south, you will see the remains of the Aguila Corral. The trail is marked in places with cairns where it passes over bare bedrock, but is never difficult to reacquire. It next encounters a series of stone steps that gain about 300' of elevation with little opportunity for shade along the climb. Once the stairs are surmounted, the trail begins to follow a minor ridge line and then passes into another small plateau dominated by mixed scrub and tall grass. The track of the trail becomes sandy once again and it passes by a major stream course that houses several large cottonwood trees and is a good place to find water in wetter months. If you look closely, you will notice several small stone dams in the stream course left, presumably, by the Carrillo ranching operation. The trail next intersects with the Three Tank Trail at 2.3 miles.
After roughly two-tenths of a mile of wining through grass, the trail encounters a four-way junction with the Bridal Wreath Falls trail breaking south and the Ernie's Falls trail that breaks due north. The Ernie's Falls trail essentially ends 0.6 miles later at the wilderness boundary where it joins at dirt track. The Bridal Wreath falls trail winds into a nearby canyon, home to Bridal Wreath Falls, roughly three-tenths of a mile from the junction. Water can usually be found here even in very dry months, but it might require digging in late May or June. The trail resumes a more northerly course as it starts a gradual climb that it retains most of the rest of the way into the Campground. The grass gives way to more mesquite and other scrubby trees before achieving a minor ridge. The trail follows this ridge line as it trades winding north and east. Several sporadic steps are encountered as the trail continues its gradual climb. The track of the trail becomes rockier as there is a noticeable gain in grade just before the trail mounts a rocky ridge that houses a large grassy plateau. It has now come about 3.2 miles from the four-way junction and has gradually gained about 900' in elevation.
This is the first time that the structures at Douglas Spring Campground, which is 0.4 miles ahead, become visible. The most obvious is a wooden outhouse that seems to be sitting in the middle of nowhere. The trail gains little elevation and its track becomes sandy as it winds through the grass and scrub into the first of three improved campsites at the Campground; each site is equipped with a fire ring and bear box. This area is notorious for being infested with insects, even in very hot or cold months. The outhouse was loaded with spiders the last time I looked inside. NPS routinely comes through and cleans and resupplies it, but it's definitely a "Use at your own risk" situation. The original Spring is about a tenth of a mile upstream at the point where the trail crosses the stream course before leaving the general vicinity of the Campground. The Spring itself is dry even in very wet times, but water can almost always be found by continuing upstream a little ways. As with the falls, it might be necessary to dig in very dry months.
After passing the stream course, the trail turns hard south and begins to follow along the wall of one of the canyons that came to confluence in the Campground area. This is Canyon del Pino. It is here that the foliage really begins to change. Occasional juniper become more and more present and pinyon are encountered. The trail's track follows at roughly the same distance from the stream course below as both climb into the canyon before it drops off and its track joins the stream course just before the head of the canyon. The track becomes quite sandy it this area is difficult to maneuver in wet or snowy months as it turns into a mudslide. This area marks the halfway point between the Campground and Cow Head Saddle.
The trail suddenly loses its previous, relatively straight character and begins to climb more appreciably. It winds around pine and scrub as the track of the trail begins to gain walls and becomes increasingly sandy. I encountered running water along this section of the trail from snow melt in the spring. Judging by the character of the track, it appears to be water-carved, this is probably likely in any wet period. The trail follows a ridge line for a time before dropping back into a walled drainage. It is here that the view of Tanque Verde peak begins to disappear as the walls close in. The climbing becomes even steeper for a time before the trail finally gains a minor saddle and opens onto a very small plateau dominated by scrub pine and an occasional cactus. The view to the north from here is incredible, with a full sweep of the Catalinas. Just to the right on the side of the hill below Tanque Verde Ridge is the sign marking Cow Head Saddle. The trail has come 2.6 miles from the Campground and 8.7 miles from the trailhead. The Cow Head Saddle trail begins to climb immediately away to the east, ending near Helen's Dome in another 3.5-ish miles. The Tanque Verde Ridge trail climbs away to the West up the sandy path behind the sign and next encounters Tanque Verde Peak in 2.5-ish miles.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.
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.