register help

China Peak, AZ

97 10 0
Guide 10 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Douglas
4 of 5 by 3
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Distance Round Trip 7.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,379 feet
Elevation Gain 1,746 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,894 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.27
Interest Peak
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
13  2014-01-19 PrestonSands
13  2012-05-31 MAVM
33  2010-04-17
West Dragoon Weekend
1  2009-10-24 VVebb
6  2009-10-21 PrestonSands
18  2009-02-12 PrestonSands
Author PrestonSands
author avatar Guides 168
Routes 149
Photos 5,534
Trips 1,317 map ( 6,690 miles )
Age 42 Male Gender
Location Oro Valley, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, Nov → Early
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:05am - 6:23pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
See Mexico from China!
by PrestonSands

This hike follows old mining roads to the 7125 foot summit of China Peak, along the crest of the Dragoon Mountains. China Peak's spectacular 360 degree view of southern Arizona, coupled with the Dragoon's signature granite formations, make for a great hike.

As this hike makes use of Forest Road 697, which is a lightly used, high clearance 4 wheel drive road, one could shave several miles off of the hike, if they are not opposed to scratching up their vehicle on thorny vegetation and rocks, on a road with limited turn around spots. This description begins at Middlemarch Road, which is the suggested starting point.

Zinc, lead, and silver were discovered in the Abrigo Limestone on the south slope of China Peak in 1913, leading to the development of the San Juan Mine (a.k.a. Gordon Mine). With over one thousand feet of underground tunnels, this operation supported a small mining camp nearby, known as Gordon Camp. Mining ceased in 1952, and the mines lie abandoned today.

From Middlemarch Road the hike heads north, following the rocky route of Forest Road 697 up a small valley. Upon crossing a saddle at 1.1 miles, the road begins a steady ascent along a mountainside of ocotillo and grey limestone. Views from this area include Tombstone and the Mule and Huachuca ranges. The route comes tantalizingly close to impressive formations of Stronghold Granite, before passing through a road cut into a hidden valley of oak-juniper woodland and lichen encrusted cliffs. At the bottom of the valley, a side road leaves to the right: stay left. Our road continues north, following a rocky creek bed, and passes another side road to the right at 2.7 miles. Again, stay left.

The increasingly primitive road reaches the first of several collapsed shafts and tunnels of the San Juan Mine at 2.9 miles, where it switchbacks to the left to leave the canyon bottom. At 3 miles, the road comes to a turn around in a small side drainage, where an atv trail branches off to the north, climbing a mine tailings dump. Follow the atv trail, which begins an unforgivingly steep ascent along China Peak's south ridge.

The trail crests a false summit shortly before terminating at China Peak's conical apex, where one can take in an outstanding 360 degree view of most of southeastern Arizona. A little over a mile to the north, the towering rocks of Cochise Stronghold erupt from the heart of the Dragoons.

From China Peak, one can return the same way, or head down the peak's north ridge to connect with Forest Road 345A and the Slavin Gulch Trail.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2009-02-19 PrestonSands
    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
    China Peak
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Having turned off of the highway near Tombstone, I rolled along Middlemarch Road toward my beloved Dragoon Mountains on a warm Sunday afternoon. Parking at the turnoff for Forest Road 697, I set off on foot into the parched limestone hills. Familiar sights and good feelings greeted me as I trudged up the rocky road toward my goal. The last leg of the journey up the summit cone of China Peak was just as steep as I had remembered. After photos, a bit of revelry and summit smiles, I started back down. Opting for a slightly different return route, I followed China's forested southeast ridge over to peak 6942', leaving broken branches and cat-claw induced blood along the way. Reaching a group of old mine tunnels, I began to follow Forest Road 4390 down, where three guys were gathered around their pickup truck, desperately looking for a lug wrench to change a flat tire. I was amazed that they had actually driven so high up the mountainside on this so called "road", and wished them luck. The sun was setting as I went through the granite wall pass, where I got to enjoy the San Pedro Valley blazing brilliant red-orange. Very nice. I spent a good while searching for the "Button Cacti" rumor said existed in this area. By headlamp, I eventually located a single, dead plant. Success!...kind of. The guys in the pickup came bouncing by soon they were able to turn around on a road barely wide enough for their truck, I'll never know. After reaching my truck I drove west, and located a nice campsite a couple of miles west of Sheepshead. I set up my tent, enjoyed campfire quesadillas, then retired for the evening with plans of Black Diamond Peak the next day.
    China Peak
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    After bagging Cochise Peak, I later traveled the off-road route that becomes the rocky road to China Peak toward mid-afternoon. I had eaten lunch and done due diligence below Black Diamond Peak for another day - gathering a water report at Gilda Spring in the process. The less than obvious spur from Middlemarch road (FR 697) is NOT to be taken lightly if you intend to travel it for any it is possible to make it all the way to the peak if you have a low track Quad or Jeep type 4x4. I advise against anything less if you want to make it to the Hot Gates that guard the entry to the Hidden Valley. There are only a couple of turn-out possibilities once the truly high clearance mega-chickenhead part of the route'll want a heavy suspension and good tires or you could be in REAL trouble!

    I chose to make my way toward the Gateway - turn things about for an easy exit upon returning - and then embarked into the western valley of the Inner Sanctum of the Dragoons. The Hidden Valley has many surreal points of view outwardly opening to the surrounding Dragoon rock formations, and it can seem like you are suspended in a very special, lightly traveled altered-dimension during the initial portion of the route...then it just continues that way only much steeper as the views really open up! This day was obscured by smokey haze in the distance - not especially good for a limited cell phone type camera. The normally visible island ranges (Whetstones, Rincons, Chiricahuas & Huachucas...) from the upper reaches of the Dragoons had all vanished in this haze.

    You'll pass the remains of the San Juan mine as the real elevation begins...later, oddly morphed alien looking Century Plants surround the peak adding a nice punctuation to the apex. There are several spur routes along the way, so be certain to do your trail research. Avg. Grade 63.2% GPS Route Available
    China Peak
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Did a quick hike up from Middlemarch Road, with a turnaround just before the entrance to the hidden valley. I met two other hikers coming down from China Peak (no way! :) ). Got back to my truck, where the Border Patrol was waiting to talk to me. Other travelers on Middlemarch Road had felt my vehicle was suspicious, and had alerted them. The Border Patrol agent was friendly after I showed him I wasn't smuggling anything, and we talked for a few minutes about activity in the area. Ah, Dragoons, my winter playground, you are always exciting!
    China Peak
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I hiked the abridged version of this trail, which Preston Sands briefly mentions in the beginning of his write-up of the full China Peak hike. FR 697 probably sees very little use throughout the year due to its ruggedness, but since I hiked during deer hunting season, several other trucks had also made the climb that weekend. Gordon Camp is a valley-like area which is about one mile south of China Peak and about two miles north of Middlemarch Road.

    The Gordon Camp area is relatively small, and closely surrounded by looming granite mountains, but there is still enough space to accommodate 2-3 separate groups of campers, still having some space between them for privacy.

    I recommend making the drive up to Gordon Camp in either of two circumstances: (1) you don't have enough time or energy to start the hike down at the junction of Middlemarch Road and FR 697, or (2) you'd like to car-camp overnight at a higher elevation in order to enjoy some cooler weather. I fell into the latter category, and hiked from Gordon Camp to China Peak a few times during the weekend, while enjoying cool mornings and evenings due to great sun blockage by the trees and surrounding mountains. In any case, *do not* attempt to drive up FR 697 to Gordon Camp without a reliable, high-clearance 4WD vehicle. Additionally, you will probably find that the narrowness and agility of a jeep or compact pickup would make for a more comfortable drive than a bulkier full-size pickup.

    As for the hike itself, start north on the road that goes through Gordon Camp. After several hundred yards, the road turns to the left (east) near a small mineshaft entrance which bears a threatening sign warning you of the dangers of entering abandoned mines. After another several hundred yards, the road comes to a T -- the left path dead-ends after a few hundred yards, and the right path ascends toward China Peak. At this point, you probably have about a half-mile (and a 750ft elevation gain) before you reach the top.

    The road switches-back numerous times as you ascend, and although you will encounter a small number of forks in the road, the "wrong" turns always dead-end within a very short distance. I actually recommend checking out these brief "wrong" turns, partly to satisfy curiosity and partly because it might help you avoid falling into an open mineshaft if you stay on the Peak until sunset and get careless while hiking down in the dark.

    As you approach China Peak, you will also find that the makers of this old mining road apparently grew tired of making switchbacks, and instead blazed a road straight up the south side of the mountain as it nears the top. After two short but very steep stretches of trail, only a short distance remains before you reach China Peak. At this area just below the peak, I noticed several piles of bear scat, as well as some deer tracks. Proceed to the peak, and enjoy the views all around you.
    China Peak
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I had such a great time in Slavin Gulch a few weeks earlier that I took a day off of work and headed back to the Dragoons to check out the China Peak area. I discovered that my memmory card had broken on the drive in, luckily I found another in my pack. That event and the slushy drive over Middlemarch Pass wasted alot of time, so I decided to drive a little ways up the 697 road, as I had hopes of checking out the Whetstones later that afternoon. I concluded that driving the 697 was a bad choice, saving no time, so I ended up parking at a tiny little turnaround. From the start, the scenery and the hike did not disappoint. The day brought some interesting clouds, and snow still lingered in the shade. The climax of the hike was the view from China Peak: wow!!!! I poked around the mine dumps, and did a quick exploration of the notch at the bottom of the little valley on the way down. I suspect there may be waterfalls in the notch. I didn't end up having time to go to the Whetstones, but that gives me something to look forward to. I know some guys that might be up for that... I did visit Tombstone again, though.

    In searching the web for China Peak's history, I came across a rather funny misadventure someone had while trying to drive up one of China Peak's mine roads. Google: dragoon mountains and dead suburban Gordon Camp for the story.

    Permit $$

    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
    Take US 80 (south) from Benson. Turn left onto Middlemarch Road (one mile north of Tombstone), and follow it for 11.8 miles to Forest Road 697 on the left (this is 1.8 miles after entering Coronado National Forest). It is recommended to park at the beginning of FR 697. Follow FR 697. (see hike description)
    page created by PrestonSands on Feb 19 2009 12:50 am
    2+ mi range whistle
    blow it like you mean it
    help comment issue

    end of page marker