Lair of the bear
The Ladybug Trail follows a long ridge from Ladybug Peak to the floor of Jacobson Canyon along the Swift Trail. Starting out in a forest of white and douglas fir trees, and ending in scrub oak slopes, the trail drops nearly 3600 feet in six miles. I recommend hiking from the top to the bottom, if you are able to arrange a shuttle vehicle to be there. This description describes a one-way, top to bottom hike. Remember to at least double the hike time if you decide to do this as a round trip hike.
Beginning at Ladybug Saddle along the Swift Trail, begin hiking up the Bear Canyon Trail #299 as it climbs the western ridge of Ladybug Peak. At about the half mile point, there is a short spur trail taking off to your right that leads to the top of Ladybug Peak. The short trip to the top of the peak is worth doing if you have time. Beyond the turnoff for the peak, hike another tenth of a mile down the Bear Canyon Trail through the thick fir trees, and you will arrive at the junction with the Ladybug Trail itself.
Turn left onto the Ladybug Trail, and follow it down the ridge through the cool forest. As you descend down to the 8359' peak, views of the rugged topography and thickly forested mountainsides may make you forget that you're in Arizona. The trail passes right by the base of the rocky cliffs of the 8359' peak, before descending a series of rocky switchbacks. After passing one saddle, the Ladybug Trail meets the Turkey Flat Trail a short distance later in a second saddle. Beyond the junction with the Turkey Flat Trail, the Ladybug Trail passes below the agave clad, granite cliffs of peak 7665'. The trail then reenters the forest, and begins a 600' drop through a forest of ponderosa pine and gambel oak. Now the trail flattens out, and is surrounded by manzanita thickets and alligator junipers. Looking down Veach Canyon, there are some views of the desert floor in the distance.
The forest service mentions that the area this trail passes through seems to be very popular with black bears. It was in this area that we began noticing a lot of fresh bear scat. Any tracks that there may have been had been erased by the recent rain, though. My bear bell and I were now given the lead of our little group, as we pressed on through the rain soaked summer grasses.
After a mile on brushy Veach Ridge, the Ladybug Trail begins a long, final descent to the bottom of Jacobson Canyon. The vegetation changes to oak trees, brush, cacti, and occasional ponderosas during the 1600 foot drop. There are some great views during the descent: the long ridges of the Pinaleno Mountains, the town of Safford, Angle Orchard, and the twisty Swift Trail. At the bottom of this long hill, the trail crosses Jacobson Creek, where I was surprised to see several maple trees growing amongst the sycamores and oaks, in a pleasant riparian area. Once across the creek, the Ladybug Trail crosses an irrigation ditch, then follows a little ridge for a short distance before ending at forest road 4515, near Angle Orchard.
Coronado FS Reports This trail gets its unique name from the fact that it starts near Ladybug Peak, a place where large numbers of these small, orange-colored, black-spotted beetles congregate at various times of the year. In addition to this interesting feature, Ladybug Trail has a number of other notable aspects which make it well worth a visit. For one thing, it's a good place to see black bear sign or even to catch a glimpse of one of these impressive animals. Virtually all of the upper slopes of the Pinale'os are excellent bear country, serving as home to one of the most dense concentrations of black bears to be found in North America. The area this particular trail traverses, however, seems to be especially attractive to them. If that makes you a little uneasy, remember that black bears are shy and not at all as aggressive as their larger grizzly cousins. Still, they deserve your respect.
The upper trailhead is located in stands of mixed conifers from which the setting changes gradually to oak woodland and eventually to manzanita and desert scrub as the trail drops into Jacobson Canyon at its lower end. Most people choose to travel the trail in this downhill direction because it is quite steep. A good reason to choose to go the other way, however, is if the upper trailhead is snowed in after a winter storm. Scenery along Ladybug Trail includes good overlooks of Jacobson Canyon and views of the Swift Trail (AZ 366) as it snakes its way up the mountain. In the distance, the Gila Mountains and Gila Valley provide a broad and scenic backdrop.
Attractions: Canyon views and broad panoramas, Bear country, Ladybug country & Easy access
Access: From Safford drive south 8 miles on US 191 to the Swift Trail (AZ 366). Turn right (southwest) onto AZ 366 and drive about 17 miles to Ladybug Saddle. From the trailhead at the parking area on the left side of the road follow the Bear Canyon Trail #299 to the Ladybug Trail.
Notes: There is no water along this trail.
Turkey Flat Trail #330 provides access to the Ladybug Trail from the Turkey Flat summer homes area (1 mile).
Before using this trail, call the Safford Ranger District for current trail conditions which can vary with season, weather and maintenance status.
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.