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Heliograph Peak from Arcadia CG, AZ

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Guide 14 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
4 of 5 by 6
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 10 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,690 feet
Elevation Gain 3,322 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,489 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 27.45
Interest Peak
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
13  2015-06-15 gummo
32  2015-06-11 Jim_H
10  2014-08-24 JuanJaimeiii
30  2011-08-07 JuanJaimeiii
45  2010-10-30 Kel1969
11  2009-08-16 hhwolf14
35  2006-10-02 fricknaley
Author fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 383
Photos 3,724
Trips 2,743 map ( 18,146 miles )
Age 43 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
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Preferred   Sep, Aug, Jul, May → 7 AM
Sun  6:04am - 6:23pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
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Named place Nearby
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by fricknaley

Likely In-Season!
3 years ago I made my first trip to the Pinalenos and the Arcadia Trail. My wife and I loved the place, however, we got turned back about 1/2 mile from the peak of Heliograph due to monsoons. I promised to come back and complete my trip and today I did. The place has changed from the fires, to be sure. Now a different trail from my first visit, I still find it exceptional and so worthy of a visit.

The trail takes off from the back of the picnic area just above the Arcadia Campground. In typical sky island fashion it pulls no punches. You are climbing and soon enough switchbacking before you even know what hit you. Get used to it, because this trail climbs steadily the whole way. This is little to no flat sections on this trail. As you climb up the canyon, it falls away to your right. Water runs in a small stream down below. You cross over the head of the stream and really enter the canyon proper, with large views down the Pinalenos accompanying you much of the rest of the way. There is intermittent fire damage along the trail, at times heavy. The regrowth is considerable. Ferns, wildflowers galore and higher up aspens are making a strong push.

Some of the lower sections of the trail are slightly overgrown by ferns and other plants, but the path is so well worn, that route finding is never really difficult. So just climb away, enjoying the canyon views and flora as you go. There are deer, butterflies, lizzards and all sorts of birds everywhere.

After two miles and considerable elevation gain you reach a junction with Noon Creek Trail, which breaks off from to your right. You will continue straight for about 2 more miles of steady climbing. Periodically you will run up on the ridge cutting down the canyon and you can look down forever (and see the Swift Trail far, far below). In the upper reaches, the fire damage is at times more evident. So is the regrowth. There is a very healthy lot of aspens coming in, and as of now they are starting to turn. This upper stretch is pretty relentless climbing.

At about 4 miles you will reach a signed junction for the formal trail to Heliograph peak (328a). It is one mile to the peak. The trail breaks off to the left. This last stretch climbs just as steeply, if not more so. There are intermittent aspen stands and great views out towards Mt. Graham. There is some more burn evidence too. The trail occasionally gets a little thin here, but there are cairns and cutlines that are easy enough to follow. Near the top, you peak out in the most awesome little clearing where there is deep grass, treetrunks and heavy aspens. This is probably the best part of the hike, an excellent place to hang out. You can see the watchtower to your left. The trail deadends at a gravel road. Hang a left at the sign and walk a couple hundred feet to the summit. There is an active lookout here (which they ask you not to climb) and great views. Very, very nice. You can head back the way you came, follow the gravel road around to your right and loop back to trail 328a or take the gravel road all the way back to Shannon Campground and hike the Arcadia Trail back from there.

Enjoy this hike, though it has certainly changed it is still magnificent. I am thrilled that I kept my promise.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

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2006-10-02 fricknaley
    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
    Heliograph Peak from Arcadia CG
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Personally, if you weren't me, I wouldn't read this very long log, but...

    I had wanted to return to the Pinalenos since I first drove up the Swift Trail in mid-October of 2005; Columbus Day Weekend. It took nearly 10 years, but something always seemed more interesting as a trip, or the weather wasn't very good for a trip this spring. The range isn't as big as I remember, but then I've been out here for 8 years. Also, I recall more pine, but the transition to fir and sub-alpine species was much faster than I remembered.

    Last time, I spent no more than 3 hours, and probably more like 2, driving up the road as far as Soldier Creek Campground before turning around. Views were spectacular, as I recall it was cold and dry, and I didn't camp (which might have been nice) due to a lack of real food and the forecast for a hard freeze for elevations above a level below the campground. I had previously spent the night camped at Hannigan Meadow and woke up to 9 inches of snow that morning, so a hotel was more appealing. Besides that, I think my summer camping gear was wet, from the snow. I do remember drying my boots ( used those then) in the motel in Wilcox, and my tent and sleeping bag at a warm sunny spot off I-10 in New Mexico. Still, I always wished I camped there.

    This time, before the hike (to be fresh and have energy) I opted to drive the road to Chelsey Flat and turned back from there as I had enough of driving. My impression was that most of the views were from the paved section, and that it was still cold. It was only hovering around 60 to 62 degrees along the road, in the shade of the trees and the shade from the persistent clouds from the tropical mass. It was also very humid, so the cool temperatures felt clammy, and not crisp. It did appear to have rained, as the soil surface was moist, at Chelsey.

    After turning around, I slowly drove back to the Arcadia CG to hike what I had read is one of the true, and few peaks on the range to have views, Graham being off limits and covered in dead trees which block the views, and dead from the fire. This one also has significant AEG, unlike many other peak hikes in the range. Initially, I was unable to located the TH. This is partly due to the new signs for THs on the road, and partly due to the name change for the area. This is now a group camp site at the Upper Arcadia CG, and no longer a picnic area. The sign is small, brown, and doesn't stick out at you when a van is parked next to it. The new signs are large and have big maps on them, like the other new signs throughout the Coronado NF. Eventually, I noticed the small brown sign, but what was more confusing, is that the arrows for the trail, point to the left, and not up, so I expected the trail to leave from some spot other than the rear of the group campsite. If you hike this when the group campsite is occupied, you will have to walk right by the group, which might be strange. Hopefully, they don't mind and don't have tents set up to block the trail, or even on the trail, which will complicate things.

    The trail reminded me variously of the AB Young( pre-fire); because it is well worn and yet overgrown, The Elden Lookout Trail; from the aspen and dead trees on top, and the Navajo Mountain Trail/ Hike; due to the appearance of the summit and lack of any wide views, or so it felt. Other trails come to mind, too, Guadalupe Mountain Trail in Texas, but not as much. The trail and hike are enjoyable, but in time the thorns from the locust and other plants might make this less so. Birds were very, very plentiful, and after doing this once, I would almost just walk slowly in the area to listen to birds and stop at the vistas, rather than attempt to gain AEG or bag some summit.

    The summit was rather dull. It was my first time over 10,000 feet since I was on the Peaks early last October, and I felt it by going slower and feeling sluggish at the higher elevations. I'm not acclimated to high elevation, anymore. I had read on SP that MT Graham is a dull summit hemmed in with trees and has no views. That author recommended Heliograph, among others, but aside from a few directions, the views here were confined and actually a little better from the road. It's still a nice summit but with the towers, and several diesel generators running to power several microwave, and other radio towers, it was a place I would leave rather than stay. At least Elden doesn't have that Truck Stop feel! I was able to see New Mexico and the Mogollon Mountains in the Gila NF, as well as what should be the White Mountains, and then the Chiricahua Mountains. Off summit, the Catalinas, Rincons, Galiuros, and even Santa Ritas, were all visible. The aspen covered parts near, but off summit, were really enjoyable.

    Hiking down I was happy to have done this, but felt that if I was to return to this part of the range, I would either do a shorter hike to go slower and enjoy the birds, or just wander the road up to the peak. Not that the trail was bad, but sometimes the best part of a hike is simply being in the forest enjoying what that particular area has to offer. In this case, stopping at a view point and relaxing while listening to what seemed like a hundred different bird species, might be preferable to going 10 miles, 8 of those while having a tuna can (from lunch) clanging away in your pack. Keep in mind that I left the summit after 5, and wanted to drive down the road to see some of the views. Watching the hummingbirds and listening to a few other species on the upper slopes was a particular highlight, as was the running water in the section of Noon Creek, a large Arizona Black Walnut along the creek, the variously alive and dead old growth trees, and a seep spring right on the trail up higher.

    I opted to skip camping, as with the humidity and after getting my legs scratched up, I wanted a shower. So, I drove to Safford, had a Carl's Jr 1/2 lb Avocado burger, and drove home while attempting to take several of those photos of people who slept on the ride home. This hike is about my limit for a day hike, with regard to the driving distance, especially on the ride home. Though, it might not be so if I didn't spend a couple of hours touring the upper Swift Trail.

    I want to return to the Pinalenos, and hopefully it is weeks or months, and not years. Ideally, I would camp, and if I didn't just wander around the range, I would do a series of small and lazy hikes, or an easier one that allows for more stops and a slower pace to enjoy the sounds. Why would I want to race through a trail here and miss the attractions? Blue Jay Peak loop comes to mind, as does Webb Peak, and a few others.

    Lots of hummingbirds buzzing around them, too.
    Heliograph Peak from Arcadia CG
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I had done the bottom and the top of this trail, but never the middle section. Blessed with an unusually warm December day, I hiked the entire thing. Even with all the fire damage, I still found this to be a great hike. Plenty of steep terrain and nice views: yeah! All the new aspen shoots in the burn areas are encouraging. A trail crew cleared the trail of logs earlier this year, but a number of big ones have crashed down since then. ... fk6oTatW-4
    Heliograph Peak from Arcadia CG
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    FInally came back to complete my climb of Heliograph peak after getting turned back by lightning a few years ago. Nice tough climb for the distance. HUGE assortment of wildflowers still going strong. Lot of lizzards, butterflies and deer to. Also saw quite a few woodpeckers, which always crack me up.

    Though different after the fires, this remains a sensational climb.
    Heliograph Peak from Arcadia CG
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    We did this hike on a Thursday in early June and encountered no one until the Shannon CG trail intersection. We found that besides the very start of this trail it was an excellent and easy trail to follow although we encountered several downed trees. Since it's about a 3 hour 30 minute drive from Phoenix we drove up the day before and camped at Arcadia CG which is were the trail starts from. Great thing about camping and hiking in the middle of the week is that we usually have everything to ourselves :) From the looks of the trail and campground this area seems to get much use. all thought there weren't any views along this trail it was very green, cool with lots of shade from the pines. We hiked thru some old burn area's along the way that seem to be recovering nicely with some miniature fern forests to wade thru. Near the top you come across an aspen lined meadow that seems to have been created by a bulldozer as a fire line some time ago, from here it's about a 2 minute hike to summit. There's a nice Forest Service cabin up top along with communication equipment and a staffed fire watchtower. The fire tower is the tallest in the Coronado n.f. but unfortunately it's closed to public access. The views are limited from the peak but I would do this trail again, it's that nice. Oh! I forgot to mention the bottom half of the trail was SWARMING with various bugs. Our guess was that they were due to left over winter and spring moisture that was drying up quickly, I hope. They were so bad we donned our bandana's for the bank robber look so you might want to bring lots of bug repellent just in case. Happy Trails
    Heliograph Peak from Arcadia CG
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This is a well worn trail in the Pinaleno mountains that starts at the Arcadia campground which is about 20 miles from Safford. It climbs steadily for about 4 miles then a branch climbs another mile to the top of 10.022 foot Heliograph Peak, a typical summit in these mountains with poor views. At this point you have gained 3000 feet and five miles. This took me just over one hour. I then decided to descend, not by the trail, but took a dirt road that in a mile lead to highway 366, and followed the road all the way back to the start(another 12 miles) It took a total time of 2:37 and the total elevation gain is 3500 feet and a distance of 17 miles. In this area, one could hook up with other trails and take longer day hikes or backpacks.

    Permit $$

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To Arcadia Trailhead
    From Safford, head south on U.S. highway 191. The trailhead is at the Upper Arcadia Campground and Picnic Area off Swift Trail (AZ 366) 11.5 miles from the AZ 366/US 191 intersection. The trailhead is at the rear of Upper Arcadia Campground, next to the group campsite, just past the signed main Campground. The small gravel road breaks off to your right at the curve in the Swift Trail (366) just above the campground. It is easy to miss.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 3 h 12 min without traffic
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 2 h 4 min without traffic
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 4 h 54 min without traffic
    3 pack - loud whistle
    safety first
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