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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Agua Caliente Canyon, AZ

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Guide 16 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
2.5 of 5 by 11
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
View 3
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Round Trip 5.3 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,857 feet
Elevation Gain 800 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,326 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5-7
Kokopelli Seeds 11.93
Interest Off Trail Hiking
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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30  2018-01-28
La Milagrosa / Agua Caliente Canyon Loop
5  2018-01-28
La Milagrosa / Agua Caliente Canyon Loop
15  2018-01-01
Agua Caliente Creek
1  2012-10-20 keepmoving
13  2012-01-05 Doradofootball22
23  2010-12-26
La Milagrosa / Agua Caliente Canyon Loop
28  2009-12-19
La Milagrosa / Agua Caliente Canyon Loop
16  2009-01-12 Azbackcountry
Page 1,  2
Author Lizard
author avatar Guides 15
Routes 0
Photos 403
Trips 17 map ( 75 miles )
Age 39 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Sep, Oct, Apr, May → 9 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:06am - 6:30pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Culture Nearby
Canyoneering Close to Home
by Lizard

Likely In-Season!
Caution: Although no technical climbing is required, there is some difficult and exposed scrambling necessary to follow the entire route. A slip or fall in this remote area could be very dangerous. This trip is recommended only for experienced hikers who are confident in their scrambling abilities.

Sabino Canyon offers many fine opportunities for Tucson hikers. However, it can be maddening sometimes to try to find solitude and "wilderness experiences" in an area that sees over a million visitors a year. This hike is offered as an alternative. Although it is no further from Tucson than Sabino, Pima, and other popular canyons, it sees far fewer visitors due to the rugged and difficult nature of the terrain. For the experienced hiker, this cross-country route offers beautiful scenery and blessed solitude only a few minutes from Tucson. You are more likely to see a coyote or a snake than you are to see another person in Agua Caliente Canyon.

From the parking area, go through the pedestrian bypass around the gate blocking off Horsehead Road. Head east on this road. This road is private property, but the owners have agreed to allow foot traffic. Please be respectful and courteous to any people you might meet, so that we can retain this access. For some inexplicable reason, this dirt road becomes paved after a half a mile, and continues on for 200 yards or so. The road deadends at an intersection with Wentworth Road. Off to the right, you will see a 4WD road blocked by a gate. Go through this gate (close it behind you) and continue along the road. It crosses Molino Wash and contours around a low ridge. After passing the trailhead for La Milagrosa Ridge trail, the road ends at the wash coming out of Agua Caliente Canyon.

Turn north and head up this wash, through the stone towers which guard the entrance to Agua Caliente Creek. For the first half-mile, the canyon is wide, and navigation is easy. After half a mile, the canyon makes a bend, narrows, and the hiking gets more interesting. Many granite boulders litter the wash, and in many places there are dry waterfalls in this granite. Below most of these waterfalls are pools of water. Fish and tadpoles swim in most of the waterholes, leading me to believe that they are likely year-round. Also, in three seperate pools I saw small black-and-white snakes. As the canyon continues to twist and turn, the cliffs grow higher and the canyon grows narrower. The scenery is excellent, and I saw lots of small wildlife like birds, lizards and snakes. Also, a number of hawks soared around one canyon wall, where there is likely a nest. To travel this section, much scrambling over granite boulders and waterfalls is required, and progress is slow. Expect to travel under 1 mph.

Approxiamately 1.5 miles from the dirt road, you will come to a waterfall. Although this waterfall is only about 20 feet high, the granite is slick and there is an underhang. Also, both sides are bounded by cliffs. If you are looking for an challenging but relatively easy dayhike, I suggest turning around here. For the more adventurous, you can backtrack down the canyon 50 yards or so. It is possible to scramble up the right canyon wall. Your goal is to get above the 100-foot-high cliff over the waterfall. Although there is no technical climbing required, this scramble is not easy, and it is fairly exposed. Once you have gotten high enough, you will see that there is a bench above the cliffs that ranges from 10 to 20 feet wide. You will head upcanyon along this bench, which offers fine views of the terrain you've already covered. After a few hundred yards, the bench starts to descend to meet the canyon floor. You will have to scramble down here as well, but it is much easier that the trip up.

Once on the canyon floor, I recommend backtracking about 50 yards or so downcanyon. There is an excellent swimming hole here, which you can reach by carefully downclimbing the southern wall of the canyon. This swimming hole was only about 5-7 feet deep when I visited, so a cliff dive is NOT recommended. After swimming and sunbathing on the granite, head back up the canyon. The canyon here is more open as a few minor side canyons feed into it. Cast about until you come across an unmarked footpath. This use trail leads west, climbing up onto the ridge between Agua Caliente Canyon and La Milagrosa Canyon.

Once atop the ridge, you have two options. Cowgill and Glendening's "Santa Catalina Mountains" guidebook indicates that it is possible to scramble down the ridge into Milagrosa Canyon, and follow that back to your car. The other option, which is what I did, is to follow the La Milagrosa Ridge Trail south along the ridge. This trail offers fine views of Agua Caliente Canyon and La Milagrosa Canyon, as well as the surrounding terrain. It eventually drops to cross La Milagrosa Canyon, then heads down another ridge. The trail here cross bedrock in many places and can be difficult to follow. Look for cairns. Before too long, you will reach the end of the trail, which connects to the dirt road that you followed into this area. To end the hike, backtrack along this trail to your car.

One final word. Although this canyon is very close to Tucson, it is still wild and pristine. During my hike I saw absolutely no litter at all. I ask that if this trail description inspires you to head for this canyon, please limit your group size and pack out ALL your trash. This is not a designated and maintained trail; no trail crew will be following you to pick up your mess. The only way this canyon will stay in its current pristine state will be if everyone who hikes it treats it with respect.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

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

2003-06-11 Lizard
  • sub-region related
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
Agua Caliente Canyon
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Since I was down in Tucson for the Oracle Rumble, I decided to hang out with Wendy and this is the hike she chose for us. Saturday nite, however, we got to eat at Mosaic and despite a long wait, it was worth it. Very yummy! a little different spin on Mexican flavor. It definitely lived up to the hype.

Oh, the hike. About 1/2 hour from Wendy's we parked at an unofficial trailhead. I'm glad the community allows people to access this hike from here. You walk a paved road a bit before it turns to dirt and crosses a wash onto another road and down into the wash of La Milagrosa Canyon before you head up onto the Ridge. The great part of this hike is what Wendy calls "slabby goodness". Slabbiness is so great for hiking especially on this very windy day. At a makeshift gate we encountered a resident of the area and his two Mexican rescue dogs. He pointed out to us some very faint petroglphys on low-lying rocks just barely off the trail. I couldn't really get a good photo of them though as they are so faint. We thot it unusual to see the glphys on such low flat rocks.

From there we continued our gradual hike up the Ridgeline with occasional peeks over the edge down into La Milagrosa Canyon which continued to get deeper the further along the ridge we went. And then we went more to the other side of the ridge and would get a peak down into Agua Caliente Canyon. It's definitely dry and the plant life reflected that as I can imagine this being a much prettier hike; altho, I was duly impressed by what I saw. When Wendy and Sirena did it a couple years back, they were crossing thru water in several areas. Eventually it was time to veer to the other side of the ridge to the Agua Caliente side. The trek down here is a bit on the slippery side.

Once down into the canyon it opens up wide and you start heading slightly southwest. We took a break in the wash and would have stayed longer (we had boulders for our backs) but it was just too darn windy and a bit nippy. So we continued thru the wash/Canyon a little further before crossing up and out of the wash by this rather large slabby area. It's a bit of a climb but not bad. Once out there is an intersection that takes you up to the summit of Agua Caliente Hill but not today.

From here it is all downhill with views into the Valley of Tucson. You drop nearly 1000 feet in 1 3/4 mile as you stay on the other ridge. Gnat Tank is devoid of water of course. It's not a really big tank anyway. Once again you come to a fence and since we couldn't figure out how to open the big green gate from this side, Wendy went over the barbed wire fence and then saw the locking mechanism that needed to be lifted in order to slide the lever. You just couldn't see that from this side. After the gate the ridge gets a little narrower and once you get across to the other side, you now have to go almost straight down to reach the wash as the usual trail has been blocked off. I saw this trail before we started and didn't realize we would be taking it.

The trail down is a bit dicey in spots so you have to take extra care. Fortunately it's short-lived but I was still glad to be on level ground. You stay in the wash for awhile before you get back to where you started. We encountered a few folks here as we made our way back to the TH. Surprisingly, it was a little warm when we got down to the bottom. It's a great hike and I'm sure it would be even better with water based on previous pictures I am just now looking at.

Thx for suggesting it Wendy, it was a wonderful choice which allowed me to get back to Phx in daylight.

Part 1: TH to Milagrosa Ridge [ youtube video ]
Part 2: Milagrosa Ridge to Agua Caliente Canyon [ youtube video ]
Part 3: Agua Caliente Ridge and back down to same named wash: [ youtube video ]
Agua Caliente Canyon
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After hitting the short & sweet Soldier Canyon, I thought it'd be nice to finish the day off by hitting these two short & sweet canyons again. :) Well the recent rainstorms left more water in the pools than we encountered last year, so the theme of the day turned into: Don't get wet & cold unless we absolutely have to... ;) So we made our way up the ridge and dropped into The Marvelous (La Milagrosa) Canyon above the narrows and geared up before dropping in. We again bypassed the first two drops (dry falls) since they had murky pools below them and down climbed to the first 'official rappel' and noted that there was also a large murky pool below that drop that wasn't there last year. :roll: Hmm, well I don't mind cold water as long as it's brief but green pond scum is out of the question if I can avoid it. Scott climbed up on the right again and found another easy down climb to avoid both the 'official rappels' and the pool below the final rappel was also much bigger than last winter. So we were able to check out these short & sweet narrows without a single rappel this time, but now I'm tempted to come back with a wetsuit when it's flowing descent and rappel all 5 waterfalls. : rambo : We then scrambled out of the canyon on the left LDC and made our way up the ridge to get back on trail and hiking east to now drop into Agua Caliente above it's technical section. :sweat: Almost every other hiker we passed by asked us if we we're rock climbing... No we're canyoneering gosh dang it!?! :roll: many climbers use a Peztl Pirana or carry an ascender? Are you people blind? :sl: After dropping in Agua Caliente canyon and heading downstream, we quickly ran into the first drop with a large pool below it. The pool looks clean enough but most people bypass it with a slightly exposed traverse on the left. There's a nice slickrock section afterwards following by another living sized chockstone with a short 15ft rappel below it. We both made the short rappel and then I looked over the chockstone boulders at the next 30ft drop and realized it also now had a large pool below it that wasn't there last year. ](*,) I volunteered to ascend back up and look for a bypass on the ledge on the leftside and quickly found some anchors already in place to make a 50ft rappel to bypass the pool. Went back to tell him the good news that we'd be staying dry & warm and made the bypass and dropped our gear & stuff the rope after this final rappel. Still loads of rock hopping & down climbing as we made our way down this amazing canyon with tall imposing walls before it eventually opened up to become a simple dry wash. We re-found the trail & other hikers and made our way back thru the neighborhood to our cars. So we got detoured by a few extra pools, but still managed to stay dry and have a fun time exploring these short & sweet canyons. :D

Woot, lucky number trip 777! :GB:
Agua Caliente Canyon
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I was down in Tucson with some friends and we hit this technical loop that involved a couple rappels in both of the technical sections of each canyon. In both canyons, the technical sections also started off with a drop into a swimmer that could be bypassed but then the following two rappels were relatively dry. Once past the swimmer, he hit the 8ft & 30ft drops in La Milagrosa Canyon, we scrambled up to the ridge on the left and then followed the ridge back to the trail until it dropped into Agua Caliente Canyon. From there we followed that canyon downstream, bypassed the swimmers, rapped down the 15ft & 20ft drops, and then rock hopped down canyon until it opened up and then hopped back on the trail back to the car. Two short & sweet canyons that are worth checking out without being too terribly technical. :D
Agua Caliente Canyon
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Great little hike that leads to a 18 - 22ft cascading waterfall. Had the canyon to myself for the entire 3 hours I was there. As someone else posted, I found two different rock paintings on the same large rock that appear to have been there for a few years. Sat and cooked up lunch at the falls and relaxed for a while.
Agua Caliente Canyon
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Headed up into this area to check out the pools in La Milagrosa Canyon. This canyon is much more precipitous and harder to negotiate due to huge boulders in the wash. Much scrambling is required. I made it to the first two pools and both were black and stagnant, most likely due to fallout from the Aspen fire. Shortly after passing through the area with huge walls which is popular with local climbers, this canyon widens out and becomes rather boring IMO. I ended up bushwhacking over La Milagrosa ridge and into Agua Caliente Canyon, then back out to my car.

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 Agua Caliente Trailhead
Take Catalina Hwy toward Mt Lemmon and turn right on Snyder Road. Turn left on N. Avenida de Suzenu to the intersection with Horsehead Road. There are usually a few cars parked along Suzenu at the intersection. The trail starts at Horsehead Road. This is actually a residential area, but the residents have agreed to allow foot traffic to get to the public land, so please be respectful so we can continue to have access to this lovely area. You must park where Horsehead Road and N. Avenida de Suzenu intersect.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 128 mi - about 2 hours 15 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 19.0 mi - about 38 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 272 mi - about 4 hours 20 mins
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