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Gardner Canyon #143, AZ

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Guide 44 Triplogs  3 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson S
3.8 of 5 by 13
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 2.85 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,400 feet
Elevation Gain 2,271 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,303 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 10.52
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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6  2017-10-07
Wrightson Gardner Canyon /Cave Canyon Loop
14  2017-02-12 AZHiker456
14  2016-09-10 friendofThunderg
13  2015-09-12
Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
6  2015-09-12
Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
2  2015-09-12
Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
26  2015-09-12
Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
15  2015-09-12
Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
Page 1,  2,  3
Author BelladonnaTook
author avatar Guides 12
Routes 9
Photos 1,291
Trips 58 map ( 568 miles )
Age 72 Male Gender
Location Lakeside, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Sep, Oct, Nov, Apr → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Spring
Sun  6:08am - 6:27pm
Official Route
10 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Nice Trail, Ugly Road
by BelladonnaTook

Likely In-Season!
2014 Update
Mileages have been updated to reflect the permanent road closure and trailhead now beginning 1 mile east of when this description was written. As part of the road closure, this road has been improved and is not nearly as "ugly" as originally described.

This is a pleasant but otherwise undistinguished trail at the end of a really ugly road. Actually, only the final four miles present a challenge, but negotiating those four can consume most of an hour... one could almost walk it faster. Most of the problems arise at stream crossings, of which there are five, where the grade in and out of the creekbed is steep. It's the sort of situation where you realize after you've committed to going that you don't remember if the differential is left or right of center and your passenger is hyperventilating and can't advise you in that regard. The right person in the right vehicle could drive this road in 2WD, but I was grateful to have 4L and not too proud to use it.

There's a large parking area at the end of the road, can't imagine it's ever full, with lots of trash scattered around. I thought this might indicate a littered trail as well, but that was not the case. The trailhead is clearly marked with a steel sign, and the trail leads directly west up Gardner Canyon through dense deciduous forest. After crossing the creek a couple times, the trail turns south up a side drainage, still climbing gradually. There are signs of equestrian travel here but no bike or ATV tracks, which is appropriate because the trail lies entirely within Mt. Wrightson Wilderness. At the 2.1 mile mark the trail emerges at a saddle in a clearing at 6,900 feet. Walker Basin Trail enters here from the south, 2.6 miles from its beginning.

From this point Gardner Trail climbs more steeply along an east-facing ridge. A few dead trees lie across the track, but the trail is otherwise well maintained with no signs of horses from here on. Pines appear, first pinons then ponderosa, and frequent breaks in the hedge grant panoramic views down Gardner Canyon toward the Mustang Mountains. The trail tops the ridge in a couple places allowing level walking for fairly long stretches. At 8,000 feet fire has created an open forest park with large ponderosas and a few white pine. 3.75 miles from the parking area Gardner Trail joins Super Trail at 8,400 feet, .7 mile and 450 feet below Baldy Saddle.

At 5.3 miles, the Gardner/Super/Crest Trail combination is the shortest route to Mt. Wrightson summit. Due to its location on the east side of the mountain, it receives good sun exposure through mid-afternoon, is shielded from prevailing westerly winds and is essentially ignored by other hikers. Link it to Cave Canyon Trail, also accessed from Gardner Canyon and you have a 12.5 mile loop that should be a strenuous but pleasant day hike. But then there's that damn drive in and out.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2003-11-08 BelladonnaTook

    Coronado FS Details
    If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path route to the summit of Mt. Wrightson and the Santa Rita Crest, this trail may be the one for you. When combined with the Cave Canyon Trail, it also provides an opportunity for a long, but manageable loop that also takes in those lofty heights. Gardner Trail ascends the eastern slopes of the Santa Ritas, passing through country that is virtually deserted when compared to popular Madera Canyon on the mountain's western slopes. This more remote area is similar in setting. The views, although quite different, are just as impressive.

    The trail begins at the end of Gardner Canyon Road and immediately begins traversing and switchbacking its way up the slopes of Mt. Wrightson. To the east, views stretch to the Chiricahuas of extreme eastern Arizona with the Whetstone, Mustang, and Huachuca Mountains floating in a sea of grass closer at hand. Below you, the forests of the Santa Ritas extend out into the grasslands bordering Cienega Creek. Gardner Trail ends at its junction with the Super Trail which you can follow north to junctions with the Crest and Old Baldy trails. The Crest Trail leads both to the summit of Mt. Wrightson and along the Santa Rita Crest to Florida Saddle where you can turn east again on Cave Canyon Trail to the Cave Gardner Cutoff Trail # 10. This loop is a total of 12 miles long if you don't visit the Mr. Wrightson summit, 14 miles and another hour if you do.

    This trail is entirely within the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness. Mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes, are not permitted in Wilderness areas.

    One-Way Notice
    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.

    Most recent of 12 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Chinaman Trail Loop
    Temperature when I started out from Tunnel Springs was in the low 50's and overcast. With the wind I really needed a long sleeve shirt and pants. My Whippet wore his jacket on the whole trip. There were a few intermittent sprinkles but nothing that required my rain shell. I finished the hike to Bear Springs fairly quickly so I decided to continue on and make a loop of it.

    The hike to Bear Springs along the Chinaman Trail #137 was easy. There is no reason for rest breaks on this trail. Since the trail is part of the Arizona National Trail, it is well maintained. The net elevation gain is very slight, maybe a 100 feet. Bear Springs is well marked. It is about 100 yards after you start uphill, just after a stream crossing.

    The extension to the Chinaman trail from Bear Springs to Walker Canyon Trail Junction took some effort but not too much. The elevation gain was 800 - 900 feet over a mile and a half. Once again, trail conditions were excellent.

    The Walker Canyon Trail conditions are not so good but still very passable. This is not surprising since I heard it is "closed" since the forest fire came through years ago. Some helpful folks put some trail markers (piled rocks) in some spots. You shouldn't have any problems finding your way. There are some downed trees across the trail and those dammed thorn bushes make life rough on people with short pants. The pines are recovering; in time they will shade the thorn bushes out. The erosion is not bad at all. Parts of this trail are made up of loose rock which is hard on my feet. It is a 500 feet gain of elevation over 2.3 miles.

    From there it's all downhill. This portion of the Gardner Canyon #143 trail continues to be rocky. It has a few trees but is definitely a maintained trail. Once you leave the wilderness area, you hit the old trail head which is a fence gate. From there you walk down an overgrowing road which has been closed for quite a while until you hit the new trail head. From there it is a 1 mile walk down FR 785 to Tunnel Springs.

    It was a nice trip. I did see signs of bear, coyote, and bobcat. Remember I'm 60 and overweight. If I can do this hike, so can you.

    Oh one more thing. Ignore the description on the Coronado Forest sight. It was written before the Arizona Trail and consequently has you scrambling across country. ](*,)
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Excellent figure-8 route on well-constructed trails. Just a few patches of snow in shady areas. Also went down Gardner to the end of the road and back - the lower half is nice with good flow in the creek at the bottom, the upper half is recovering burn zone with some downed trees.

    There's decent at-large camping along Proctor Road at the mouth of the canyon (especially if you like cows).
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    This was my first time hitting Wrightson from Gardner Canyon and I am now under the belief that you really can't go wrong with any of the approaches to this worthy sky island peak.

    Its a bit of a drive to the Gardner trailhead from Phoenix and the road in was a little slow going in spots, plus some of the creek crossings may have been running a little high due to some recent rains, but we were still able to hit the trail by 8:30 a.m. The first mile or so along the creek was great and the water seemed to have a robust flow. The climb to Baldy Saddle was a little bland and warm at times, but the final push to the peak was breathtaking as usual. Jackie fell in love with all the flowers and the nice trail up to the peak, coupled with a manageable grade and tremendous views, immediately made this one of her favorite peaks. We hung out on the peak for a longer than usual time and chatted it up with a couple of really nice retired school teachers. Its always nice to see someone still standing after 30 years of teaching, it gives us young teachers hope. After the summit, its a pretty quick hike down and the return took just about two hours on the dot. The drive out seemed to go a little smoother, as I was able to hit some better lines with the creek crossings and crawled through a couple in 4L.

    I wanted to give Jackie the whole Wrightson experience, so I shot a text to JJ on the descent and asked for the name of the good Taco place we have always frequented on the way home. By chance (not really chance, as Tucson is JJ's second home) he was on his way there, so we all enjoyed a nice post hike meal together.

    Getting close to the end of the season, but they were still pretty substantial around the Baldy Saddle area to peak..
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
    Prison Stories, Goat Stories, Dead Cows, Poop, Wild Flowers, Surprise Guests, White Men in White Face.... this hike had it all.

    Belinda posted a Wrightson loop, climbing from the east. I'd never done it from the east. Chums and
    Joe Joe were a go, so we met up with the Chummobile at 4am for the drive to meet up w/ the Tucson crew at 6am.

    Into Patagonia and then the drive on AZT #4 to our TH. Other than the stinky dead cow we had to drive OVER, the drive was uneventful.

    Temporal Gulch Trail #595 Was a bit thin in spots and is a steady climb to Josephine Saddle. The views just kept getting better. We made a stop at McBeth Spring to sample the agua.

    At the Old Baldy Trail #372 we saw the first of the masses coming up and down from the Summit. Ran into and SkyIslandHiker on his way down from his 300th? summit.

    We enjoyed a break and lunch at the top with our surprise guest Randy. The first time I did Wrightson, it was in a group w/ Randy the speed demon. Great seeing him again.

    It's all downhill from here Gardner Canyon #143, to Walker Basin #136. The views are easier to enjoy going downhill not staring at you feet. We all took an extended break while Joel read the newspaper.

    The hill dropping into Upper Walker Tank was brutally rocky/steep.. we should have taken the AZT reroute instead of "The Road"

    Thanks for settin' this one up Belinda! Good to finally meet you, Joel, Mark and Mike...

    Hard to believe that the Cow smelled worse on the way out.. :o
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
    Our first obstacle was getting around a half decomposed cow on FR72 that would make a skunk blush. Most of the stank washed off the trucks passing through a few running ravines. Just enough lingered at the trailhead to get us hungry for the trail.

    We lost the trail a few times in the lower creek shared segment of #595. Nothing of concern, follow the creek when in doubt. The upper part is nice. Friendly brush is nearby most of the way. Weather was nice throughout the day. From Josephine Saddle to the summit we had a steady flow of company on trail.

    My favorite part of the hike was from Baldy Saddle heading down Gardner Canyon #143. Views, perfectly scattered pines and clouds cranked out a nice symphony.

    Walker Basin Trail #136 was the get us back leg. Two sacred pools above the dam were neat. FR72 to complete the loop.

    A pleasure to hike with this fine group. Mike was a little shy but opened up after five seconds. Met Bill Bens out playing in his backyard! Randy hit the big peak in the sky again and joined us for lunch too.

    carried 4 qts, consumed 2.8

    None really. A little precursor to Autumn near McBeth. Large swaths of ferns all browned up now. The ravine is a tucked in pocket.

    Several large blankets of yellow covering slopes. A few nice individual varieties.
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Wrightson via Temporal to Walker Basin
    Great to meet some of the Tucson HAZ crew! And a fantastic hike too! Thanks for putting it together Belinda! :app:

    Temporal Gulch was great ... a very nice and consistent ascent though slightly overgrown which required steady attention to the route, especially closer to the beginning.

    The summit was nice as always, and it was a nice surprise to see rwstorm had made the hike to meet us!

    The cloudy skies on the way down made some of the exposed areas much less warm than they might have been had it been sunny, which ended up making the weather on this day about as perfect as it could be.

    Entertaining conversation and amusement followed us all day long. Thanks all! :lol:

    For some reason my garage smells like something died. Not sure why. :o
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Mt Wrightson from Gardner Canyon Rd
    We drove up on Friday night and car camped at the Trailhead off Gardner Canyon Road. We were both surprised at how many RV’s were parked along the road. This is a very active camping area.

    We woke on Saturday morning and got situated for the hike and started hiking around 9am. The first mile follows an old road along the creek. This is a very enjoyable section and is relatively easy. The grade steepens after roughly a mile as you steadily gain elevation. This goes on for a really long time as we progressed toward the Florida Saddle and then followed the Crest Trail towards Mount Wrightson Summit.

    The peak eventually comes into view as you descend to the saddle and then make the final push to the summit. There were only a handful of people up there and we took a break to eat some lunch and enjoy the views. From there we flew down the Link Trail and were back to the jeep around 4pm.

    This was a great hike! I really enjoyed approaching Wrightson from the east. The Gardner Canyon Road is in great condition and is easy to follow. All the trails we followed were in good condition besides some random dead fall along the way. Wrightson is a beautiful summit and I might hike it again before summer sets in.
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Cave Gardner Loop
    Had to run an errand with Team Buford™ to wine country to pick some grapes. And Jon had a car-camping birthday thing to do. So I tagged along but made them do a hike too.

    I needed the county high-point. None of us had ever hiked Wrightson.

    The east side is an absolute dream. No fees. Not a single car at the trailhead. Didn't see a single other person all day, except a few at the peak who had come up from the more popular west side.

    There was running water absolutely everywhere. It was a real nice surprise. The top of the Cave trail gets really steep, and it was a grind up to Florida saddle. The traverse over the Crest trail to Wrightson was a bit more rolling, with some downhills for a break. Some juvenile aspen have started to sprout, and they were just beginning to turn.

    Made it to the summit in 4 hours, and took a short break before heading back down trying to beat sunset. The trip down was a relentless descent. It looked to be a bit more exposed and I think it would be tough to come up this way during any kind of sunny/hot season. There's a stretch of trail where the ponderosa is really making a comeback. It's remarkable to see.

    The mileages marked on the signs around the mountain are wrong for both Cave and Gardner due to both of them now having closed sections of road leading to the trailheads -- essentially the trailheads for each trail are now just farther away than they were before. No biggie, as both of them parallel their respective creeks and the sounds of flowing water is always refreshing.

    A nice night at camp was followed up by a morning in Sonoita gathering grapes and loading a 55-gallon drum into my truck for the drive back to the pub--with a stop in Tucson for lunch :))

    We stopped at DQ at picacho peak to load up on some nitrates but the line was 15 deep so we just got back in the car and kept going :(

    I've never hiked Wrightson from Madera Canyon, but I have a tough time believing it's any better than the east side ascent. And making a loop out of it is just an added bonus!

    New growth aspens up top just starting to yellow. Some sycamores in the lower drainages are beginning to turn. No other colors yet.
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    Gardner Canyon to Mt Wrightson
    i finally got to hike in the same direction as johnlp :y:

    i was blown away by how nice gardner is and what great shape it's in. yet another great trail in the santa favorite local range

    met some nice runners on the summit. crest trail rocks as always though it's still in very early spring mode up there. trip down cave was nice and easy, nice to be back out here after so many years.

    awesome hike. nice lunch afterwards. sorry we missed you Dave :(
    Gardner Canyon #143
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    I was traveling Hwy. 83 southward from I-10 into the higher elevation of the Baja Arizona this past Friday. Even though it was past mid-afternoon, I decided to take a hard right to the west at Gardner Canyon Road - hoping to get out for a bit of a walk in an area I was familiar with. It had been more than a year since I had been down this dirt road and I was pleased to find many TH improvements (new detailed signage, limiting vehicular access,etc.) had been recently made...Sky Island Alliance at work perhaps. At any rate, the AZT has been greatly developed for increased access via Gardner Canyon Road. New to me anyway, as it was nothing like this last spring. At the same time, similar themed work was obvious re: the Gardner Canyon TH so as to limit access with a new gateway recently installed where Link Trail's switchback joins Gardner Canyon Trail (a new TH sign was just lying there awaiting proper installation) from below via Cave Canyon Trail's new gateway. This type of work being indicative of SIA around the SE quadrant of the state, etc. Lots of campground renovations were apparent as well...what a wealth the outback of this state affords the average citizen who will just get out there! Avg. Grade 59.6% GPS Route Available

    Spent the next day engrossed in a long circuit R&D drive around the Chiricahua Mountains via Rodeo, NM - through Portal...Cave Creek Canyon, etc. The season's first rain was the ideal amorphic backdrop to another amazing AZ outback run.

    Permit $$

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

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    From Tucson, drive east on I-10 to Exit 281. Proceed south 21 miles on SR-83 to Gardner Canyon Road (FR-92). Follow FR-92 west 6.3 miles, then just past a cattle guard turn left (south) onto FR-785. Continue 3.5 miles to locked gate across road and trailhead. FR-92 is improved dirt and sedan accessible. FR-785 is a bit rougher and includes 6 creek crossings.
    2+ mi range whistle
    blow it hard
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