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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.

Heliograph Peak Loop, AZ

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Guide 43 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
4 of 5 by 9
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Loop 4.25 miles
Trailhead Elevation 8,990 feet
Elevation Gain 1,030 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2.25 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 9.4
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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15  2019-07-10
Heliograph Peak Loop
32  2017-10-13 SkyIslander18
41  2017-09-18
Frye Fire 2017 Aftermath
8  2016-08-18 cactuscat
45  2016-07-17 AZHiker456
6  2016-06-18 trekkin_gecko
12  2016-06-18 johnlp
5  2016-06-06
Heliograph Peak
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
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
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep → Early
Seasons   Late Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:07am - 6:18pm
Official Route
4 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Thunderstorm magnet
by PrestonSands

Likely In-Season!
From my home in Safford, I watched an especially nasty looking thunderstorm hover over Mt. Graham during the early afternoon of July 4. "If the storm moves on, I'm going hiking up there" I thought. It did, and I did. Within an hour, I was at Shannon Campground, with hopes of making the top of Heliograph Peak before another thunderstorm blew in. With a copy of the Mt. Graham topo map and rain gear in my pack, I started up the Arcadia Trail. For the first mile, I hiked through beautiful stands of tall firs and aspens. Upon reaching the saddle, the trail to the top of Heliograph Peak split off to the right. The trail crossed over a short rocky ridge, and soon arrived on the northern slope of Heliograph Peak. The 2004 Gibson Fire had completely cooked this area, but thousands of new aspens were already chest high.

The rest of the way up was slow going, due to erosion following the fire and thickets of aspen covering what remained of the trail. Old log erosion bars and new cairns showed the way. Once the abandoned fire tower was in view, the trail left the burn area, and passed by a couple of small blue spruce trees. Nervously eyeing an new thunderstorm overhead, I shot some pictures of the top of the peak and the historic Heliograph Cabin. Somewhere up here is where the U.S. Army had a heliograph (a sun reflecting signal mirror used to communicate over long distances) during the Apache wars of the late 1800's. A loud crack of thunder soon let me know that it was time to go.

I decided to return via the old fire road, as the forest it passed through appeared to have been spared from the Gibson Fire. I made good time descending the road, passing through pristine forest and watching a thunderstorm wreak havoc on Mt. Graham itself. I shot pictures constantly on the way down, while hiking past some of the biggest trees I've ever seen. "This is the most beautiful hike I've been on in a long time", I thought. After a couple miles, I passed by the permanently locked gate (the road has been off limits to vehicles for years due to habitat needs for the Mount Graham Red Squirrel), and was back at the turnoff for Shannon Campground.

I walked the short distance back to the start of the Arcadia Trail, through the empty campground, and sat down in the bed of my truck. A busy woodpecker kept me company as I wrote this trail description down under a stormy sky at Shannon Campground. I love this mountain!

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 hike to support this local community.

2006-07-07 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 of 28 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Bad start to the morning when at Ladybug Saddle on the drive up I stopped to read the info signs. Attempted to hop up a 2 foot rock wall and caught my toe. Crashed down hard on the wall bracing the impact with my elbow and forearm, it shot up my arm and I was 100% certain I had broke my arm. Jumped up to see my shoulder forward in an unnatural way, pushed in and lifted my arm to hear a pop and my shoulder was straight again. Damn it, I popped a vicodin and waited for it to kick in while contemplating ER or hiking. Vicodin kicked in and I chose hiking.

    First up was High Peak Rd. My last visit I saw that my favorite aspen meadow had made it through the Frye Fire and I wanted to see it again. I arrived at the meadow to see it mostly autumn gold. I made a hammock camp and spent a few hours there ..... I could have stayed all day there, but Heliograph Peak was the goal of the day.

    Next up Heliograph. Of all the trails that looked on heat & progression maps to have the least fire impact, I though this one may have fared well. I was dead wrong ..... except for the very top (peak) and a decent portion of the back trail, this loop IMO is destroyed. The peak was nice, but showed from 10,000 feet up the majority of the mountain top and I am now certain that except for the campgrounds ..... you will be hard pressed to find 1 acre of forest from Heliograph Peak to Riggs Lake that has not been impacted from the fire. I popped a second pain killer and completed the loop back down to Shannon CG, this campground looked good!

    There was good - I saw an unbelievable amount of deer (maybe 20-25), a dozen Abert's & many big birds above.
    Lots of contractors driving up & down the Swift Trail continuing repairs on the mountain.
    Heliograph Peak & High Peak meadow were wonderful!

    On the drive back down I was 50/50 on an ER visit before going home. I chose home, we'll see what tomorrow brings.
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Frye Fire 2017 Aftermath
    On Thursday 9/14 the top portion of the Swift Trail (366) was opened back up to the public.
    This was the first opportunity for the Gila Valley residents to drive up and view the effects from the Frye Fire.

    I drove up and parked at High Peak road. Completed a big loop to & through the above linked trails/campgrounds.

    I've only got 2 thoughts -

    #1 - The fire was good for the overall future health and growth of the Pinaleno Mountain range for the decades and more to come, I do not deny that fact.

    #2 - For myself ..... the 40+ year hiker, backpacker, camper, fisherman & photographer of this magnificent mountain range ..... I am totally devastated and heartbroken by the destruction I viewed on top.
    The Pinalenos will never be the same for the rest of my life.
    I am shook, I am bitter & I am angry, but I am also very thankful that I got to see and share with my family and friends the incredible beauty of what once was. There will be many more great memories made on this mountain ..... just in a different way now and in different locations.
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Solo afternoon trip up into 10,000 ft land.
    Chose the counter clockwise route for this day.
    Added the out-n-back spur trail at the start.
    T shirt weather on the climb up, pullover fleece on top and down Arcadia.
    The aspens are a turnin', good amount of summer flowers left, still many raspberries left to pick, Shannon CG creek flowing very well & very green pines throughout.
    Wildlife was scarce today producing only 1 white-tail doe sighting.
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Kelly and I have been talking about a trip to the Pinalenos for a year or two. Finally got it together. Beautiful up there. I was surprised by all the fir trees. They outnumber the pines and aspen on the upper reaches of the range.

    Heliograph and Lady Bug are nice hikes with great views at the top. Good first day. :)
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    first visit to the pinalenos
    two night car camp with john
    drove up saturday morning, and were on the mountain by noon
    checked out a few campgrounds, setting up at hospital flat
    thought we might have trouble getting a site, but plenty were available in shannon and arcadia
    this area has been on my wish list for some time
    good timing for getting away from record temps in the valley
    picked out a handful of hikes with some input from fellow haz members
    started out on this loop around 4:00, taking the trail from shannon campground
    good trail up with some nice views to the north
    really liked the grassy aspen area near the top
    a collection of antennas, a cabin and a fire tower at the summit
    no one home, so we went up as high as we could before the locked gate
    great views from the tower
    took the road down to make the loop
    drove down a few miles to hit ladybug peak from the saddle
    cute little summit with good views but no ladybugs
    headed back to camp
    cooled off quickly once the sun went down, so we enjoyed the fire john built
    very quiet night, brightly lit by the nearly full moon
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Our one and only snowshoe trip of this winter and we almost waited too long to take it!
    The Pinalenos' snow has quickly melted in the last 2 weeks leaving our first 2 choices non-doable.
    We had to drive up and around to the backside of Graham all the way to Shannon for a continuous trail of snow, Heliograph Peak's service road to the top was today's ticket. Still holding about 95% of the road's snow, we headed up to the top, took in the great views from 10,000ft, rested & refueled, then back down the way we came.
    Man ..... I had forgotten what a workout snowshoeing is, I'll be feeling it tomorrow, but we had a great time on this fun, well spent afternoon of play on the Big Island!!!
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Always has been, always will be one of my favorite Mt Graham trails!
    Choose the counter clockwise loop on this trip by starting up the service road.
    Lots of moisture, lots of drainage water, very green with impressive fungus everywhere.
    The flowers were there in good patches, but didn't come up real strong this year :?
    The north section still has many berries and the aspens have just started their autumn thing :FG:
    A diamondback on the drive up, a couple of white-tails & 3 Abert's were the wildlife spotted today.
    Overcast with a brief sprinkle and a snap of cold on the 10,000 ft top was the much wanted weather today.
    This was one of those day hikes where I wished I was backpacking, did not want to leave ..... :)

    It's starting.
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    The trail up is great. It does get a little less appealing near the top where it has suffered some severe fire damage and is currently being overran by New Mexican Locust plants, hopefully the also abundant Aspen win the battle to reclaim this burned area. The top is cluttered with some contemporary stuff and several towers, but the views are solid. I took the road down and a series of old logging roads in order to hit Heliograph Spring for the dogs. The spring had water and we managed to cut some considerable sections of the closed road out of the hike back.
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    After leaving Clifton I made a beeline for the Pinalenos for a quick acclimatization hike on ol' Helio. Parked at the turnoff for Shannon and moved as fast as I could up the road to the summit. Hello Helio, I've missed you! Aspens on top were just beginning to leaf out and sneezeweed flowers had just sprouted. Surprisingly, it wasn't windy. Did the usual summit overlook and took some photos, then laid down in the grass by the cabin for a short nap. Awaking to my alarm, I made a quick descent on the road, running occasionally to keep the heart rate up. I had an appointment in Safford that afternoon, so no time for more Pinaleno fun. Caught a couple of Leding's Hedgehogs in bloom near Wet Canyon on the way down and, of course, stopped to enjoy them. :)
    Heliograph Peak Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Perfect day on top of the mountain with a trio of good friends!
    We started the day with a very nice loop hike of Heliograph Peak.
    We then traveled the Swift Trail to it's end on this opening day of the back road.
    Then it was down to Riggs Lake for a short loop around this most beautiful (cold) mountain forest lake. Quite a few people fishing & catching limits on day #1 of the reopening.
    4 turkeys were spotted along the way.

    Thanks Dave, Kathy & Addie - look very forward to the next one!

    Starting to pick up now, mostly yellows.

    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 / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To Shannon CG Trailhead
    From Safford, head south on SR 191. Turn west onto state SR 366 (Swift Trail) and follow 20.9mi. Turn right and follow 0.2mi to Shannon Campground.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 193 mi - about 4 hours 4 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 143 mi - about 2 hours 41 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 338 mi - about 6 hours 7 mins
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