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Cunningham Loop Trail, AZ

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Guide 30 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Safford
3.8 of 5 by 10
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Difficulty 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 7.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 8,850 feet
Elevation Gain 264 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,212 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 13.66
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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15  2019-07-12 kingsnake
13  2019-07-10
Cunningham Loop
41  2017-09-18
Frye Fire 2017 Aftermath
20  2017-05-14
Cunningham Spur
15  2014-06-05 wha
23  2013-10-11
Grant Hill Loop
14  2013-05-20 SkyIslander18
17  2012-09-03 paulhubbard
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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
Seasons   Late Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:07am - 6:18pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Bigfoot country!
by PrestonSands

Likely In-Season!
The Cunningham Loop Trail #316 is made up of an upper trail, and a longer lower trail. The upper trail parallels the lower trail a couple hundred feet above it, and rejoins the lower trail at the two mile point. The route follows an abandoned road, which is being reclaimed by the forest, and contours around the slopes of Mt. Graham itself. This trail is currently about as close as you can legally hike to the summit of Mt. Graham (the mountain is closed above the 9800 foot level for protection of the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel).

Arriving at the trailhead on the western end of the trail, next to Cunningham campground, I climbed out of my truck and put on my hiking boots. "I'm too tired to hike", I thought, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't. I hiked past a gate, and uphill into the thick forest. Within a half mile, I came to the junction of the upper and lower loops. Deciding on the lower loop, I set off into the woods.

From the loop junction, the lower (main) trail gradually climbs up through the aspens and firs, leveling off at about 9100 feet. Most of the trail is in dense forest, but there are occasional glimpses of the surrounding mountains (including Mt. Graham itself) throughout the rest of the hike. The trail weaves in and out of trickling side drainages covered in ferns, before arriving at the eastern junction with the upper loop, just before Grant Creek. After wading through big leaved, jungle like plants at the Grant Creek crossing, the trail turns south.

The last two miles were just incredible. Huge trees covered in moss, thickets of Christmas tree like spruces, aspens, and a patch full of sweet raspberries were the highlights. Where the trail rounds a ridge at about the three mile point, there are some good views to the north of Mt. Graham, and its little brother, Hawk Peak. Their summits are the only visible fire damage in the area. Just before the end, there are a couple of old side roads that join up with the trail, one of which could be confusing to hikers coming from the Grant Hill side (stay left if heading north). I soon arrived at the Swift Highway, and found myself at Grant Hill trailhead, (the eastern trailhead), where the Cunningham Loop Trail comes to an end.

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.

2006-07-27 PrestonSands
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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 18 deeper Triplog Reviews
Cunningham Loop Trail
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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.
Cunningham Loop Trail
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Parked at Grant Hill where I spotted a turkey hiking up the trail.
Crossed the Swift Trail to the Cunningham TH where I found a nice wool blanket hanging in a tree :-k
Hiked up the Spur trail to it's end :next: Off-trailed down the drainage to upper Cunningham trail :next: Took Cunningham back to the start completing the "short" loop. Excellent start to the day.
Next up was a drive back down and around the mountain to Twilight.
Hiked along the road and up/down to Twilight Spring. Still a little early for berries & flowers at Twilight.
I then off-trailed across the canyon and up to cabin road and took it to it's end to visit my family's old cabin.
A mile walk back on the cabin road & Swift Trail completed my 2nd loop for the day.

Perfect cool mountain weather - 4 deer, 2 turkey, 5 Abert's - New wool blanket & a stroll down memory cabin lane.

Mountain hiking then dinner with my visiting Mom on Mother's Day = :y:
Cunningham Loop Trail
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I usually don't get too excited about old road bed trails like this, but this one is very nice. The loop goes through some very nice stands of old growth pines and firs and there was running water at most of the drainage crossings. The trail is in great condition and easy to follow. A very nice leg stretcher, or stroll if in the area. The highlight of the hike was the very large black bear that greeted us before we even reached the closed gate marking the start of the loop.
Cunningham Loop Trail
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Autumn aspen chasing trip up high today.
Cunningham Spur :next: Cunningham Loop :next: Grant Hill Loop :next: Moonshine Creek :next: Swift Trail was the order.
Aspens are in all stages of turn, but mostly not quite golden there, should be peak in 1-2 weeks.
Cunningham Spur / Cunningham Loop / Grant Hill Loop / Swift Trail were all uneventful, but always nice trails.
Moonshine Creek was the highlight! It was like someone flipped the switch once I got headed down the trail. The aspens looked good, creek was flowing good and wildlife came out around every bend including 5 deer, a dozen turkeys in the meadow, 3 Abert's squirrels & something big running down the canyon breaking tree limbs (bear or elk?). I added the climb out onto the overlook of Ft Grant prison and Moonshine falls before leaving.
Cunningham Loop Trail
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Tuesdays have quickly become my favorite day of the week.
It's the full day that I get to spent with not only 2 great co-workers, but 2 Awesome friends!

Addie, Lauren & Myself chose for this Tuesday a figure 8 hike combining the Grant Hill & Cunningham loops high up on Graham.
We started with Grant Hill Loop - Wonderful greenery, the aspens are coming in nicely this year and both of the big overlooks were excellent. The sunflowers are just starting to bloom and all of the small creek crossings had some light flow.
We then crossed over to the Cunningham Trails - We headed up the spur to start then off-trailed back down to the main loop. Again, very green with the flowers starting to do their thing. IMO this is still the best looking strand of forest that the Pinalenos has to offer!
After completing the figure 8 with a short stroll down the Swift Trail, we decided on a quick bag of Ladybug Peak on the drive back down to get Addie's name in the register (tag Mr Sands, your it).
Wildlife spotted on the day - 3 Abert's squirrel, 6 white-tail does, 1 mountain turkey & hundreds of unidentified caterpillars all over the trees & ground.

Very enjoyable & entertaining day once again on the big island, Thanks AD & LM
Cunningham Loop Trail
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After meeting up with Nick and Chad at Mount Graham Market, Nick drove us up the Swift Trail for a Pinaleno Party. First up was Cunningham. We took Cunningham Spur to its end, then went off trail downhill to Cunningham Loop, which we hiked in its entirety in a counterclockwise direction. The aspens were wearing fresh new leaves, the creeks were flowing cold and strong, and a few patches of snow lingered on shady north facing slopes. Trees with freshly shredded bark and torn up patches of soil indicated bear season had arrived. Having completed the entire Cunningham complex, we studied the topo, then drove further up the Swift Trail for more fun...
Cunningham Loop Trail
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preston and i had planned on getting up on graham while he was back in safford and we got chad to join us :)

i've always wanted to check this trail out and the guys didn't need any extra convincing so we started on the cunningham spur then off trailed down to the loop and hiked that too. this high country loop is the kind of trail you could hike all day. easy grades, smooth sailing, high country views and big trees like only the sky island king mt. graham can deliver...sensational!!
Cunningham Loop Trail
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The Yeti rolled into town last night and after a text & call, I found myself 12 hours later heading up the Swift Trail with Preston & Nick for my first hikes up high on Graham for 2013 :y:

We first hiked up and to the end of Cunningham Spur then off-trailed down along the creek until we dropped onto the Cunningham Loop Trail which we then completed counter-clockwise.
Next we drove a couple of miles down to Columbine where we split with Preston & Nick heading up to loop Webb Peak/Blair-Ash Ridge/Ash Creek and myself going solo down the Ash Creek Trail for the out-n-back to the falls. All the trails looked great and there was good creek flow throughout.

We then met back up at Columbine and drove back down the Swifty ending a great day of hiking on the upper Pinalenos!

Thanks for the invite guys, good times on the big Island !!!
Cunningham Loop Trail
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After seeing Outdoor Lover's triplog of the Cunningham Loop trail we knew this was a "must do" hike. It certainly didn't disappoint - What a wonderful trail! Taking the upper loop first (clockwise) you get all the climbing out of the way at first, and at ~9200 ft elevation that's welcome! The trail starts out as an old road, but narrows down to a nice strolling path through the beautiful pines of the Pinalenos. Wildflowers galore, beautiful mountain views, springs and creeks, it has it all!

We can't wait to go back and explore more of this sky island!
Cunningham Loop Trail
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Another nice Trail by a Water Rat! We woke up to a nice Sunrise at Snow Flat where we camped, got packed up and on the road in short order. Went up the Swift Trail to the Cunningham Visitor's Center, which was actually open for a change, so we checked it out, along with the beautiful Flower laden Meadow there.

Drove back down the Swift Trail for a short distance to the TH for this Loop. Chad had already done the "traditional" Loop, so we took a Spur Trail up, and planned on doing the Upper Cunningham Trail when we got to that intersection. This allowed us to Hike the entirety of all of the Trails with the exception of a 1/4 mile of the Lower Trail where it intersects with the Swift Trail.

The old bod was really starting to protest a little about "more uphill" since this was my 4th Hiking day in a row, but I pushed through it and enjoyed the old Forest and Wildflowers along the way....After crossing a couple of trickling drainages, we came to the end of the Spur and had to off trail downhill to meet up with the actual Lower Cunningham Trail. There was a Drainage here too, that had a light flow, so I opted to go down the hard way, following the Water and Drainage.... :D Chad opted for a slightly easier route, around the deadfall and lush foliage surrounding the Creek. I hurried a little because I knew Chad would beat me to the bottom and didn't want him to wait too long, but as it turned out, he only beat me by about 15 minutes and I got some pretty Water shots, so it was all good. The legs got some new Arizona Pinstriping, but nothing that they're not used too.... :)

We continued on, arriving at another Creek area, where I got a few more Water pics, then we found the intersection that takes you up to the Upper Cunningham Trail. Up we go, and once at the top, it levels out nicely. This was a beautiful area and the Hike was thoroughly enjoyable. Eventually, we arrived at the Lower intersection of the Cunningham Loop and took the Lower Cunningham Trail back around to the TH we started at.

We were the only ones on the Trail for a Saturday and you got a wonderful feeling of total isolation in an Old Growth Forest. Nice choice Chad, enjoyed this one quite a bit, even though, by the time I got back to the car, the bod was saying "enough already".... :sweat:

Another good day in the Pinaleno Books!!! Dropped Chad off at his vehicle and then I camped at Twilight, having the huge, isolated campground to myself on a Saturday night! Unbelievable!!! :y:

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 hike
From Safford, head south on U.S. highway 191. Turn west onto state highway 366 (Swift Trail).

EASTERN ACCESS: Follow highway 366 approximately 23.4 miles to the Grant Hill Trailhead at milepost 138. The trail starts as a side road across the Swift Trail from the parking lot.

WESTERN ACCESS: Follow highway 366 approximately 25.2 miles to Cunningham Campground. There is parking at the campground; look for the Cunninham Loop Trail sign along Swift Trail a short distance east of the campground. (see topo map included in the photoset)
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