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Chinaman Trail #137, AZ

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Guide 6 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson S
4.3 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 4.4 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,600 feet
Elevation Gain 928 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,019 feet
Avg Time One Way 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 7.8
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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6  2016-05-07 cindyl
15  2014-11-15
Temporal Gulch - AZT #4
65  2014-03-21
AZT Passages 4-5
28  2013-10-22
AZT #4 Walker Basin to Gardner Canyon
30  2013-02-07 ArizonaBob
10  2006-10-08 BrettVet
Author BrettVet
author avatar Guides 15
Routes 40
Photos 335
Trips 48 map ( 525 miles )
Age 69 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, Nov → 9 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:08am - 6:28pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Historic Hike with great views
by BrettVet

The Santa Rita mountain trails usually go only in two directions, straight up or straight down. The Chinaman trail is a relatively easy flat trail that takes you into a remote canyon with outstanding views across the Sonoita valley. Largely unaffected by forest fires it is a little used well marked trail that is much nicer than the nearby Gardner canyon trail that goes straight up to the Super Trail through rubble and a burned area. The bottom line is if you want a leisure day hike in the Santa Ritas this is your trail.

Getting to the trailhead is easiest with a 4 wheel drive, but can be done in a high clearance car especially if it is a rental car. There are several creek crossings but for the most part the road is well graded. If you don't have the 4x4, you can park at the Arizona trailhead just past the ranch houses on the way into Gardner canyon and take the Arizona trail south. This adds about 3 miles of easy hiking to the trip and is less scenic than the Casa Blanca Canyon.

The Chinaman trail follows an old water ditch that was built in 1902 to supply water to mine gold at Kentucky Camp some 8 miles away. The ditch and waterway were constructed by Chinese labor, hence the politically incorrect name. The trail actually starts at Tunnel Springs, which gets its name from where the laborers cut a tunnel through the hill to keep the water flowing downhill from Casa Blanca canyon to Gardner Canyon..

The Chinaman trail head is at round metal stock tank with a sign that says tunnel springs and the Arizona trail (signs are politically correct) Do not continue on the road up the hill to Gardner Canyon Trailhead, take the trail up over the hill to the south into Casa Blanca Canyon to pickup the ditch/trail on the other side. You will encounter another larger stock tank and the ditch/ trail will hug the canyon wall. After about a mile there will be a small tunnel though some boulders and after about 2.6 miles the ditch will end at bear spring.

Bear spring is a good place to turn around because from here the trail goes straight up hill for about 1.5 miles to intersect the Walker Canyon trail. You can make this a loop hike by taking the Walker Canyon trail 1.5 miles over to the Gardner Canyon trail then down the 4x4 road back to Tunnel Springs. The Walker Canyon trail is closed due to fire damage and erosion, but passable at your own peril. I would not recommend it because the trail and views are pretty bleak due to the fire and there is a lot of road hiking.

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2006-10-08 BrettVet

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 Triplog Reviews
Chinaman Trail #137
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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. ](*,)
Chinaman Trail #137
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we were camping at camp site number 1 along gardner canyon road and i couldn't believe how few people were camped out there. the weather was perfect, save just a bit of wind. i looked at the map and discovered there was a little hiking trail from tunnel spring to bear spring - it didn't look too difficult, so we committed to doing that one (and we drove right to the trailhead). a lifetime ago i remember doing a hike with a meetup group that randy led - return to ditch mountain. i was kind of hoping to go up the mountain again to earn the peak beer that i packed, but bobby wasn't into it. the hike was perfect for us, since we hadn't been doing much recently - not too much elevation, so we made pretty good time on this one. i didn't actually see the bear spring, but we enjoyed a break at the creek, where i had a non-peak beer in the shadow of mount wrightson.

saw a couple of cactus that were just about to pop: very upsetting that the claret cup and the rainbow cactus weren't showing yet. the new mexico thistle were out, and some scattered verbena.
Chinaman Trail #137
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AZT Passages 4-5
It was my hope from the very beginning that I’d be able to share a bit of the glory and adventure of Sirena’s through hike on the AZT. The fact that I am insanely envious barely plays into it at all (wink). So, when my schedule shifted about a bit and opened up an opportunity for me to not only join her for Passage 4 but to take her family camping afterwards in my travel trailer, King Gilbert, I was ecstatic! An overnight on the AZT…with my celebrity friend…just the two of us and the foothills of the Santa Rita mountains on one of the most beautiful weekends of the year? Oh yeah. I’m in!

Passage 4 of the AZT follows the Temporal Canyon Road in Patagonia for the first 13 miles. For most through-hikers, road walks are similar to unwanted chores: often necessary, rarely enjoyed. Sirena had taken care of the first 7 miles of the road walk the day before to speed things up, so we had only about 6 miles to go before we truly got off into the wilds. Luckily, even road walking in this area can be scenic and rewarding. Winding through the oak forests and over the pools of Temporal Gulch wasn’t such a horrible chore at all – and the terrain offered enough distraction to keep us contented as we hoofed along.

Throughout our walk on the road, we were amazed at the amount of water that we were finding. The spring boxes were full, and there was often a slow trickle in the bottom of the canyon. Although it has been an unusually dry (and warm) winter and early spring in southern Arizona, it seems that a few well-timed storms have really helped out these riparian areas. It’s unlikely that the pools will remain long without more moisture coming from the sky and soon – but it was a real treat to know that we would not have to worry about running dry on this particular piece of trail.

Once we turned off onto the Walker Basin trail and got back to our preferred single-track hiking, the mountains rewarded us with even better vistas and diversity. Mt. Wrightson, the highest mountain in the Santa Rita range, is topped by Baldy Peak at 9,453 ft. This barren, granite summit presides over the entire range like a patriarch, and it’s steep wooded flanks have always called to those seeking solitude and adventure. Both Sirena and I have visited the summit on multiple occasions – but somehow it’s even more impressive to see the mountain this way – wandering about at it’s base staring up. Although the Arizona Trail does not climb to the top of this range as it does with the Rincons and the Santa Ritas further north, it does provide hikers with an intimate experience with Wrightson just the same.

16 miles into Passage 4 (9 for us today), we arrived at Bear Spring. Our initial plans were to camp near the spring, as Sirena had often wanted to but schedule often didn’t permit. The spring is a beautiful spot – cold, clear water from the tank and a sycamore-studded stream babbling just down the hill in Big Casa Blanca Canyon. There were some ideal tent sites near the creek, and plenty of trees for my hammock. We took our hiking shoes off and dunked our feet in the icy creek, filtered and drank our fill of the delicious water and considered our options. It was still early in the day, with hours until sunset, and our feet now felt refreshed and ready to go again. We decided that while the spring was an ideal spot, we’d take our chances on the trail ahead and keep moving just a little while longer. Besides - we knew there was a group of high-school students hiking the opposite direction who were supposed to be staying at Bear Spring as well that night, and we really didn't want to be all settled in when they crashed (if they were coming).

Luckily, we found them just a few hundred yards down the trail, camped in a large spot beside the creek. Now we knew where they were, we could camp in confidence that we'd not be disturbed by "eager young minds" that night.

Beginning at Bear Spring, the trail follows a historic drainage feature called a “flume”. This ditch was dug into the mountainside in the early 1900′s as a part of an effort to provide water to a gold mining operation in nearby Kentucky Gulch. Water from Bear Spring was diverted into the flume and ran in the ditch for 2 1/2 nearly level miles to the next improvement at Tunnel Spring. Because of this historic engineering effort, the trail feels almost dead-flat, and contours high above the steep floor of Big Casa Blanca canyon. At one point, Sirena began telling me, it’s supposed to duck through a hole in the rock – but she missed the spot back in 2008 by accidentally taking the bypass built for equestrian use. She was just finishing the story when we came around a corner and found the “hole-in-the-wall” – a small tunnel through the conglomerate rock that makes up the canyon walls. Her excitement made passing up the Bear Spring camp 100% worthwhile!

As the sun got lower in the sky, we began to look for a spot to camp. Since the trail is carved into the mountainside, we started to scan the ridges and slopes that ran perpendicular to the trail for a spot. I spotted a faint foot-path heading off onto one such ridge, and we followed it out to one of the finest campsites we could have hoped for. A small fire ring, cleared spots for ground sleepers, trees for hammocks and drop-dead amazing views to the south, west and east. We arrived just in time to settle in before the evening light show started, then made ourselves a modest fire and ate Thai green curry chicken and rice by its glow. For girls like Sirena and I, it simply does not get any better.

The next morning we didn’t get an early start (which is SO typical of us!), but we were on the trail in plenty of time to cover the 10 miles remaining to our base at Kentucky Camp. We had more historic flume hiking ahead, followed by a series of small ups and downs along the historic water system, and ending with a short but wearing road walk from Kentucky Camp to my trailer just down the road. We were low on food (Sirena’s finally got a through hiker’s appetite), and eager to get back before her family arrived at camp. Never the less, we hardly hurried. The trail is just too much fun to rush!

By the time we caught sight of Kentucky Camp, we were hungry and a little tired in the feet - ready to kick back and relax. It was good that from the same ridge where we first spotted the buildings, we could also see King Gilbert - full of food and promising sandals and chairs. We were on a mission!

Seeing her family's reaction to my choice of campsite was hilarious. It was a busy weekend in the grasslands, and the larger, more established sites had already been taken when I arrived Thursday night. However, I picked out a spot on a ridge with 365degree views - but no existing fire ring or bare dirt. Where do we camp? Where do we make a fire? I lead them through the steps of building the fire ring and that process stamped down the tallest grasses immediately around the trailer. By sunset, they were as in love with the spot as Sirena and I had been. Just took a little "getting used to" the Arizona way of things ;)

I took my hammock down the hill to the nearest copse of trees for my hang that night and slept with a contented smile. What a great weekend on the Arizona Trail!

One spot of poppies, blue dicks scattered, cacti looking like they're starting to bud out.

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 / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

To hike
From I-10 Tucson, travel east on I-10 approximately 20 miles to the highway 83 exit. Exit to 83 south and go 21.5 miles to the sign for Gardner Canyon road to the west. Turn west on Gardner canyon road (forest service road 92) for 6.3 miles . Turn left on forest service road 785(Gardner canyon road) about 3 miles to tunnel springs. There is a small round water trough next to a barb wire fence and AZ trail sign. Plenty of parking at trailhead.
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