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North Tucson Mountains Superloop, AZ

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Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson W
4 of 5 by 2
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Loop 7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,280 feet
Elevation Gain 1,365 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,700 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 20.5
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Peak
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
5  2013-07-13
Safford and Panther Peaks Loop
19  2007-01-27 fricknaley
Author fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 383
Photos 3,724
Trips 2,746 map ( 18,187 miles )
Age 44 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Feb, Jan, Dec, Mar
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:21pm
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Peak Bagging Galore
by fricknaley

The Northern District of the Tucson Mountains is a surprisingly wild and rugged litte wilderness with some exceptional desert peakbagging and bushwacking. I hike here a lot and today I finally put together what I call the North Tucson Mountains Superloop. It takes in mostly off-trail peakbagging of some of the prominent local landmarks and offers a rugged, relatively short adventure.

Start this from the Sanctuary Cove, which I have fully described in my write-up of Safford Peak. This trip will start with a climb of the (locally) infamous Safford/Sombrero Peak. You can't go climbing around here without a trip up Safford. Mark your spot when you climb up the Southern face of the ridgeline before making the final ascent up the western backside of Sombero. After bagging Sombrero head back down to the ridgeline where you can see off to both the north and south, Panther Peak is to the west.

From the ridgeline head west to the next, close small peak and summit that. Get a lay of the land and a feel for where you want to go. The goal is to drop down and to your left until you reach relatively flat ground on the northern side of the deep canyon south of the Safford Ridgeline. There is no trail and no correct way to go. Just be patient and have a plan for where you are headed. You will intermittently see Panther Peak, but not always. You may occasionally cliff-out a little, but there is always a safe alternate way to go. I had to seriously bushwack one time, and only for a very short distance (less than 100 feet).

Keep heading west and cross over a couple of wide gulleys. You want the last gulley west to start climbing up. The good news is that this is such a small area overall you can usually see where you want to go and you can't really get lost. So scramble away. At the last gulley climb up. I crossed over to the west side and climbed up the small shelved peak to the far southwest of the formation. You can now look south at the ridgeline of Peak 3262, east at beautiful Sombrero Peak and immediately east and slightly south at Panther Peak. These views are just brilliant.

Head back down and across the nearby gulley, to bag Panther Peak next. This is very close and will only take 10-20 minutes. There is no trail, but all you need to do is go up, until you can't anymore. Enjoy the views from Panther.

From the top of Panther you can actually pick up a use path, that seems fairly well-defined and follow it down the peak. It will eventually head east to a saddle between Panther and the Safford Ridgeline. From here you can follow a well-cairned faint path the STEEPLY climbs down the north face of the Northern Tucson Mountains Ridgeline. Follow this out into the northern foothills desert. You can now easily see where you want to go...straight east to the small ridgeline running north and south. There are two saddles in it you can use as landmarks. I scrambled out towards an obvious fence marking the northernmost park boundary. Here you can pick up a well-defined horse trail that runs east to the destination ridgeline. Follow this quickly. It will end at the fence marking the park boundary. Cross through the gate and follow an old road until you are parallet to the more northern of the two small saddles. This is your destination. Scramble across the desert to the northern flank of the small gulley leading up to the saddle. You may pick up another well-defined horse trail on the way up. Pass through a gate at the top.

From here follow the trail south for about 10 minutes and you will soon see Sanctuary Cove and the parking lots. There are a maze of trails here. I followed them when they seemed helpful and scrambled when I felt that more appropriate. You will end up in the Sanctuary Cove parking lot to complete your Superloop.

I did not include many distances because your routes are going to be different than mine. The total trip is about 7 miles with much up and down. A GPS, compass or just a good knowledge of this small wilderness are needed. Have fun in my "backyard" wilderness. Please note that the accumulated elevation gain is much more than the elevation gain for climbing Safford alone (the trip highpoint) as you will bag three peaks on this trip.

Check out the Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

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.

2007-01-27 fricknaley
  • 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
North Tucson Mountains Superloop
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Count Tacula was heading down my way and he hadn't done this local favorite of mine so we hiked it on a gorgeous morning. picked a pretty good route and didn't get torn up too much.

great to hike together again JJ :y:

achilles did ok but it's still "not right"
North Tucson Mountains Superloop
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really fun, rough little adventure along the sombrero ridgeline. it was extremely hot and humid. cool caves and cliffs up there. the top of sombrero was covered in flying ants, never seen that before. there were none on panther.

straight to slurpeeville after this one :sweat: :y:
North Tucson Mountains Superloop
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Had plans to do a segment of the GET today, but ended up not working out due to work schedules and vehicle issues. Ended up deciding to just go do something quick and local. Started out at 9:15am, a little late for a hike this hot and humid, but Nick and I are desert rats, we can take it! :sweat:

Made our way up the Sombrero, actually saw an older gentleman coming down who warned us about the flying ants. Oh, MAN! We peaked out at Sombrero, I went for the register can and it was like magnets to metal, they just latched onto me by the hundreds. I've never signed a register so fast, I couldn't remember what day it was but I was so covered in frikkin ants that I just guessed a date and put it (I signed the 11th, 2 days off :sl: ). There were literally thousands of larger, flying black ants on the peak, so many it looked like the peak was moving. We went over to the other peak for Sombrero, but they were over there too (though not as bad), so we made our way down and started heading down the ridgeline for Panther.

We hit the cave between Sombrero and Panther, and it was super cool. Nice shade, openings on both sides. Nice camp spot!

We maneuvered pretty well until we hit the peak closest to Panther, and we got a little overconfident and didn't check the route...and we cliffed out. Rather than making our way all the way back, we figured out how to drop straight down the SW face about 125 feet. Then we tackled Panther.

Heading down Panther, I remembered that I forgot sunscreen in my rush and I was quickly turning into a redneck. Nick did as well. So I ended up turning my shirt into a turban and covering my neck and bald head. I looked like an idiot, but saved my skin!

Made our way down to the Nickmobile and straight for the gas station for an XL slurpie. We were both down to less than a half liter of water when we made it out, so we were ready for it!

Thanks Nick...good times :y:
North Tucson Mountains Superloop
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What a day in the north Tucson Mountains. I love this area. Every time I come here something cool happens. Today was no different with my Great Horned Owl encounter. I scared it up as I was hiking (or falling if you will) down the ridgeline and thought it was the hawk I heard earlier. Only when I hiked by the the cave and let my eyes adjust did I realize I was starting at a massive owl. Wow!

Weather could not have been nicer today. I actually met a few nice folks up on Panther Peak, which is relatively surprising for this neck of the woods. As nice as today was I definitely paid the price....knee is bad and getting worse. I hope my surgery will help.

I must say if you are ever in the mood for an off route desert ramble and you are in the area, you really can't go wrong in the northern Tucson Mountains. Yes I am biased, but they totally rock.

Permit $$

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To Scenic Drive Turnaround Trailhead
From I-10 take Cortaro Rd. west (exit 246). Turn right`(north) on Silverbell roughly 1 mile. Turn left on Coachline (at light) go approx. 0.3 miles. Turn right on Pima Farms go approx 1 mile. Turn left on Scenic, this dirt road takes you 0.25 miles to the parking lot (Sanctuary Cove) on your right. (best keep reading...)

2012-02-12 Caretakers sanctuary cove write: Sanctuary Cove parking lot is for guests visiting the chapel and grounds. Parking for the peak is down scenic drive in the turnaround space. Any cars with guests hiking off the property will be impounded.

2012-06-24 anonymous writes: Greetings! Sanctuary Cove is no longer the parking area for the Safford Peak hike. There is a turn out on the right side of the road a short distance before the entrance to the Cove. This is where to park now. If you park at the Cove you risk having your vehicle locked in if you are not back by the time the gates are locked - which is at sundown. However there is a short hike at the Cove where you are welcome to park your car for that one.
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