The Best Hikes in Saguaro Wilderness

542 Triplog Reviews in the Saguaro Wilderness
Most recent of 130 deeper Triplog Reviews
5.21 mi • 599 ft aeg
SNP Wild Horse Tanks
Another short hike Sunday Morning Close to home. We wanted to see what the Monsoon rains did for Wild Horse Tanks. The desert was a beautiful green after the rains but Wild Horse Canyon was kind of a disappointment. It had been running but it must of been over a week ago, the tanks had water but they were green and and algae was growing in them. The heavy rains they had on the far east side of Tucson must of been just west of this area. We stopped and admired what I think is probably the most amazing saguaro in the park, may not be the tallest but definitely the most majestic. I couldn't count all the arms but over 30 by my guess. We headed upstream past the tanks to an impassible waterfall and turned around there. Actually this was the second waterfall, the first could be bypassed on the west side of the creek on a faint user trail. The second falls could also be bypassed similarly but it was 0800 sticky and getting warmer, time to head back. We took the Garwood Trail back to Bajada Wash down to the Wild Horse Trail. There were maybe a half dozen hikers on the trail, overall pretty light traffic.
10.6 mi • 2,937 ft aeg
If you’re wondering if Quilter trail is as dull as it was last year the big update is nothings changed!
It is however a good fitness backpack and a chance to meet whatever personalities hiking the AZT show up at Grass Shack. This year did not disappoint.
This trail is in great shape the whole way. Lots of grasses and exposure so even though it’s 70 now it might as well be 90. There are brief moments of shade. Thanks to encroaching development even 9 miles in you will still enjoy views of roofs.
Grass Shack has lots of water. Not flowing creek goodness but just up from the camp there are good deep clear pools still and a teensy bit of flow. Tasted delish! Pleasant night dropping maybe to 42. Bear box is fine.
The hike back is long. Save water for the last bit of hot jeep road. Somehow it took longer to get back than going. Thank goodness for good company.
19.8 mi • 3,643 ft aeg
Loma Alta Trailhead to Grass Shack
Started at the Loma Alta trailhead around 10am on the Hope Camp trail, making my way to Grass Shack campground for a 1-nighter. Hope Camp is essentially a dirt road, also used for horseback riding and mountain biking (had to keep an eye out for bikers on my return trip!). Not much net elevation gain here.

After 2.3 miles by the sign, I turned north onto the Quilter trail. This section begins with a lazy winding route through some grasses, approaching the base of the mountains. Ran into a very nice AZT thru-hiker at a dry riverbed crossing. The trail gains about 1200 feet after this point, then holds mostly level around 4300 feet until the intersection with Manning Camp. This section of the hike offers a very nice south-facing view of SNP East, which lasts for several miles and includes several opportune spots to take a breather.

7.8 miles from the trailhead, you reach the Manning Camp trailhead, which will take you the rest of the way to Grass Shack. This trail gains about another 1200 feet to the campsite. Grass Shack is about 200 feet below the maximum elevation of the trail, which will warm you up nicely in the morning if you choose to return along the same route.

Grass Shack offers three campsites which must be reserved through the National Park Service. I had reserved my site through the proper channels a few days earlier, and arrived around 3pm. Several more groups and a few AZT thru-hikers arrived later in the afternoon. Fairly certain there were more groups at the site than technically permitted, but they were respectful of the area so it didn't feel crowded.

The facilities were as well maintained as one can expect ten miles into the park. The convenience of the outhouse was greatly appreciated, and I was pleased to find water near the site that could be filtered for drinking and cooking. I'm no ultralighter, so had I carried two gallons of water in with me just to be safe. As of November 2021, campfires aren't allowed at Grass Shack, so be sure to bring a camp stove if you'd like to cook.

The bear box at campsite 1 is a bit busted. The latch was caught in the up position when I arrived, but the door was still locked shut. Some handy tent stakes left under the bear box by previous hikers (no doubt for exactly this purpose) allowed me to lever it loose. If you close the door GENTLY, the latch won't 'jump' as it is closed and will stay securely in the down and locked position.

The next morning, I retraced my route backwards to the Loma Alta trailhead. All in all a very nice trip.
7.22 mi • 1,010 ft aeg
Garwood Dam mishaps
I set out to do a shorter version of the Garwood Trail loop. I took some wrong turns along the way. I had a fine time, but I don't recommend retracing my steps for reasons I'll explain.

This is my first time hiking in this area. This is a well-used section of the park, and there's quite a network of trails connecting to one another. This isn't like backcountry hiking where you're not sure if you're still on the trail or not. You can't get lost that way. With so many trails here, the challenge is figuring out WHICH trail you should be on. There are parts with five-way intersections, and the NPS signs work differently than the Forest Service signs.

The first thing I realized is that I missed the turn for Garwood Trail and did the loop clockwise instead of counter-clockwise like I intended. There's nothing wrong with this, except the approach of some of the landmarks is a little less dramatic, and heading up the Douglas Springs Trail right away hits you with a bit of elevation gain right off the bat. If you take the right onto Garwood Trail, you'll stay in the cactus forest a bit longer before meeting a more gradual elevation gain.

After slogging up the Douglas Springs Trail, I considered heading to up the Bridal Wreath Falls, but a returning hiker tipped me off there was just a trickle in the falls that day, so I hooked a right onto the Carillo Trail to take the shorter loop I intended.

After hiking down this span of trail a little ways, you come into this weirdly serene valley. It's got a little ridge on one side blocking exposure to the foothills, and another little ridge heading up on the Rincon side. It was completely silent in this valley. No wind or rustling. No birds or insects. It was really strange and if not for the sound of my own feet I'd have worried I went deaf. You can spy some interesting looking canyons here too, all very inviting. (Please don't hike off-trail in Saguaro NP.) After making your way through this quiet zone, the terrain turns into a riparian section, with green grass, although I didn't see an open river. This section comes out over a little wash/canyon which had some water running through it on this day, and downstream from that is the Steel Tank.

The steel tank didn't have any water in in this day, but it's always pretty neat stumbling across a big manmade structure in the wilderness. It's here I made my next mis-step. I hooked a right and followed a few other hikers west down the prominent Three Tank Trail. Except, the trail that goes to Garwood Dam is the Carillo Trail, which is south of the tank and a little harder to spot.

Oh well. The Three Tank Trail is still a nice hike, with good vistas that overlook deep canyons and dropoffs, and at this point you're gently losing elevation. The next junction, for Wildhorse Trail, was particularly scenic, but I also failed to realize that was the next best route to Garwood Dam.

My phone (recording the GPS track) was running low on battery, but I was feeling pretty confident about the time I'm making as I decend back into the cactus forest, when I come to one of those 5-way intersections. This warrants pulling out my device to realize I completely missed the highlight of the hike, Garwood Dam!

So now my loop has gained an extra out-and-back spur down Garwood Trail. It's easy hiking... did I mention this trail system is shared with horses? So in addition to the usual challenges of putting your feet on stable ground and not putting your feet into sharp plants, there's a bonus challenge of not putting your feet on horse presents, which sometimes takes a little extra footwork. Anyway, this section of trail is easy except for jumping over not a few horse bombs. There's a particularly beautiful crested cactus along this span too, right at Bajada Wash.

You hook a right a the fork and follow that until it overlooks Wild Horse Canyon, and there it is up the canyon, the Garwood Dam. It predates this place's status as a National Park and it's not the hugest thing in the world but it's pretty impressive when you learn it was built by one guy to provide water to his house! There's this stone and rebar pad overlooking the canyon - this was where the house electrical generator sat - that provides a good viewing point for the dam and the canyon.

I hiked up the trail to the dam. There was some water flowing through the canyon today, although the old reservoir has silted up and turned into a verdant patch of mud, and the dam has holes in it so water runs through and not over. I took a lot of pictures from the outcropping on the near side of the dam, but heeded the posted warning sign about not scrambling across the top of the dam itself. That would be an unfortunate fall.

When I was satisfied at the dam, I backtracked back to the five way intersection. Like, there are actually two junctions, each with their own set of signs. I managed to set off on the wrong trail again before realizing the mistake, backtracking to the junction, and finally heading down the Garwood Trail back to the trailhead. My phone had completely died at this point.
15.9 mi • 6,975 ft aeg
Quick overnight at Manning Camp. Quite a hike getting up there, but once there, it was all worth it. Cool mountain air, cold water in the pools, and aside from the ranger and a couple of park employees, had the place to myself. Saw some monsoon activity building to the east, and heard the thunder, but alas, no rain ever came.

Wish I had been able to stay another night, but couldn't. Maybe next time. Hoofed it back down the same way I came - considerably faster going down! :)
20.04 mi • 3,725 ft aeg
Went out with the Tucson Trail Runners today. The goal was to make it to the top of Mica Mountain, which is ~27 miles round trip from the Douglas Spring trail head. I've only done this run once before, about three years ago, and do NOT have fond memories of it. That first time, I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, got torn up by the overgrown trail, ran out of water, and almost died from heat exhaustion (exaggeration, but it was rough). Today was the exact opposite experience. Michael Duer has cleaned up the trail a lot and it was in great condition, and it was way too cold for snakes to be out and about. It was overcast at the start but rain had moved out of the forecast, so I wasn't too concerned and started out wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The first few miles were very pleasant; I was moving at a good pace and enjoyed chatting with Ryan and some of the other TTR members I had just met. After Ryan and everyone else bailed on me at Douglas Spring Campground, things became less fun. A light rain started, which wasn't too bad, just chilly and persistent. As I neared Cowhead Saddle, the rain turned into snow. I had already mentally checked out of the run and knew I didn't have it in me to reach the summit under these conditions, but I still wanted to hit 20 miles. I continued past Cowhead Saddle for maybe a quarter of a mile until I lost patience with being pelted with snow and decided to log my extra miles down at a lower elevation. It snowed (and then rained) for another 8-9 miles and I eventually stopped being lazy and put on my long sleeve. I hopped over to Bridal Wreath Falls to see if it was flowing (just more than a trickle) and then added on another .7 to hit 20 just as I approached the parking lot.

I'm happy I got the miles in, but I'm pretty annoyed that the weather took such a turn. With very little training these days, I was feeling surprisingly strong on this run. I definitely had that last 7 miles in my legs, just not in my head (or in my choice of clothing). Mica Mountain - 2, Carrie - 0. :(
20.5 mi • 5,970 ft aeg
For some reason, I'd never previously set foot anywhere in this sky island, nor anywhere in Saguaro National Park. Spoiler Alert: Not a single Saguaro was seen the entire day! ](*,)

Miller Creek #28
This trail starts off with an easy warmup mile along the creek before the climb begins near the NPS boundary. The climb is steady and switchbacks frequently through bouldery terrain. The highlight of this trail is the half mile in the oak woodlands along Miller Creek below the junction with Heartbreak Ridge.

Heartbreak Ridge
The half mile between Miller Creek and Rincon Peak trails is fantastic. This area is called Happy Valley, and it's amazing. I kept thinking that this is what all the sky islands used to look like before catastrophic wildfire. There are enormous old growth ponderosa and fir along with sporadic desert scrub, nicely spaced and overall just healthy looking. Though not reliable, there was water flowing intermittently in the sandy drainage along the trail.

Rincon Peak Trail
The first mile of this one continues the pleasantness of Happy Valley, with a bit more climb. It passes through a couple of drainages that were lightly flowing with winter runoff. There's a tiny flat spot near the map marked point at 7330 where a sign indicates the end of stock use. From here the trail steepens significantly pushing the final 1100 feet to the summit. If I were to guess, this point was actually the end of the original built trail, with the resulting climb having been pieced together over time from use. It just doesn't seem to be a professionally planned or built route. Very odd actually. Nonetheless, despite it's steepness, I really enjoyed this final climb. A bit below the summit there's an affixed register box. It's in need of a new notebook as there is a single sheet of paper that is completely full of writing.

The summit features excellent views in all directions, including the largest summit cairn I think I've ever seen. Another oddity for this peak! The winds today were strong on the exposed summit so we dropped back down a bit to shelter for lunch, before heading back down to Happy Valley.

Happy Valley Campground
I was curious about this "campground" marked on the map and with a sign along the trail. It's really quite nice. Three sites with bear boxes and fire rings, and even a pit toilet! One site was occupied and the backpackers there reminded me that this is a national park, so camping there requires a permit and $8 nightly fee. Unfortunately, there is not a reliable source of water here, though there was still some running in this mid-March.

Happy Valley Lookout
Since I was feeling great, I suggested we continue north on the Heartbreak Ridge Trail, instead of heading directly back down. This was a 4-mile addition to the day and featured outstanding views and the best NPS-quality trail construction I've seen south of Grand Canyon! The lower part eases through shaded oak forest and other desert scrub before climbing into an old burn area and a steady climb. Near the peak, the trail exits the burn area that again reminded me how nice all the sky islands must have once been. We took the spur trail up to the old lookout but the cabin was boarded up and locked, providing no break from the wind which had now picked up even more. After a quick snack, we headed back down to Happy Valley and the return trip on Miller Creek to the trailhead.

This was a great intro to the Rincons and I'll definitely be back. :y:
Drive time to the trailhead was a little over 2 hours, and I think we counted 7 other people all day. My kind of crowds! :) Though the wind on the summits was a bit chilly, the temperature overall was ideal. Sadly no wildlife sightings, save for the loose heifers near the trailhead.

20.5 mi • 5,970 ft aeg
Since I didn't know of any Irish people to hand out with on St Paddy's Day, I went with the Norwegian option. They drink beer too. After I managed to offend the donut lady at 5:30 in the morning (I don't think she ever likes me, I stop in there all the time), we made good time to the trailhead, starting our hike before 8:00. Great temps to start with, a little cool, but we quickly warmed up as we made our way uphill.

The walk through Happy Valley is one of my favorite parts of this hike, nice scenery, and a good reprieve before the uphill starts again. We ran into two hikers about a mile from the top, chatted with them for a moment, then I started my whining for that last mile. Chumley stayed far enough ahead to where he didn't have to hear most of it. Views from the summit were great, very clear day, but it was windy. After a few minutes up there, we retreated back down a little to eat lunch out of the wind.

Once back at Happy Valley, we looked at the campground, then decided to head over to the Happy Valley Lookout. I was originally told that it was an additional 900' of aeg, but was later informed that it was really more like 1100'. Either way, it wasn't bad, as that trail was in great shape, with lots of steps built in to the rocks. It was windy up there too, with no place to find escape from it. Sitting in the sun was the best choice to warm up, windbreakers were actually helpful for a couple of miles even though most of the day had been comfortable in just a short sleeved shirt.

The hike back down was easy and uneventful. There was plenty of water in the creeks and drainages on almost the entire hike, but that water will likely be mostly gone before too long. Great day, and a great hike, which felt easier than what the stats would imply. I posted my route, which was from Route Scout, but used Chumley's stats, since the Route Scout on his phone always seems to be more accurate than mine.
12.9 mi • 3,107 ft aeg
Tucson Mountain Wander
When they said 90 days recovery, they meant it. This is day 93, and while it's still a bit uncomfortable getting out of bed in the morning, I feel pretty good once I'm vertical.

I set out today to do a test run on my benchmark trail, Wasson Peak. When I'm on par, it's 1:30 to the peak from the ECDC TH. While it was 1:37 today, about half of that discrepancy goes to the 25 hikers that I had to wait for as I tried to pass. All said, I am back to normal as far as pace goes. With that thought now seated in my head, I'm curious about my endurance.

I decided that since it was such a nice day, and I had only used a little of my water, that I would stretch this one out by taking the Hugh Norris :next: Sendero Esperanza :next: King Canyon route back, adding 3.75 miles to my trek. This worked out nicely, taking exactly the 5 hours I had to spare before getting back to not having a life, here on the couch. :?

The take away seems to be that I've got my speed back (at least reasonably so), but my dogs are barking a bit over a 13 mile stretch. Looks like I have to work on my long game now.
20.26 mi • 3,687 ft aeg
Grass Shack CG
My boyfriend and his friend wanted to do a section of the AZT, instead of just dropping them off I convinced some friends to hike with them for a while.

Over half way to Grass Shack I spotted that three of the guys had stopped ahead of me. At first I thought they were taking pictures of something. Then I noticed sticks in the air and rocks flying. By the time I approached all the excitement was gone. The guys encountered a likely rabid fox. So be on the look out.

A few pools along the way had some water thanks to recent rain.

It was a nice day for a long hike. This is a pretty easy 20 miles!

Afterwards we went to Saguaro Corners for drinks and food.

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