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The Best Hikes in Saguaro National Park

2,018 Triplog Reviews in the Saguaro National Park
Most recent of 410 deeper Triplog Reviews
1.7 mi • 550 ft aeg
I always thought this was just a numbered peak (Peak 2883), but realized today it's actually called Picture Rocks peak, which is a better name.

Met Jim and started hiking around 3:30 pm. This time we parked at the Picture Rock Petroglyphs parking area. Haven't parked at this trailhead before, but it's a good place to start this hike or to enter the wash. I believe I've hiked this small mountain at least 3-4 times previously, but it's been a while since my last summit of this one. On previous hikes of this mountain, I've seen many javelina in the morning hours. I believe I've seen the "sun petroglyph" near the top before. Also found a deer antler about halfway up which is a rare find. The bushwhack really was pretty easy. I believe it wouldn't take a lot of work to make a better cleaner trail.
7.7 mi • 1,850 ft aeg
Great day for Wasson! Arrived at 10am and had to wait a half hour for a storm to blow over, then Michelle and I started. Pretty humid for the first hour or so, then it dried out.

I'M EXCITED that as I logged this trip, my AEG on hikearizona.com tipped the 1,000,000 feet mark. Finally!!
:y: :y: :y:
36.88 mi • 8,499 ft aeg
Saguaro NP to Molino Basin
In support of the Arizona Trail in a Day fundraiser for the AZT, I volunteered for a segment in the middle of the Saguaro Wilderness. This meant a day walking into the starting point, and two days walking out from the finishing point. As a reminder, walking across the park requires paying a park fee or having an appropriate pass.

Hope Camp Trail
I started at the Loma Alta Trailhead of the Hope Camp Trail. There is a short section of dirt road passable by any car and good parking here. I was surprised there is no outhouse here. This is a popular weekday trailhead for people doing day hikes, apparently. Hope Camp Trail is wide and pretty flat. At about 2.3 miles I met the AZT and …

Quilter Trail
Named after Jake Quilter, an enthusiastic trailworker, who died suddenly while doing trail work. Info on him: [ John "Jake" Quilter ] . According to trail signs, Quilter Trail from Hope Camp Trail to Manning Camp Trail is 5.5 miles, although I measured it at 4.6. It’s always tough to get these right. There was good water where the trail enters the wilderness boundary, at The “Quilter Trail – 1.35mi Water Crossing”. At a signpost pointing right to the abandoned Madrona Camp, begins the …

Manning Camp Trail
Continuing northeast on the Manning Camp Trail, I encountered at seasonal stream flowing cheerfully at several gallons per minute at N 32.1787° W -110.60955°. This trail is flagged for maintenance. It looks like the park service will soon be fixing many places where the trail has become a stream. Thank you, NPS! About 2.3 miles from the Quilter Trail, there is an intersection with the Douglas Spring Trail going off to the left. This intersection is a little confusing. From here the trail heads east and south. The sky was darkening, and rumbling, and I could see I was going to get wet, so I quickened my pace a little to Grass Shack Spring Camp, arriving and getting my tent set up just as it started to rain. Note that camping here requires a paid reservation at Recreation.gov, but it is a nice camp, with good bear boxes that make great tables, and a really nice outhouse. The camp is 3 miles past the end of the Quilter Trail, or 10 miles from the Loma Alta Trailhead.

Saturday morning, I began my commitment to Arizona Trail in a Day, leaving camp around 6:15 am. In 4.6 miles, arrived at Manning Camp, another place where you could camp after making the reservation at Recreation.gov. This camp is a backcountry camp for maintenance and fire crews, and is really well appointed with faucets delivering running water, giant wood furniture, picnic tables, solar showers, cabins, covered corrals, and a propane stove that would serve dozens. It’s a puzzle to me why there isn’t a circle drawn around this place excluding it from the wilderness. No one was around. I enjoyed a hot lunch (using my own stove) at their picnic table, and then continued NE on the …

South Fire Loop Trail
You only go about 0.1 mile on this trail before it bears off to the right, with the AZT / Mica Mountain Trail continuing straight.

Mica Mountain Trail
A quarter mile up this trail, I encountered something I had never seen before, a chronolog.io photo stand. The idea here is you set your camera on the stand and take a picture, which you email to their upload site and they add it to their time lapse photo series. Unfortunately, at 8000’, my brain doesn’t work quite so good, and I am “icon-challenged” in any case, :lol: so I put my camera on the stand backwards. If you are in doubt, take pictures both ways and sort it out when you get home. At 1.5 miles from Manning Camp, I took the short detour left on…

North Fire Loop Trail
… arriving at the summit of Mica Mountain, my high point for the trip. Then back the way I came to the intersection with the Mica Mountain Trail. There is quite the trail network up here, and the trail labeling is imperfect up here, and people have scratched edits on the signs so you don’t lose the AZT. Mostly I was following my GPS, so I had no issue. I continued straight on the north Fire Loop Trail, which seems to be marked Mica Mountain Trail, past the intersection with the Bonita Trail and turning left on the…

North Slope Trail
I headed down this trail 0.6 mi to Italian Spring, which is a large grassy puddle, with good water. Just as I finished up stocking up my water and having a snack, the skies opened up with thunder and lightning and hail. Not my favorite thing on mountain ridges, but I hoped that the radio tower on Mica Mountain would be a better target than me. Hail stings on bare skin. I headed as fast as I could down…

Italian Spring Trail #95
I was much slower than a couple other parties of younger folks dashing from the storm, including an unauthorized dog, but there was no point in rushing and getting hurt. Once out of Saguaro National Park, and entering the Rincon Mountains Wilderness, I had completed my section of Arizona Trail in a Day, but I just kept walking until the rain stopped, setting up camp on a flat spot with great views.

Sunday, October 9, I was in no hurry to leave camp, and continued down the hill, with my pruning shears and saw handy. I trimmed a lot of catclaw and mesquite that was encroaching on the trail, but eventually ran out of time for this. Just before exiting the wilderness, I encountered a seasonal stream flowing vigorously, which I have added to the water sources.

Where FR 37 comes in from the left to go to Italian Trap Tank, there is a wide sandy wash flowing that had to be forded, but never more than an inch or two deep. I’m confused as to whether this is the beginning of the Italian Spring Trail or if Italian Spring Trail #95 begins at Reddington Road and follows the alignment of the AZT. Even the Far Out app shows this location as the transition from AZT Passage 9 to Passage 10, while the AZ Trail webpage shows the dividing line at Reddington Road.

From here it was clear I would have to push to get to my intended camp at The Lake where the trail crosses Bellota Road. I picked up a gallon of water I had cached at Reddington Road and pressed on the …

Bellota Trail #15
The hike through the rolling meadows of the Reddington Pass area is beautiful, and far different from the high rocky wilderness to the south. I watched numerous storms meandering through the area, but none hit me. A lot of target shooting goes on in the area, and even after dark :scared: . I wished I was wearing my orange hunting season hiking gear as I walked along the ridge top. I arrived at The Lake just before 6 pm, set up my tent, and had dinner in the dark. A great horned owl serenaded me all evening. As I sat there, a helicopter and fixed wing plane came in and circled for about 20 minutes, looking in the dark for who knows what?

Monday morning, I was walking toward Molino Basin at first light. It is nice rolling country, and I watched the moon set and the sun rise as I went. Took a long break at West Spring, and then made the thousand foot climb up over the pass to Molino Basin.
7.53 mi • 1,243 ft aeg
Douglas Spring Three Tanks Garwood Loop
Cool cloudy day for a hike. Not much water action at the falls but plenty of wildlife.

Spooked a couple deer near the junction for the falls.

Saw a large roadrunner at the falls.

On the way back saw a desert tortoise on the trail shortly before the Three Tanks junction. A young woman coming up from the other way (obviously not local) was worried that it wasn’t in water, and wanted to take it to somewhere with water. I had to explain it was in its natural habitat and that it wasn’t a turtle, and it really just needed to be left alone. :-k

Not far down Three Tanks was the highlight: a Gila monster! I almost ran into the poor fella. He was very deferential but also camera shy. Sharing the trail with a Gila monster made my week.
9.25 mi • 2,440 ft aeg
Just Another Workout
Trying to beat back jetlag. Feeling like a zombie on crack.

On trail well before sunrise, but still pretty warm out. The crack-headed half of me saw a snake. Wonder how many I stepped on with the zombie half in charge. Very few people out, but I was done by 0830 on a Sunday.

Wow, lousy pace for this one. Must have taken a nap in there somewhere.
18.18 mi • 4,666 ft aeg
Me and someone else had a backpacking trip planned where we would go up to Bear Canyon and down Sabino Canyon. Turns out though, they started doing some maintenance in the recreation area and it seemed like a lot of the trails got shut down. So that wasn't an option anymore so I thought this might be a good alternative.

Our plan was to once we got to the camp, we would decide whether or not we had the resources to bag the peak or just head back the next day. Starting off, we forgot to lock our transportation about a quarter mile into the hike at the register. Before I knew it, the landscape started changing. Just over a small ridge, a few junipers and oaks appeared, more grass was present around me, and the saguaros disappeared. At a little saddle with a ton of ocotillos, there was a crested saguaro. At 32.16478, -110.70747 there were small pools of water a few feet downstream of the trail. (When we were hiking back it was 3/4 gone.) This gave me hope that there would be some water at the campground. More trees appeared and the ones next to the trail were perfect for taking a quick break and rehydrating. There was a pine tree along the way perfect for getting into for shade. Many planes passed over us and in the distance, passing behind the Catalinas. Eventually, the gnats came. Right about as we got to a stream that has a sand bank. They were persistent beasts. They got in front of our faces, distracting us from the beauty of the moment, and just annoyed us in general. This was combined with the sun. It was a bit breezy before but now the basin blocked the wind from coming through, leaving the exposed 85 degree weather coming down on us. We got to a stream about half a mile before the campground. I had seen reports there is sometimes water here and there were pools. They looked decently clear. There were pools 100 feet up and down from the trail. I noticed here, after taking a deep breath, that I was short of breath, as if I only got 3/4 of my breath. I suspect this was because my pack was too tight. Shortly, we got to the campground at around 3 pm. There were a couple of algae filled pools in the stream by the campground. (Read on for better water reports though.) We explored the campground. Campsite 1 had a bear box, a flipped over grill, a campfire ring, and a couple of spots for camping. It was a bit sunny at the time. Campsite 2 and 3 were north of Campsite 1. Campsite 2 had a bear box, grill, campfire ring, and multiple spots for camping. It was mostly shaded there. Campsite 3 had no amenities, just like Grass Shack. (I can't remember if Grass Shack had an actual sign for Campsite 3 or not.) Obviously, Campsite 2 was the best option.

The "restroom", if you can even call it that, was up on a hill with a trail from Campsite 2 leading to it. Things looked sketchy immediately because the building was basically crappily thrown together wood boards. The backside of the "restroom" had no wall whatsoever. There was an old toilet right by it. The restroom is kind of like a step, the door is at the bottom of it, and there is a 2 foot high plastic step up to the toilet, placed on the edge of the step. The toilet had no hinges but two rocks placed on top of it so it wouldn't blow away. When the seat is off, it does not provide the most amazing of smells. It's truly a ridiculous specimen.

We did not decide to go up to the peak because of a lack of a strong water source and an overdependence on there being water here. (We didn't bring enough.) That combined with me being short of breath made us decide to skip it for now at least and possibly do it in the morning. I slept until about 5 or so when we boiled some water and rehydrated some meals. I had fettuccini alfredo with chicken and it was pretty darn good. Sleeping wasn't the best but that's what you have to accept when doing things like this. At 7 we started moving again. I explored the surrounding area a bit, going down washes, hearing the morning dew drip off of grass like a subtle rain, and going to the top of a little hill. On my way down, I decided to go a bit downstream on the main wash next to the campground. It was all rock but not too slick at all. I saw more pools of water of medium clarity but I noticed the pools of water were flowing into each other. Flowing water! I told my partner and we had decided that we would go up to the peak, head back down, filter the water, and head back to the trailhead. We estimated we would be back at the trail head at around 2:00-2:30 pm.

Going up to the peak was by far the best part of the hike. The forest engulfed the area and when it did fade away, stunning views emerged. The sea of green of the basin was beautiful and the surrounding landscape made it even better, with far off mountains improving it. Towards Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak, you could see all of the trees they held and all of the great views they probably hold. The trail at some points was more of like a ditch carved into the Earth to keep the trail at a steady gradient, not going straight up. The peak was visible from this point in the trail, with its large rocks standing tall. We eventually had to go through some of the rocks, kind of like in Chiricahua National Monument. I was unsure of how difficult it would be to get to the summit because I knew it was a rock. All I knew was that there was a sign, up at the top. Right as I said that to my partner we turned a bend in the trail and the peak emerged with a sign clearly visible on top. It doesn't look the best on camera but it is pretty cool in person. There was also some mountain lion poop on the trail. Thankfully, we only saw birds and lizards along the trip.

Soon enough we were at the junction of the peak spur trail. One of the signs was knocked over so we set it back up again. We signed the summit register (not on the summit). I'm glad it actually had a pen and paper instead of just a few business cards like by the trailhead. The summit was on a rock about 8 feet tall. It wasn't vertical though. The west side of it had a small amount of exposure. It was pretty easy to get up. I have a photo of the route. Immediately, the views were stunning. It's a 360 degree panoramic view. The summit rock is also pretty large so there is no need to get close to an exposed cliff. There was an ammo can summit register at the top. I instantly am glad we didn't skip the peak. After a couple of minutes of enjoyment, we got back down. We had our last bit of food and started heading down.

Heading back down to the campground wasn't too bad. The views were less impressive this time because the peak topped them all. Constantly looking down to check your footing also made you not see them as much. The footing in fact wasn't too bad. The gnats came back. I opted to use one hand with a pole and the other constantly waving in front of my face. We got to the camp and we went downstream to the water. We found a suitable pool and started filtering. We decided to have 2 liters worth each. The gnats settled down while we were filtering thankfully. Heading back was a bit painful. I noticed the large hills the trail summited and then descended to a saddle, just to go back up another one. The lack of wind here did not help. Only after the last hill could we feel the wind. Along the way, the vegetation reversed back to desert scrub by the end. We got back right around when we thought we would. Before leaving the park we snagged a benchmark.

I saw a report from October 2021 saying the trail was overgrown. If you consider occasional
Hesperaloe funifera (or something similar looking) bleeding onto the trail and towards the top, some juniper bushes.

Foliage
Some of the trees had yellow leaves still. Some of the trees were just green slightly tinted yellow.

Wildflowers
Light (sparse) wildflowers throughout the first 4 miles or so.
15.2 mi • 4,719 ft aeg
excellent hike to rincon peak. ideal conditions. cool up top but not cold. warm down low. just a little bit of snow and ice at the top, passable without traction though i did use poles.

the upper half of this hike is magic. the lower half is very rocky and rougher than i remember

only saw 2 people.

awesome day
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.
11.23 mi • 765 ft aeg
Cactus Forest Loop
We needed to get out and do some hiking for November but our schedule is kind of busy. We opted to do a short hike in Saguaro National Park which only required a short 5 minute drive to get there. From the Cactus Forest trail Head on Old Spanish Trail we hiked the Cactus Forest then the Mica View to the Trail Head on Broadway then returned on the Shantz and Javelina Wash trails. We did a side trip to Limestone falls near the limestone kilns. I had done these trails before a few years back but was nice to do them again. There isn't a lot of elevation change on these trails just up and down small hills. the 2.3 miles along Javelina Wash was a bit tiring because it is in sand, luckily there were areas of hard pack sand from the rains this last summer. This trail in Javelina Wash is not traveled much as evident from the few tracks in the sand. The only water we saw was short section near Limestone Falls and it was just barely a trickle and some small pooling on rocks. The weather was nice probably in the 70'swith a thin layer of cirrus clouds. You have to hand it to these clouds they stretch all the way to the equator to shade us on this hike.
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