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The Best Hikes in Coronado National Forest

16,101 Triplog Reviews in the Coronado National Forest
Most recent of 4,200 deeper Triplog Reviews
4 mi • 150 ft aeg
 Picked up my buddy at noon and out to Oak Draw we went.
Headed out to a location on a tip from a friend.
Tip came through ... Awesome native site were we found a total of 15 grinding holes in a very scenic boulder area. Only had a few hours to explore, will have to come back out for a day as I'm sure there is a lot more to discover.
Beautiful out there in the overcast sky desert.
Not many wildflowers yet, but plenty of cattle to moo at.
Gotta love friends who give up there secret locations :y:
14.78 mi • 4,564 ft aeg
 Got a late start at the overflow lot of 9am. There were surprisingly few hikers anywhere on the trail for a Saturday. A handful of folks on the way to Cardiac Gap, but I only saw one above that point.

All of the drainages were flowing nicely. There was patchy snow above Cardiac Gap. Esperero was especially flush with snowmelt, though none of the creek crossings gave any trouble. Bridal Veil falls were impressive, as were several other falls along the way, and there was lots of snow on the shady side of the canyon. I made it to Bridal Veil a little after noon, had a nice long lunch, and filtered water. I had the falls to myself too. I thought hey, since I'm here, and the Window is so close, why not try for it? So I did.

Trail conditions to the falls were very good. Above the falls they deteriorated somewhat; I'd say the trail just needed a good haircut. At one point as it was leaving a drainage to switchback up to the ridge, a pileup of deadfall blocked the trail and had a rather elaborate workaround, with some of cairns obscured until you got around the other side of them and looked back.

After the junction with Cathedral Rock Trail, conditions deteriorated further. Lots of overgrowth and occasional deadfall, and a few places where the tread was damaged by erosion post-fire. Patchy snow persisted. Between the falls and Cathedral there was a single set of footprints in the snow, but they stopped at the junction, so I was on my own to keep to the trail after that point.

I made it to the saddle overlooking Montrose Canyon at 2:30pm. It had been burned pretty badly, but the views were broad into Catalina ahead and Tucson behind. The trail was completely obscured by snow after the saddle, and there were impressive ice flows hanging onto the rocks of the canyon walls. I think some of the icicles were twenty feet long, gauging them by the size of the trees around.

At any rate, moving forward that late in the day with no visible trail, icy rocks, and no buddy to call for help seemed a Very Bad Idea. I turned around sad and headed back to the car. I passed only three sets of hikers on the way down, none of whom had been any further than the falls. Esperero Canyon itself and the falls are the highlight of this hike unless you are super invested in something past them, so I totally understand this.

Made it to the car a little before 5:30. My phone told me I'd burned over 4,000 calories, so I picked up a steak dinner for two on the way home and ate it.

A few poppies on the way up to Cardiac Gap. Some verbena between Cardiac Gap and Esperero Canyon. Brittlebush and globe mallow in sporadic bloom wherever they are seen.
3.42 mi • 233 ft aeg
 It snowed in Tucson yesterday, and melted quickly. I wanted to walk up and see some of the melt coming off the mountain. When I reached the first place where the creek is coming across the road, I stopped to take photos. I started chatting with a woman who reached that spot at the same time, and we ended up walking back to the parking lot together. Just a really nice afternoon. I was very comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt.

I didn't see any wildflowers.

I just returned from Oregon, a place where, when the highway crosses a bridge, you expect to see a creek or river with actual water in it.
3.5 mi • 390 ft aeg
Posta Quemada Canyon
 I have wanted to explore some of the canyons on the southeast flank of Rincon Peak. Didn't have a lot of time today but the Papago Spring Trail head is just 5 minutes from home so we checked out the lower portion of Posta Quemada Creek. Yesterdays snow was pretty much gone at this elevation but the smallest of streams were running.

From the Papago Spring Trail head we we hiked .5 miles along the road and headed south at the first stream crossing, this would take us to Posta Quemada Creek. Walking along the side stream was tedious so we ended up hiking more up on the hillside. That's where the javelina trails were and who would know where the easiest route were but them. Once down in Posta Quemada Creek we followed along the stream crossing over as needed. This was a bit more challenging as there was quite a bit of water. Not difficult to cross and once you got in the mind set that rock hoping wasn't going to work and just decide to walk in the water. We went down Posta Quemada a little over a half mile and turned around as our allotted time had run out. Was hoping to make it to the old Rancho del Cielo cite but that was further down stream. Not even sure you can hike all the way to it do to private property. I know the trail that comes up from the lower end of the stream is fenced off. We headed back pretty much the way we came in except spent more time hiking on the hillside because it was easier than walking the creek.

Under the right hiking conditions this is an interesting hike and we had them on this trip, Cool weather, clear skies and the streams were running. I want to come back and hike the upper reaches of Posta Quemada Creek above Papago Spring and also Shaw Canyon looks interesting.
10.55 mi • 2,123 ft aeg
Rucker Canyon Grottoes
 I led a group of nine intrepid explorers (four adults and five teenagers) to the fabled Rucker Canyon Grottoes. Back in October of 2021 I did a backpacking trip around the Crest starting and ending at Rucker Canyon trailhead; we wanted to visit the grottoes then, but didn't have the time, so I had vowed to return. This was it!

The original plan was to stay two nights, Friday through Sunday, and have all day Saturday for exploring. The weather mostly cooperated; the forecast of snow, wind, and freezing temperatures on Sunday persuaded us to cut the trip short.

We arrived at the trailhead around 10am Friday morning and set off. The creek was flowing strong, and the weather was beautiful.

The trailhead used to be the Rucker Forest Camp campground. Last year the Forest Service decommissioned this campground as well as all the others in the canyon (except the old group site) due to massive flooding. Everything has been removed, and concrete barriers put in place to prevent cars from entering. It was kind of sad to see, as this area was once a very popular campground, particularly before Rucker Lake silted in.

The Rucker Canyon Trail was at one time a spectacular trail, but it has been abused by flooding and fires and doesn't get the maintenance it needs to keep it spectacular (the last maintenance I am aware of was in 2019). While the trail was mostly clear and followable, there were significant exceptions. Some of the trees fallen on the trail were huge, and had taken out adjacent trees on the way down to create massive pileups. Enormous rockslides from side canyons had buried the trail, sometimes at creek crossings, making it occasionally difficult to pick the trail back up again. Segments were overgrown with scrub oak, stickerbushes, and small trees. There were also several spots that were completely washed away, sometimes for hundreds of feet at a time. Some of the obstacles had established workarounds but most did not. Frequent bushwhacking was required to either bypass or navigate through all these obstacles, so progress was very slow in general. Then there was the creek itself, which was wide enough and deep enough to preclude any easy way to cross with dry feet.

I'd warned everyone that it might not be possible to do the hike in with dry feet; most of us had an extra pair of camp shoes but a couple folks really didn't want to get their feet wet. We ultimately separated into two groups, the "Dryfoots" and the "Wetfoots". The Wetfoots arrived a lot earlier to camp. But the Dryfoots did arrive with dry feet, a testimony to their determination, creativity, and acrobatic ability.

We had hoped to arrive at camp around noon; on a decent trail it would have been pretty easy to accomplish as the camping area was only 2.7 miles from the trailhead. The Wetfoots arrived around 2pm, while the Dryfoots followed about an hour later. (And there was much rejoicing!)

The remainder of the afternoon we set up camp, the youngsters scaled cliffs, and the old fogies looked on so we'd at least know where to look for the bodies. We had a campfire and dutifully did our part to clear out some of the dead wood that had built up over the months or years since the campsite was last used.

It wasn't a terribly cold overnight; most of us slept warm though a couple ill-prepared folks had summer bags. Oops.

The next day we decided to head to the grottoes, which is an off-trail adventure up Rucker Canyon. To get there, you essentially hike a little less than a mile up the creek as there is no trail. The grottoes are on the other side of the Rucker Gates, which are located at a narrowing in the canyon about three quarters of a mile from the camping area. They are towering spires of rock, rising 700 feet above the canyon floor. A few hundred feet past the Gates are two grottoes, the first being the smaller of the two, and the second, much larger one a few hundred feet further on. The second is the main attraction.

For our trip, seven of us decided to make for the grottoes while two remained at camp. Of the seven only myself and three of the teens actually made it to the Gates and grottoes. The rest decided it was too rough and sketchy, and turned around shortly before the Gates.

Rucker Canyon past the camping area is choked with boulders and giant fallen trees like massive piles of toothpicks. Where there aren't boulders or fallen trees blocking the canyon, there is rampant overgrowth. Every hundred feet or so there would be impressive obstacles to scramble over, under, or through. It was super fun and super slow!

We started at 10am, and made it to the first grotto around noon, and the second shortly after. We had lunch there and turned back. I'd read that there are small caves to explore a little past the grottoes, but discretion was the better part of valor. I'd determined we needed to get back to camp in time to pack up by 3pm, since we weren't staying the night and we still had to make it back to the cars.

It didn't take nearly as long for us to get back to the camp as it did to reach the grottoes, partly because scouting routes wasn't as involved, and we were much more willing to just walk in the creek. We got back to camp at 2pm, rested a bit, then saddled our packs around 3 for the hike out (we had already packed up in the morning). We were all Wetfoots on the way out, since we could dry our feet in the cars, so we made it to the parking lot before 5.

Back in Tucson, we celebrated our trip at In-N-Out on Kolb, then went our separate ways. Sunday morning we woke to rain mixed with snow, wind, and really cold temperatures. Seems heading out Saturday was the right call!
10.53 mi • 1,073 ft aeg
Catalina Park Petroglyph Trail
 We started this hike in Catalina State Park and took the Sutherland trail then turned north to follow Sutherland Creek to the north east boundary of the park. At this boundary is the Golder Ranch Trail head. This is the trail head I usually use when hiking this area. From this trail head we took the Sutherland trail #6 for a couple hundred yards and headed north leaving the Sutherland trail and took a trail that has no name that I could find. The trail is marked with Forest service fiberglass placard and is in good easy to follow condition. I have called this the Petroglyph trail because it passes by the petroglyphs and connects the Sutherland Trail to the 50 Year Trail and Baby Jesus Trail.

From Catalina State Park we took the Sutherland Trail, This trail crosses Sutherland Creek a couple times before heading north along Sutherland Creek. Good flow in the creek, getting the feet wet was inevitable, I can only walk on water if I know where the rocks are. Very impressive saguaros along this hike. The grasses were just starting to turn green and there were a few wild flowers out, I believe the yellow poppies. Once to the petroglyph area we did a little exploring but didn't see any petroglyphs. We didn't drop down into the wash just to the east where I believe the vast majority of the petroglyphs are. The last time I was here I remember seeing quite a few. It was getting late and we had a 5 mile return trip. When we come back we will use the Golder Ranch Trailhead and have more time to explore the area.

There are many trails in this area and they all appear to get plenty of use. The 50 Year and Baby Jesus are quite popular with mountain bikers. Great views of the north side of the Catalinas and Samaniego Ridge. Great hiking in the winter and spring.
5.8 mi • 1,889 ft aeg
 Went back to one of my favorite little spots in the Catalina's. Started up the Soldier Trail and then went over to see how much water was going over the first couple sets of waterfalls.

Saw fresh bear scat again this year and numerous tracks from bobcats, bear and I think a mountain lion in the sand near one of the big watering holes. But didn't see anything other than a few birds the entire time. Love getting out early and had the entire place to myself. Didn't any other people until I was almost back to my car and then had to wait for a train of hikers from Canyon Ranch.
11 mi • 3,595 ft aeg
 Overall this was one of the hardest hikes I've done and, in terms of difficulty, is right up there with Table mountain, Finger rock, Cathedral rock, and Valentine peak. I hiked with Patrica G. and we started at 8:20 am. See our timeline below. The Pima canyon trail and canyon is beautiful and not difficult to hike. The steep climb to the saddle on either side of Table Tooth mountain is quite difficult and tedious in my opinion. Once at the saddle, the climb to the top of Table Tooth was pretty straight-forward except for ONE exposed rocky climb section that is probably 30 feet high. There are some rock ledges that are relatively flat that can be used, except near the top, I found it necessary to use my arms to pull myself up. Once beyond that section, getting to the top was pretty straight-forward. If you are not comfortable with rock climbing or if you are afraid of heights, this is not the hike for you. On the last 300 feet hike to the high point, I saw some very steep drop offs to the North and South. There were amazing views from this high point. Looking Southwest, I could see Table mountain. Looking to the South, I could see Valentine peak and parts of Pima canyon. The hardest part of this hike, and most time consuming, was getting from any part of the canyon to the saddle. Route finding was difficult and it would have been faster if we had gone directly to the correct saddle Northeast of Table Tooth, rather than the saddle between Table mountain and Table Tooth mountain, but the views from that saddle were amazing!

8:20 am - started hiking
10:00 am (3.2 miles) - reached first dam, stopped for roughly 30 minutes to have breakfast
11:00 am (4.1 miles) - reached junction with canyon, and switched from the trail to the canyon
11:16 am (4.25 miles) - reached junction with another canyon branching left
11:26 am (4.43 miles) - reached junction with yet another canyon branching left
12:05 pm (4.78 miles) - exited the canyon on the right side and climbed to the ridge
1:17 pm (5.3 miles) - after climbing the steep ridge, finally reached the wrong saddle (between Table mountain and Table Tooth). Looking at the topo map, it appeared that there may have been a safe way to climb to the summit from here, but based on my exploration, it was not possible from here without ropes.
2:11 pm (5.6 miles) - after bushwhacking East around the front side of Table Tooth mountain, we finally reached the correct saddle
2:48 pm (5.8 miles) - finally reached the summit after climbing some steep sections, including an exposed short rock climb
3:38 pm (6.14 miles) - got back to the saddle on the Northeast side of Table Tooth, then started to bushwhack down from here. We ate a late lunch, taking at least 30 minutes, which used some extra time and we knew we would be hiking out on the trail in darkness. This bushwhack down was very steep and there was a lot of grass, which could have been dangerous because it would have been easy to slip. We just had to take this section really slow.
5:58 pm (7.17 miles) - reached a canyon where the hiking was easier, didn't have as much grass and were able to use the rocks more.
6:38 pm (7.78 miles) - reached the junction with Pima canyon and it was just starting to get dark at this point.
6:46 pm (7.94 miles) - reached the Pima canyon trail and it was already dark by this time.
10:08 pm (11.14 miles) - finally reached the Pima canyon trailhead and parking area. Obviously it took a long time to get back because it was dark and we only had 1 headlamp to share between the both of us.

My GPS measured a max elevation of 6,032 feet, rather than 6,000.

Total AEG = 3,595 feet

Note: The Pima canyon trail is much nicer today than it was 5 years ago, thanks to the people who have worked on this trail. I met an older couple 2 or 3 times before who were part of the "Friends of the Catalinas" group who were doing maintenance work on the trail. They mentioned that there are a few volunteer groups and also the Forest Service does some work at times.
6.88 mi • 2,626 ft aeg
Shovel Saddle via Rogers Rock
 Hadn't been feeling well all week; finally got out but it was a late start. Headed to the Santa Ritas to see what things were like at Shovel Saddle. The drive out was super windy, but the winds were coming from ENE so I hoped Madera Canyon would be sheltered.

Sure enough there was little to no wind at the parking lot, which had patchy snow. Proceeded up Super to Pipeline. Not far up Pipeline the trail was covered in several inches of powder, and no tracks except mine and lots of wildlife. Pretty sure the tracks were deer, rabbits, possibly a fox or bobcat, and definitely a healthy mountain lion. Paw prints the size of my foot!

The entire way to Roger's Rock was a winter wonderland with lots of water in the creeks, crystal clear. Roger's Rock was festooned with icicles.

The ridge up to Four Springs was dicey and steep in the snow. It was very slow going.

By the time I made it onto Four Springs I was getting tired and the snow was at least 6" deep in places. The higher I got the deeper the snow was, and the wind was progressively more noticeable. I had a long debate about whether it was worth it to get to Shovel Saddle, which was likely very windy, but decided my reticence was a lack of calories talking. I put my emergency blanket down on the snow right on the trail, set up my chair and stove, donned my puffy, and cooked myself a hot lunch and warm tea. After rest and fortitude I felt much better, and made the saddle no problem.

Four Springs trail was clear of deadfall and very easy to follow. Shovel Saddle was very windy but surprisingly it didn't freeze me out. The snowdrifts were pretty deep. I took some pictures before heading back down to the car.

Progress downhill was much faster. I did slip on the off-trail ridge segment once, but didn't get even a scratch. I filtered some water in the creek above the intersection with Pipeline, and man was it good!

Another set of human tracks were on Pipeline on my return, headed down. Otherwise the only people I saw were at the parking lot, and a gentleman with his grandson on Super a hundred feet or so from the trailhead. It was a tough hike up (until I ate something) but well worth the effort.
14.69 mi • 1,744 ft aeg
 Well Pernell invited Rowdy and me to do this hike and we jumped on it. We met up at the Oak Tree Canyon Trailhead which is fairly new and is really nice.
Pernell’s dad shuttled us to Gardner Canyon Trailhead and on the way there we seen three deer crossing the road. Of course we had no idea that was all the wildlife we would see except for a few hawks.
Once we were on trail it was cold and windy and sometimes really windy. Go thing we were both prepared for the weather. We only met one couple on the entire hike. The solitude was nice and so much to see without anyone else around.
Hopefully we can do some more hikes before the heat kicks in.

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