Wilderness/backcountry near Phoenix, AZ?

12:27 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Hello!  This is my first post here, but I have lurked a little and heard a lot more from my brother, Gonzan.  I prefer solo outings or to go with just one other person or two, but I did happen to meet Tipi Walter on a wacky summer outing with a gaggle of friends and other brothers a couple years ago.

Anyway, as for my question:  I expect to be in Phoenix, Arizona for business in mid-February and/or early March.  I would like to take an extra couple of nights while I am there to do a bit of backpacking in a very different environment than the Southern Appalachians where I spend most of my time.  I think Grand Canyon is a little too far away, as I would use so much of the 2-3 days just driving there and back.  I am thinking Tonto National Forest may be the ticket.

So, if you had two nights to backpack within an hour or two of Phoenix, where would you go?  What is a spot, or a vista, or a trail that you say, "You have to see that while you're here!"

I would prefer a trail system in a wilderness area that is not overrun with other backpackers.  I would like to see some Sonoran landscape, but I also love mountains and canyons and understand some of the upland in the Tonto is not Sonoran.

Superstition Wilderness and Superstition Mountain look like they might fit the bill.  Is it worth seeing?  Can you get away from other folks there?

If you recommend a place, I would greatly appreciate any info on campsites, water sources, things to look for, hazards I should consider (besides dehydration), and what conditions to expect at the applicable elevation(s) during late winter.

Thanks in advance!

10:09 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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I don't know the area super well and it's been years since I have been there. however I really liked the whole Sonoma area, it's an hour or so north of Phoenix I think, maybe 2. GaryPalmer might be able to give some better info perhaps

11:06 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Im more familiar with the Four Corners area than the area around Phoenix but I have been planning to get out that way for a while. I would suggest the Sonoran National Monument as a good place to visit for some great scenery that is relatively easy to get to but if your looking for a more varied experience with elevation changes and changes of environment, I would hit up Tonto National Forest. Im not familiar with any places there though, so I cant really suggest anything. It would be cool to hike from the desert up to a 7,000ft peak. 


11:21 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace, man! 

I think Gary Palmer will potentially have the most suggestions, though there are lots of others who are likely to have some input: BillS, BigRed, GiftoGab, etc.

11:24 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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I live down here in Tucson and would recommend the southern Catalina Mountains in an area around Sabino Canyon. There is a nice two day loop hike (and I would like to do i with you if you do come down) that I like especially well.

The trail goes up starting from the end of Sabino Canyon and loops around and out another canyon called Bear Canyon with a beautiful waterfall area called Seven Falls.

Clicking on any of the maps below will open them in a new window with better sizing.


This map shows the trail/route. It begins at the lower left side where the red boundry lines come together at the corner. It begins with a walk up Sabino Canyon shuttle Road to the edge of the Wilderness boundry line just right of center, over a distance of 3.7 miles. An optional route can be taken if you don't want to walk up the shuttle road called the Phoneline Trail which skirts along the eastern edge of the canyon about 1000 feet up. I can show you this later.



Sabino Canyon with Thimble Peak upper right

The trail from the end of the canyon shuttle and the entrance into the wilderness area in center above.


The trail goes about 2 miles up to its junction with the East Fork Sabino Canyon trail above right. There is a nice side trail option to a place called Hutches Pool going to the upper left trail NW of Box Creek Canyon. A nice wilderness camp area is where the trail in meets the East Fork trail.


Hutches Pool


At Sycamore Canyon there is another junction and the trail heads south to Thimble Peak.


Thimble Peak is in the lower left corner, the views from the saddle just NE from the Peak are spectacular.



View from Thimble Peak Saddle down south to the Valley of the Old Pueblo (Tucson)

From the saddle the trail heads down into Bear Canyon and towards Seven Falls.


The trail goes down to Bear Canyon and to the Seven Falls area in the lower center of the map above.


The falls drop about 100 feet with beauiful pools in between.


Seven Falls during spring/fall run-off.

When snow is melting or a recent monsoon rain has fallen, the falls are very spectacular


Lower Bear Canyon looking south from lower Seven Falls towards Tucson


Lower Bear Canyon, 7 Falls in upper right.

Over all the hike is about 15 miles round Thimble Peak from Sabino to Sycamore to Bear Canyon. The trail ends where it began at the Sabino Parking area. There's a $5 a day parking fee.

If and when you are coming down contact me at cgptsnaz@yahoo.com  my profile image is me last October at the Cathedral Rock saddle which is another route in the southern Catalina Mountains I have done.

There will be good water sources all along the way on the trail I described above, bring a water purifier, I have one we can share if we go together. My schedule is fairly open on hiking this trail anytime.


11:24 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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To give you guys a little more info, RidgeRunner is my older brother whom I backpack with most frequently. He is an experienced outdoorsman, and an impeccable planner. By no means a newb, but the Arizona landscape and conditions are completely outside either his or my experience. 

11:31 a.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Good to meet another new member too!

8:20 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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I can't help with advise for your trip, but I wanted to welcome you to Trailspace.

I hope you find some useful info here and I hope you have a great  trip out west.

Mike G.

8:27 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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I defer to Gary Palmer, but also welcome you Ridgerunner to Trailspace. Any family of Gonzan's is a most welcomed new member of the Trailspace family. have a wonderful time in AZ.

9:31 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace, RidgeRunner! Glad you can join the Trailspace family.

9:52 p.m. on January 26, 2012 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace from a born and bred desert rat. I did a lot of my growing up in Arizona, born in Phx, brought up mostly on the Gila River Reservation (that's pronounced "hee'la" by the way, not "ghee'la"). I still have family in Phx and boyhood friends on the reservation (Akimal O'Odham nation).

Lots of places to go backpacking. Being desert, it will be a bit different from what you are used to - you may have to carry all your water, depending on where you go. Some great day hikes close in to Phoenix - Camelback Mountain, South Mountain, Squaw Peak (or whatever the new politically correct name is). The Superstitions offer great hiking, now that things have been civilized a bit (used to be a lot of crazies looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine wandering the hills). The 4 Peaks area east of Phoenix is good. Some good backpacking near Wickenburg. Farther afield is the Catalina Mountains, near Tucson (pronounced "too' sahn", not "tuck'sun") and in the Chiricahuas (astounding rock formations). Good hiking near Prescott and Flagstaff in the more northerly part of the state as well.

Some of the places we used to go that were far out in the desert (back when Phx was a mighty metropolis of 150,000) are now downtown Phx (pop more like 4 million now), and although Organ Pipe NM used to be great for backpacking, it is a bit of a gateway for folks from the south getting smuggled in to seek work. Good for day visits, though.

You can get permission to backpack on some of the reservations (remember these are Native American nations, and guard their territorial rights carefully - be friendly and respect their customs and environment, and ask permission and suggestions. They can provide guides in some cases - White Mountain Apache has some beautiful country).

12:30 a.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace RidgeRunner!

I think you will enjoy the deserts this time of year. There are alot of nice trails in the Superstitions with lots of connecting trails to make loops out of. The Dutchman Trail 104 is a good main route with lots of side trails to explore or make into loops. Water is always an issue, for the most part ya just cant plan on a sure thing for a source unless there has been very recent rain or snow in the upper elevations.

There are a few definite year round sources like Reavis Creek. Im doing a 4 day trip out there in about a week.

As for quik day hikes in the Phoenix area I would recomend The National Trail in South Mountain Park.


 Tho right in town its large enough to get that "out there" feeling and some beautiful desert landscape. Also can get some nice views looking over the city. I go out there several times aweek.

Heres a site I really like for researching/planning new trips called Hike Arizona. You can look up descriptions, trail profiles, get downloadable GPS routes and water/Spring info. Its kind of a pita to figure your way around on but there is a ton of excellent info to be found there. Definitly take a little time and check it out.


I hope this bit of info helps ya some.

12:51 a.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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8:34 a.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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Thank you all for the welcome.

I found the Arizona Backpacking Club and reviewed their meetup descriptions of the Supes, Four Peaks, and the Catalinas, including Sabino Canyon. I am very interested in covering one of the higher elevations (such as Four Peaks/Brown's peak, Mazatzal peak, or Mount Lemmon) as well as the lower Sonoran/desert landscape. It looks like one very interesting trip is descending from Mount Lemmon to either Sabino or Romero Canyon (that would require two cars and shuttling, of course).

Will the higher elevations be snowed in in mid-February or early March? Do they collect enough snow to introduce the possibility of avalanches and other winter/mountaineering hazards? I love packing and camping in the snow, but I am not ready for real mountaineering. I don't have the gear for technical work and a weekend outing is probably not the time to learn for the first time.

The Catalinas look awesome, but maybe a bit farther than I want to drive for a Friday afternoon - Sunday trip. That is definitely a possibility, though. Of course, I still have to get the travel authorization from my company and my wife's agreement to an extra two days out of state...

10:46 a.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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There is very little snow on Mt Lemmon now with the last snow falling about a week ago.   www.webcambiglook.com/arizona/mtlemmon.htm  The temperture on top is 37 degrees now at almost 9 am and 43 in downtown Tucson but has been warming into the high 60s to low 70s by late afternoon.


The village of Summerhaven on Mt Lemmon from current webcam.

 I don't think avalanche danger should be worryed about. I don't have a car so I can't help you there. If you are a fast hiker you could hike over Romero Pass starting at Catalina State Park on the NW side of the Catalina's and hike down to Hutches Pool and Sabino Basin and come out Bear Canyon via the Seven Falls area. The trip I suggested above is a two day hike and easy to do within that time limit. You could park your car at  Bear Canyons trail head with is off the Mt Lemmon Highway road near the end of Tanque Verde and not have to pay the $5 a day parking fee charged at Sabino Canyon.

2:55 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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Oh, I was not trying to get you to use of your car, just noting the problem with that type of oneway hike.

Unfortunately, though, I found out today that (despite what I was given to expect), my company has decided not to send anyone to Arizona for now. I apologize for asking for so much information that it turns out I can't use for now, but it has certainly grown my list of places I want to see. The Santa Catalinas are now on my bucket list!

2:59 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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Well, that bites. Sorry man. 

4:41 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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Thats okay thats what were here for information if we know it.

11:42 p.m. on January 27, 2012 (EST)
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BUMMER!! Sorry ya cant make it this time, hopefully you'll get a chance in the future.

5:22 p.m. on January 28, 2012 (EST)
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RidgeRunner, welcome to Trailspace. Happy hiking. 

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