Southern Arizona Trails
Easily completed in half a day, yet encompassing a variety of fine vistas, this pleasant ramble is a good introduction to the Santa Rita Mountains. Included on the itinerary are four near-perennial watering holes, making this an especially good route for observing wildlife.
Drive about 25 miles south of Tucson on Interstate Highway 19 and take the Continental exit. Drive under the interstate highway and take the right turn 1.1 miles later. Just after milepost 12, take the left turn and drive 0.5 mile uphill to the Bog Springs Campground. The trail starts after the third campsite on the right. Day use parking and/or camping costs five dollars which can be paid at the self-registration station past a couple of more campsites on the left. Pick up the free (non-topographic) map that shows the major trails and trailheads of the Santa Ritas. If you do not wish to pay a five-dollar fee for camping or parking, use the free day use parking adjacent to the campground turnoff. Then, either walk up the road or take the shorter (but steeper and rockier) trail to the camping area. This is the only car camping area in Madera Canyon.
From the trailhead at Bog Springs Campground (0.0 miles; 5,080 feet in elevation) follow a rocky jeep track (now closed to motor vehicles) as it crosses a small drainage, then ascends moderately through a forest cover of emery oak, Arizona white oak, alligator juniper, and silverleaf oak. The road steepens a bit as it climbs up to a saddle (0.7; 5,340). Bear left at the signed junction onto the narrow trail that can be seen sneaking off to the left; from here we work our way up onto a hillside that affords a pleasant view across Madera Canyon to the tawny grasslands beyond. About 0.6 mile along this trail we cross a small drainage, then climb a short distance to Bog Springs (1.4; 5,880). Here there are a few fair campsites, beneath a shady overstory of Arizona walnuts, rustling sycamores, silverleaf oaks, some tall Apache pines, and a few Douglas firs. This is a good spot to observe wildlife; Mexican jays are common, and wild turkeys and Coues white-tailed deer are frequent visitors during the cooler months of the year. The spring almost always has water, but check it out with the Forest Service if you will be depending on it during dry weather. There is a faucet just beyond the spring so you need not take water from the tank where wildlife drinks. Many people trust water from this faucet but an ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure.
From here the trail proceeds up a ravine a short distance, then climbs out steeply to the right. After gaining a ridge, we switchback more moderately uphill, and an impressive view opens up across the densely forested headwaters of Madera Canyon to the rugged, cliffbound summit of 9,453-foot Mount Wrightson. Presently the switchbacks cease, and we traverse across a sunny, south-facing slope planted with Chihuahua pine and Mexican pinyon pine to signed Kent Spring (2.7; 6,640), about as reliable as Bog Springs. There are campsites here, but they are not as attractive as the ones at Bog Springs. At one time the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a trail to a saddle high above. The Forest Service was planning to restore the washed-out trail until the saddle was burned off in a fire. Now, plans to restore the trail are being resurrected.
Here our route rejoins the abandoned jeep road, which leads very steeply downhill, following the pleasantly forested ravine draining Kent Spring. In about 0.5 mile we pass Sylvester Spring, climb out of the ravine to the left, and drop into a tributary of Madera Creek. This tributary often has running water, but it offers only poor campsites. At an unsigned fork in the road we go right and proceed a short distance back to the same saddle we crossed earlier in the day (4.1; 5,340). To complete your trek, retrace your steps 0.7 mile to Bog Springs Campground (4.8; 5,040).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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