Hiking in Tucson is arguably some of the best hiking in the world. From lush Sonoran Desert vegetation to picturesque mountain ranges it’s easy to see what attracts hikers to this corner of the world. As you gaze upon towering saguaros and beautiful sky island mountain ranges in the distance, you will understand why hiking in Tucson should be on every adventurer’s travel bucket list.
Today’s article is the first in a series of 5 incredible Tucson hiking adventures we highly recommend. First up:
Mt. Wrightson – Hiking Tucson’s Loftiest Summit
The spirit of the Boy Scouts lives on at Mt. Wrightson in southeastern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains. A wooden memorial stands alongside the trail about halfway up to the summit. On November 15, 1958, three boys ages 12 to 16, were caught in a ferocious blizzard and died there. The normally mild weather of southern Arizona was interrupted by an arctic cold front, plunging temperatures below zero. The Boy Scout episode of 1958 caused the largest search and rescue operation in Arizona history, leading to the formation of search and rescue teams in southern Arizona and other locations.
Cathy Hufault, the sister of one of the surviving members of the ill-fated party, wrote a compelling book in 2010 recounting the event called Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy. Hikers were advised to check for weather reports but on that day the forecast called for clear weather and pleasant temperatures. The storm moved in quickly and the boys weren’t able to evacuate the mountain in time to be rescued.
But two summers ago when I led a group of hikers to the summit, the weather was benign. There was a slight chance of monsoon storms in the afternoon which never materialized. We started our hike on the moderate and well graded Old Baldy Trail, allowing us to achieve the summit in less than four hours. The trail originated at Madera Canyon, a world renowned birding spot. Hiking in the Santa Ritas enabled us to not only escape the summer heat but to take in exceptional mountain vistas.
Accompanying us was hiker extraordinaire Bill Bens; who had climbed the mountain over 130 times. He has walked these trails during full moon occurrences and after winter storms with the aid of crampons. The photos Bill shot on these excursions were stunning, resembling scenes more reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies than southern Arizona. He is just one of the many who has fallen under the spell of Mt. Wrightson.
About a mile from the top we reached Baldy Saddle, a great place to rest. Among meadows, spruce and ponderosa pine trees, we observed deep canyons, lofty ridges and sloping grasslands. The final ascent was steep and rocky but taking it slow and easy allowed us to reach the mountain’s glorious pinnacle, no worse for the wear.
The views from the peak were outstanding. They extended more than 60 miles into Mexico and encompassed much of southern Arizona. At Wrightson’s distinct rocky peak, elevation 9450, we peered off into the distance at other sky islands such as Baboquivari, Mt. Lemmon, the Rincons and dozens more.
There are two main trails leading to the summit, and they cross each other twice, making a figure 8. On our descent back to the trailhead, we veered off on the longer and equally scenic Super Trail. It was there that we spotted a mother bear and cub bounding off into the woods, a bonus to an already exceptional and wonderful hike.
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