Short Backpacking Trips Near Tucson AZ
Jan 13, 2023 at 6:32 pm #3770123Nikki StavileBPL Member
I recently moved to the area and am looking to start exploring here and am a bit overwhelmed by the options.
Am looking right now to do an overnight (which for me would be around 25 miles over two days since I have to factor transportation in) within two hours from Tucson. Gear is good down to 20 degrees, no snow experience.
Any recommendations would be helpful as the local gear stores seem to not have great advice for me besides “check with the Forest Service”.
Tips on food storage in the desert would also be helpful – I have always hung my food in an Ursack or used just a bear line, unsure if a bear can is necessary where there are only cacti and no trees (or the dreaded “sleep with it in a tent”).
Thanks all!Jan 13, 2023 at 6:52 pm #3770126AK GranolaBPL Member
Not to deter you from receiving answers or asking questions here on BPL but… I did a quick and dirty google search for “hiking club tucson” and found a goldmine of FB, meetup, and other active groups with thousands of members down there. Have fun, you’ve moved to a great location for all outdoor activities!Jan 13, 2023 at 8:38 pm #3770129Murali CBPL Member
A good resource is alltrails.com where you can search for hiking trails in your area with reviews/info/routes etc.
I did part of the AZT (Arizona Trail) last year and got off the trail due to family emergency. The place I got off was “Gordon Hirabayashi campground” near Tucson. It is very close to the Mt Lemmon Hwy aslo known as Catalina Hwy and General Hitchcock Hwy. So pretty much from here, you can get on the Arizona trail and go southwest towards Mica mountain/Patagonia all the way to Arizona/Mexico border. Lots of towns nearby to get off etc. You can go northeast towards Catlina mountains/Mt Lemmon etc all the way to Utah on Arizona trail. I have seen people park in this campground for hikes. Not sure if you can park and take off for couple of days etc from this campground. Coming to think of it, I think I did see some backpackers who had parked there at Gordon Hirabayashi campground.
So you are pretty close to the Arizona trail which is 800 miles from Mexico/Arizona border to Utah/Arizona border. You are in a great spot being so close to the AZT from Tucson!
Enjoy!Jan 14, 2023 at 1:45 pm #3770187HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: The West is (still) the Best
There’s the Catalina’s NF* areas, but I usually defaulted to the East Saguaro NP* area as when it cools down in that area, .. it’s hunting season in the NF. In the NP, you never know what you get if precip hits .. desert or snow packed desert once hitting Juniper Camp (talking thigh deep on me at 6 foot).
The NP rangers at Rincon, where you pick up yr permit (before a certain time in the AM mind you), usually have an update on how the water sources are doing. I’d always time it so my last night (“Juniper camp”) was closer to the ranger station so if I got going before dawn, … I’d have the cityscape of lights below me going back to my vehicle at Javelin.
The NF is a bit wilder but I’d be settling into camp just to have a bunch of hunters hike by as the sun set. Nice enough people but not into the whole getting a shot off at dusk to sunset idea. The NF rangers are preoccupied with parking and dayhikers as it’s a huge draw right in the city.
NF – National Forest
NP – National ParkJan 14, 2023 at 4:30 pm #3770202Robert MBPL Member
Yes the Arizona trail is your best choice for longer hikes. Check out aztrail.org and hikearizona.com. Also the “far out ” app has comments from usually thru hikers on the state of critical water sources along the trail with gps locations. Just an amazing trail with incredible and variable views , Im going again next week as the Grand Canyon is too cold and snowy.Jan 14, 2023 at 6:49 pm #3770216Murali CBPL Member
Maybe Robert M or HkNewman can comment on food storage….I slept with my food on the AZT. The Arizona bears are not habituated and they run is what I have heard. Everybody I met on the AZT slept with their food with no opsak etc. I used 3 opsacks over my food, then into a DCF dry sack and into my backpack which was under my leg.Jan 16, 2023 at 9:19 pm #3770524Robert MBPL Member
Yes I done a few of the northern sections in the wooded areas and never had bear issues. There are black bears but like you said they seem not to show themselves often. I’ve always slept with my food on the az trail, only place I’ve had problems is with rodents in the Grand CanyonJan 17, 2023 at 7:57 am #3770533Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
We really enjoyed Aravaipa Canyon…limited permit access makes sure you have a reasonably wild experience. And it’s quite beautiful.Jan 17, 2023 at 5:07 pm #3770577HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: The West is (still) the Best
There’s bear boxes at most camps in East Saguaro NP, but may want to call for any update as my last trip was 2019. It’s desert like but besides forests at 5,000 ft usually limiting southern AZ black bears, there’s a lower riparian area (green lush valley) that attracts bears – ditto throughout the southwest/west* fwiw.
In fact a drought situation will bring bears lower into the desert and potentially more human contact when they discover trash .. though I suspect unsuspecting hiker food is up there on a bears menu. From 2017 ..
The NF just to the north/northwest didn’t have any bear boxes that I could recall, but there’s hunting season there … so maybe that bear population is shy of humans?Jan 18, 2023 at 12:09 pm #3770639Mark WetheringtonBPL Member
@markwethLocale: Western Montana
I’ve done a handful of spring/fall trips to Arizona for backpacking over the years. Some of these are closer to Tucson than others and the mileages might not always be as long as you’d prefer, but the areas are beautiful and well-worth spending some time in:
– Aravaipa Canyon is absolutely magical. But as previously mentioned by another poster, you’ll need to coordinate the permits — there is a maximum of two-nights, three-days. That is a perfect amount of time to explore the main canyon and side canyons and since the area is trailless for all intents and purposes your average pace will be really slow. On the trip I did there, I’d say well over 80% of our “hiking” was wading through ankle to knee deep water in Aravaipa Creek. Trip report I wrote with details about planning a trip here: https://www.trailgroove.com/blogs/entry/194-desert-escape-backpacking-arizonas-aravaipa-canyon/
– Superstition Wilderness: There’s a great two-night loop described here ( https://www.theoutbound.com/arizona/backpacking/backpack-the-superstition-wilderness-to-white-rock-springs-camp ) that I hiked in mid-March a few years back. It’s pretty close to the mileage you’re after, and since it is a figure-eight loop you could cut it short if you needed and just explore from camp on out-and-back hikes. I would definitely do this same trip again but with more side trips on the way in/0ut.
– Chiricahua Wilderness and Chiricahua National Monument: There are some nice trips in the Chiricahua Wilderness, but it saw a big fire in 2011 and some of the trails might in disrepair. Check with the USFS or trip reports for an idea of current conditions. You pass through several “life zones” if you hike to the upper elevations from the the valley floor, which is really cool. And it doesn’t seem to get too crowded there. There is no backpacking allowed in Chiricahua National Monument, but it is such an incredible place for dayhiking. I’d suggest car-camping at the national monument and hitting as many trails as you can. The NPS used to offer a sweet shuttle option where you’d get dropped off up high and then hike about 7 miles back to your car near the visitor center. Hiking up to the Sugarloaf Mountain Lookout for dinner/sunset is a great way to end a day, too.
– Much further a drive than you’re looking to do, but I’d recommend trying to make it up to the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness near Sedona when you get a chance. Some really spectacular country and the backcountry is surprisingly uncrowded, especially if you can tolerate some cross-country travel.
Enjoy your trips in Arizona, it’s a really cool state for backpacking!Jan 18, 2023 at 7:10 pm #3770716David SugenoBPL Member
@davesugenoLocale: Central Texas
+1 on Saguaro NP. I may be heading there myself next week. It is a beautiful area, not too heavily used in the winter, and the privy at Manning Camp is the most luxurious I’ve ever used. :) Just have to keep an eye on accumulated snowfall. Here is a report I received from the park this past Monday:
Winter storm is dropping snow above 6000 feet since yesterday and through tomorrow … forecast calls for 12 to 24 inches of accumulation.
Clearing Wednesday and sunny through Sunday but temperatures not much above freezing so snow and ice conditions will prevail. Trails can be difficult to follow when snow covered. Crusted conditions could make travel more difficult.
If you are looking for forecast, predictions for “Mt. Lemmon, AZ” can be expected to hold in the Rincons as well.
Lower water crossings may be above boot level during storm and for a while afterwards — numerous waterfalls have appeared on the slopes today.Feb 9, 2023 at 7:43 am #3772801Nikki StavileBPL Member
Thanks all, these are some great itineraries and advice to help me narrow down my options. Have definitely connected with a lot of folx here who are into backpacking, but the options are pretty overwhelming!Feb 28, 2023 at 7:11 pm #3774504Steve ThompsonBPL Member
Try to find a copy of “Arizona Trails: 100 Hikes in Canyon and Sierra” by David Mazel. This is the guide that introduced me to hiking and backpacking in Arizona about 40 years ago. It outlines several hikes in the Santa Catalina’s, the Rincon’s east, and the Santa Rita’s. All 3 within an hour or two drive to trailheads.
It also ventures further afield to the Chiricahua’s, Superstitions, Mazatzal, White Mountains, and Grand Canyon.
Most of the loop hiking around Tucson will be in one of the “sky islands” where you often start hikes at desert elevations ~2500′ and ascend 6 or 7 thousand feet. And because they are “smallish” you’ll find most weekender’s in the 3 areas I highlighted to be in the 12-15 mile range.
Out and backs, or end to end shuttle hikes along AZ Trail can deliver more miles if desired. As can the larger Superstition, Mazatzal and Grand Canyon wilderness areas.
And as mentioned, Aravaipa Canyon should be on your must see list.
Sounds like you are new to Tucson, but if also new to AZ, then plan your water carefully. Spring time is usually most forgiving, but if a drought season you’ll often need to carry all your water for a weekend hike. And rattlers are out in in the spring, often coiled in the trail and warming in the sun. (the first couple I encountered really unnerved me, but just be cautious and hike without earbuds).
Food storage-wise, I never had trouble with bear. I moved away a decade ago, so that may have changed, but it was always the smaller critters – mice, raccoons – that had interest in my food. A wire-mesh ratsack always seemed to work, but once I got a bear cannister for a hike in the Sierra Nevada I pretty much started using it all the time for food storage.
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