We love hiking in Madera Canyon, especially with our kids. It is by far our favorite hiking destination in the Tucson, AZ area.
Are you looking for a unique hiking experience in Tucson, Arizona? Maybe you are looking to escape the desert heat? Trails for all ages and ability levels? Then Madera Canyon is your place.
We’ve listed out the 15 best Madera Canyon hikes for all skill levels, including information about the park itself and the AMAZING Madera Canyon birding opportunities!
What is Madera Canyon and where is it located?
Madera Canyon lies on the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona. It about 30-40 minutes south of Tucson and right outside of Green Valley, AZ. It is a part of Coronado National Forest and is home to Mt. Wrightson, the highest peak in the Tucson area.
Its higher elevation can provide a cool relief for residents in the heat of the summer and provides desert dwellers access to snow in the winter. It is an amazing bird watching location due to its position as a resting place for migrating species.
What Amenities does Madera Canyon Offer?
Madera Canyon offers a full range of amenities that are provided by the Forest Service. The park charges an $8 day fee which can be purchased at five parking stations in the canyon (cash or check only).
As you drive into the canyon from on Madera Canyon Road you will first come to the Visitor Information Station that is staffed by volunteers from Friends of Madera Canyon. Feel free to ask questions.
There are multiple parking lots and picnic areas with picnic benches and vault toilets. There are also a number of private bed and breakfasts along the way that could be a great way to spend a weekend! Friends of Madera Canyon provide a very clear map and additional information here.
Are there Lodging Options in Madera Canyon?
There area couple of great lodging options within Madera Canyon park’s boundaries:
- Santa Rita Lodge – Enjoy a relaxing weekend full of yoga, wellness, Madera Canyon birding, and wonderful Madera Canyon hikes!
- Bog Springs Campground – 13 campsites suitable for tents or RVs (although no RV hookups are available)
- Madera Kubo B&B – Rustic cabins with wood-burning fireplaces, birding, hiking, and more.
- Chuparosa Inn B&B – Traditional bed and breakfast in the hearth of Madera Canyon
Madera Canyon is a World Famous Birding Hotspot!
Madera Canyon is one of the most famous birding areas in southern Arizona. It is a great spot for seeing many migratory species of birds. It is home to over 250 species of birds, including 15 hummingbird species. It attracts visitors from all over the world searching for unique birds.
Madera Canyon is in the Santa Rita Mountains, which is home to riparian woodland along an intermittent stream. It is bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests.
Some of the bird species that can be seen in Madera Canyon include:
- Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher
- Red-faced Warbler
- Elegant Trogon
- Elf Owl
- Painted Redstart
- Mexican Jay
A comprehensive bird list is available at the Proctor Visitor Info Station and at all trailheads. In addition to amazing birds, there are also black bear, white tail and mule deer, wild turkey, coati, fox, ring-tailed cats, racoons, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.
13 Best Hiking Trails in Madera Canyon
Madera Canyon is home number of great hikes for hikers of all ages and ability levels, even if they need a stroller or wheelchair. We have broken down the best Madera Canyon Hikes in to approximate skill levels to help guide you to the perfect hike for your situation.
Best Madera Canyon Hikes – Stroller/Wheelchair Accessible
1. Proctor Accessible Trail
This is a 0.8 mile paved loop that starts at the Proctor Parking Area. The trail follows the Madera Creek and provides families with strollers and seniors an opportunity to take in the beauty of the lower canyon. It is also home to some great Madera Canyon birding opportunities.
2. Whitehouse Accessible Trail
This is a 0.5 mile paved loop that starts at the Whitehouse Picnic Area. It provides a similar, but shorter, experience to the Proctor Trail. It is also home to some great Madera Canyon birding opportunities.
Both would be excellent options with that fussy toddler that needs a nap and the exhausted parents that would like to enjoy a peaceful moment in nature! You are likely to see many retirees from neighboring Green Valley enjoying a stroll or taking in Madera Canyon’s amazing birding opportunties.
Best Madera Canyon Hikes – Beginners or Families with Young Kids
Whether your kid falls into this category or not is all dependent on your family’s hiking style. Our kids lived in baby carriers until about four years old. We were used to the weight and they were used to sitting and looking around. If you fall into this category, some of the advanced trails in the next section could be options. If your kids are new to hiking or just aren’t ready a long or steep trek, then these Madera Canyon trails will be perfect.
3. Madera Creek Trail
This 1.5 mile (one way) trail connects the Proctor parkign area with the Amphitheater Parking area. It is an easy trail with plenty of shade that follows Madera Creek.
4. Madera Canyon Nature Trail
This 5.8 mile out and back trail takes about 2.5 hours to complete. It starts at the NW parking area and follows the canyon down the the Amphitheater. If you are wiped, or your kids are not having it, you can always stop at the Amphitheater and have one parent run up and grab the care (there is no shame… we’ve been there many times!). The trail offers great views of Madera Canyon and goes through one of the more trafficked bird-watching areas. You can also do this trip in reverse starting at the Amphitheater if you’d rather have the easy downhill at the back half of the hike!
5. Bog Springs Trail
These are a series of springs that are all connected via trails. While each are separate trails, you can connect many together to create longer hikes.
This hike is between 3.4 and 3.8 miles, depending on your starting point. It can be started at either of the two Bog Springs trailheads on the east side of the main road. intersect on the Bog Springs/Kent Spring trail after less than a half Mile.
6. Kent Spring Trail
For Kent spring, just continue another 1.2 miles on the Bog Springs trail once you come to Bog Springs. You will gain another 800 feet in elevation. You can return by the same rout OR go a little further to the intersection with Sylvester Spring and take a right. This trail will lead you back to your trailhead.
7. Sylvester Springs Trail
Sylvester Spring is on the same set of trails as Bog Springs and Kent Springs. You can access it by going to Sylvester Spring and passing by on the way home OR ou can start on the Bog Springs trail, but instead of going left ot Bog Springs after about a ile, you go right towards Sylvester Spring.
We prefer to do the whole Bog/Kent/Sylvester Spring loop if we have time, whcih is about 6 miles.
8. Dutch John Spring Trail
This hike can be started from the same two trailheads as Bog Springs. Unlike Bog Springs, you will turn left when you get to an old road and continue to the Bog Springs Campground. Then follow the Dutch John Spring trailhead signs, the first of which is right next to a toilet. Follow the trail about 1.3 miles to the spring. It is 2.6 to 3.0 miles round trip.
9. Carrie Nation Mine Hiking Trail
Carrie Nation Trail is a unique Madera Canyon hike. It takes you up from the Mt. Wrightson Picnic area to an abandoned mine. The hike is approximately 1.5 miles each way and climbs about 1,200 feet in elevation. We love it becasue of the historic imprtance and because you can still see the mine shaft and remnants of the operation.
10. Vault Mine – Old Baldy Loop
The Vault Mine/Old Baldy loop is a fun loop covering a big portion of the inner parts of Madera Canyon. It is a tough trek at 6.5 miles and 2,1000 feet of elevation gain. It starts on a steep, rocky climb up Vault Mine trail (1.5 miles). Then turn left on Agua Caliente trail an dhike 2.2 miles to Josephine Saddle. Finally return to the parking area via Old Baldy Trail.
Madera Canyon Hikes – Experienced hikers only
There are a ton of other hiking trails in Madera Canyon that are good for older kids and experienced hikers. In our opinion, they all lead towards one goal: the summit of Mount Wrightson. The views of the Sonoran desert are second to none, as is the feeling of accomplishment.
As I write this article in 2023, our kids have not yet been to the top. We tried in April 2023 but had to turn back due to an excessive amount of snow at the top. The kids were disappointed, however I think it just motivated them more for 2024!
Below is a breakdown of all of the longer and more difficult Madera Canyon hikes.
11. Josephine Saddle Loop
The Josephien Saddle Loop is an excellent way to acclamitize yourself to Madera Canyon’s more difficult hikes. It starts at the main (and last) parking area on Proctor Road. Take Super Trail 3.7 miles up to Josephine’s Saddle. Then, take Old Baldy Trail back (2.2 miles).
Super Trail is longer, but a more gradual climb. Old Baldy Trail is shorter, but steeper. We prefer Old Baldy Hiking Trail and often take it up and back down.
12. Baldy Saddle Loop
Old Baldy Saddle is a continuation of the Josephine Saddle loop. Once you get to Joesphien Saddle, take a left and continue up Old Baldy Trail past Bellows Spring to Baldy Saddle. There are 32 switchbacks between the Spring and Saddle. Return by the same route.
13. Mt. Wrightson Summit
This is a continuation of Josephines Saddle and Baldy Saddle. Following the directions above, then take a right at Baldy Saddle to continue up the mountain via the signed trail. After enjoying amazing views of southerin Arizona and Mexico, return by the same route.
Be forewarned, the summit can be covered in snow and ice, especially in the Winter. This is the one hike that it is best to check with the park staff ahead of time to ensure you are dressed well. The whole route is about 10.8 miles.
14. Josephine Canyon Trail
I’m starting to see a pattern here! Liek the hikes above, you start on Old Baldy Trail up to Josephine Saddle. Then instead of turning left, continue straight onto Josephine Canyon trail. After 2.5 miles you’ll come to the remains of an old building. Then turn around and return on the same trails on which you arrived.
The total trip is 10 miles.
15. Crest Trail Crossover
This is a long one. Take Old Baldy trail up to Baldy Saddle. Turn left and follow Crest Trail to Florida Saddle. Follow Florida Canyon Trail to a parking area at the USDA Experimental Station. This is the only trail on our list that you would need a return vehicle.
Additionally, you could turn right towards Armour Spring right before Florida Saddle. Then you can follow the Kent/Sylvester/Bog Spring Trails back to the lower parking area.
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