We love hiking in Madera Canyon with our kids. It is by far our favorite hiking destinations in the Tucson area. What about you?
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 have hiked at pretty much every popular location in the greater Tucson area and Madera Canyon is by far our favorite!
What is Madera Canyon and Where is it Located?
Madera Canyon lies on the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains about 30-40 minutes south of Tucson. 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 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.
Kid-Friendly Madera Canyon Hiking Options
Madera Canyon is home number of great hikes for kids of all ages, even if they need a stroller. Below we have broken them down by age to help you pick out the best for your family.
Hiking in Madera Canyon with Babies & Toddler – Stroller/Wheelchair Accessible
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.
Whitehouse Accessible Trail
This is a 0.5 mile paved loop that starts at the Whitehouse Parking Area. It provides a similar experience to the proctor trail.
Proctor Road Nature Trail
This is a paved trail with a stream running alongside. If the water is high there is also a nice waterfall. It is slightly longer than the two above at 1.4 miles and arguably more interesting if your kids would like to get out and get wet! It is accessed from the Proctor Parking Area.
All 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!
Hiking in Madera Canyon with Little/Medium-sized Kiddos
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.
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!
These are a series of springs that are all connected via trails. The longest rout is 6.2 miles round trip to Kent Spring. The hike can be started at either the Madera Trail Head and Picnic Center or the Nature Trail and Amphitheater parking area. The trail is steep in parts but the trail is wide and safe. When the snow is melting the water in the creeks will be moving fast and you will have many opportunities to see small waterfalls. We love this series of hikes because it provides options. You can have a mental goal to hike the whole loop, however, can always turn back at Sylvester or Bog Springs if the day just isn’t going well.
Old Baldy Trail
If were to pick one trail for kids in the 6-10 age range, it would be Old Baldy. This is a 2.5 mile hike up the mountain. All of the prior trails are more in the lower part of the canyon. This takes you up to Josephine Saddle at 7080 feet above sea level. The real reason we love it is that it is our preferred route for submitting Mount Wrightson. It basically takes you half-way to the summit and gives everyone a chance to take to hear the beauty of that hike. We took each kid at around 6-7 years old on their first hike up Old Baldy. When we got back down, each one said they were ready for Mount Wrightson!
Hiking in Madera Canyon with Older Kids and Adults
There are a ton of other hiking trails in Madera Canyon that are good for older kids. In our opinion though, there is only one hike that is worth doing and that is up to 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 quick breakdown of each of the trails that you will need to take to get to the top.
Old Baldy Trail
As mentioned above, this is the more direct route. The climb is steeper, but worth it. Your other option is Supertrail which climbs at a more gradual pace but is 1.2 miles longer… each way! There is a very clear sign once you’ve reached Josephine Saddle. The saddle is beautifully shaded and is a perfect place to stop for a snack. Just don’t stop too long. Kids’ success is tied to momentum. If you let them realize how tired they are then they will not go on!
Old Baldy Trail Continued
You will take a left and take Old Baldy another 1.8 miles to Baldy Saddle at an elevation of 8780 feet. Again you can take Supertrail, which goes the other way around the mountain, at a cost of another 1.5 miles… each way! Plus, the views starting in the middle of this section of Old Baldy are absolutely stunning! You will pass Bellow Spring on this route too.
This one doesn’t have an actual name, but it takes you from Baldy Saddle, where Old Baldy meets up with Supertrail, to the summit. You will climb another 673 feet in 0.9 miles to get to the summit. Because of the elevation flora and fauna are scarce. It can be quite cold and windy, so make sure you bring a jacket! And more importantly, make sure you spend sometime soaking in the beauty and the awesome sense of accomplishment that you are now feeling!
Why do we love Hiking in Madera Canyon Hiking with Kids?
Much of the kid-friendly hiking around Tucson is in a traditional Sonoran desert environment – i.e. Saguaro Cacti and heat. Madera Canyon provides a break for the heat of the desert and a new and unique environment, full of running water and Arizona Pines! Being from Minnesota, there is nothing better than the smell of the fresh pine needs under our feet as we pass through Josephine Saddle!
With paved, stroller accessible paths, short hikes for little ones, and long hikes for older kids, there is something for everyone. It is even better if you are visiting grandparents in Green Valley as it is very close and has hikes that they can enjoy too. Madera Canyon truly is the perfect hiking destinations for families with kids.
Let us know if the comments if you took any of these hikes and what you thought of them!
Other Hiking Options in Tucson
Looking for other options for hiking with kids in Tucson? Here are some of our favorites!
- Best Hiking in Sabino Canyon with Kids
- Best Hiking in Saguaro National Park with Kids
- Best Hiking in Catalina State Park with Kids
- Best Hiking in Saguaro National Park (West) with Kids
- The Ultimate Guide to Canoa Hills Trails Park with Kids
- Ultimate Guide to Canoa Ranch Conservation Park with Kids
- Ultimate Guide to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum with Kids