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Rincon Peak

Rincon Mountains

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Total Length16.2 miles
Highest Elevation:8482 feet
Lowest Elevation:4250 feet
Elevation Change:4232 feet
Difficulty Rating:A
Best Seasons:Spring Summer Fall
Hiking Time:8 hours
Dogs:Dogs not allowed

Rincon Peak is my favorite mountain peak in the Tucson area. It is as beautiful and scenic as Mt. Wrightson, but it is only visited by a few people a week, as opposed to Mt. Wrightson, which gets about 10-15 people an hour on some weekends. It is really nice to be able to sit on the top of the world and ponder the view without a lot of people coming and going around you. The other thing that makes Rincon Peak a great experience is the hike to get there. You can't see any cities or copper mines from much of the trail, so you can have the illusion that you are in the middle of a vast wilderness. The fact that there are few, if any, people on the trail supports this illusion nicely. Even the fact that the trail is a little overgrown in places adds to the remote feel of this hike. This is a long and hard hike, but well worth it!

Directions to Trailhead

•Happy Valley is on the east side of the Rincon Mountains and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there. The last part of the route is over a graded dirt road that is a little rough, but it can be done in a passenger car if you take it slow.

•From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Grant/Kolb, head south on Kolb all the way down to I-10. Get on I-10 heading east, and go about 27 miles to exit 297 for Mescal Rd.

•At the exit, head north. The road turns into FS 35 after a number of miles and goes from paved to dirt. The dirt road is usually passable by a regular passenger car, but watch out for rocks and bumps.

•Keep going about 17 miles from I-10 until you see a big brown sign which says that the Miller Creek trailhead is to the left. The Miller Creek trailhead is a short distance down this side road.

•To get to the Turkey Creek trailhead you just continue straight at the big brown sign for the Miller Creek trailhead and then make the next left on FS 4408. Follow this road back about a quarter to a half mile and you will see a sign by the road for the Turkey Creek Trail, which follows the road from this point on. If you have a passenger car you should park near here and start your hike since the next 1.5 miles require a 4WD vehicle. If you have a 4WD just drive 1.5 more miles until the end of the road and start your hike there.

•Happy Valley is a very beautiful grassland with some stands of large oaks. There are a number of nice car-camping spots by the side of the road, so you may want to consider camping out here before or after a hike.

Trail Description

Diagram of the hike.

Miller Creek Trail
(Happy Valley to Heartbreak Ridge Trail)

View to the east from about a third of the way up the Miller Creek Trail.

Typical view up the slope on the first part of the Miller Creek Trail.

Rincon Peak from the very end of the Miller Creek Trail.

Length: 4.4 milesHiking Time: 2.25 hours
Highest point: 6180 feetLowest point: 4250 feet
Trail goes uphill

This trail is very remote and hasn't been trimmed back in a number of years. Your chances of running into another person here are pretty slim.

At the trailhead there is a gate that you have to pass through, and just beyond this gate is a sign which reads:

Miller Creek Trail
Saguaro National Monument 1.5 miles
Rincon Peak Trail 4.4 miles
Happy Valley Saddle 4.9 miles
Rincon Peak 8.1 miles.

There is another sign which indicates that weapons, pets, and vehicles are prohibited, and that you need a permit to camp in Saguaro National Park.

Follow the trail towards the mountains as it winds along near the streambed of Miller Creek. This area is forested grassland with lots of large oak trees and large manzanita bushes. There are almost no desert plants, and there are sycamores in the creek bottom.

This first part of the trail is confusing, and you will almost certainly lose the trail once or more. Just keep heading up along Miller Creek until you find the trail again.

After about 30 minutes of going along the Miller Creek bottom the trail leaves the creek and starts to head uphill, soon reaching the signs and walk-through gate marking the boundary of Saguaro National Park. The signs repeat the prohibitions against pets, firearms, and vehicles, and say that the trail is a foot trail only, no stock.

From here the trail quickly becomes very steep and rocky as it climbs up the slope of the Rincons among rock formations, small oaks and pines, and the ever-present manzanita. As the trail gets higher it passes through a large fire-damaged area where most of the trees have been killed, but lots of bushes, grasses, and wildflowers have sprung up below the blackened trees.

After about an hour and 15 minutes of climbing steeply up the slope, the trail levels out, heads north around a corner, and descends a bit into Miller Canyon. Here you leave the fire damage behind, and the trail is wooded and shady as it moves up Miller Canyon bottom towards the saddle.

About 30 minutes after dropping back into Miller Canyon the trail reaches a saddle where you can see Rincon Peak rising up above you to the south. From here, Rincon Peak looks spectacular. It has slopes covered with big pine trees, and the peak is capped with a jagged rock formation. The first time I saw this view I couldn't believe that something that would have looked at home in the Rockies was just outside Tucson.

Shortly after passing over the saddle you come to a signed trail junction. Although the sign doesn't say the name of the trail, it is the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. The sign, which is oriented so that you are looking back down the Miller Creek Trail when your read it, says:

Miller Creek Trail
Rincon Peak Trail 0.5 mi. (south)
Happy Valley Campground 0.5 (south)
Deer Head Spring Trail 3.5 mi (north)
Miller Creek Trailhead 4.4 mi (east)

Turning right on Heartbreak Ridge Trail from Miller Creek Trail takes you north towards Mica Mountain. Turning left on the Heartbreak Ridge Trail takes you south towards Rincon Peak.

Bear left (south) at the trail junction.

Heartbreak Ridge Trail
(Miller Creek Trail to Rincon Peak Trail)

Length: 0.5 milesHiking Time: 0.2 hours
Highest point: 6180 feetLowest point: 6180 feet
Trail goes uphill

From the junction with the Heartbreak Ridge Trail (which is signed with a sign that doesn't mention the name of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail), the trail goes through a big level area called Happy Valley Saddle. This area seems like a paradise; large ponderosas line the trail, along with large alligator junipers and many other types of trees. About halfway down this trail segment, on the left, there is a very large alligator juniper about 60 feet back from the trail.

A pleasant 10 minutes brings you to the signed trail junction. The sign reads:

Rincon Peak Trail
Heartbreak Ridge Trail (north)
Miller Creek Trail .5 mi (north)
Rincon Peak 3.2 mi (south)
Rincon Peak Trailhead 7.7 mi (west)

The trail you came in on is the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. The left turn is Rincon Peak Trail up to Rincon Peak, and straight ahead is the Rincon Peak Trail down to Madrona Ranger Station. There is no public access out from Madrona Ranger Station to the road system.

Turn left (south) on the Rincon Peak Trail.

Rincon Peak Trail
(Heartbreak Ridge Trail to Rincon Peak)

Rincon Peak, looking to the west.

View to the north from the Rincon Peak Trail.

Heading down the steepest part of the Rincon Peak Trail.

Looking down from Rincon Peak.

Looking south at Mt. Wrightson from Rincon Peak.

Length: 3.2 milesHiking Time: 1.8 hours
Highest point: 8482 feetLowest point: 6180 feet
Trail goes uphill

From the junction with the Heartbreak Ridge Trail head south up the Rincon Peak Trail. For about 10 to 15 minutes the trail doesn't climb too much, but then it starts climbing steeply through thin forest with small oak and pine trees and chapparal, and there are views of Tucson out to the west. This part of the trail is extremely overgrown in places.

About 50 minutes in from the trail junction the trail crosses a dry rock-bottomed drainage. A short distance beyond this point there is a tiny spring just to the left of the trail. This spring had water in it in the spring, but was completely dry when I did this hike in September.

About 5 or 10 minutes after the spring the trail gets into ponderosa forest and, after another 10 minutes starts to climb steeply through open forest with large douglas firs, grass, and wildflowers. The trail gets then gets steeper and steeper, and the trees get bigger, until you are going up the steepest trail in the Tucson area. The steepest parts are at the very end, so if you are walking up a 40 percent grade you are almost to the top!

After about 45 minutes of climbing steeply, the trail levels out near the top of Rincon Peak among small oak and pine trees and rock formations. There is a metal stand with a trail register here. After the trail register the trail is hard to follow as it winds through the manzanita and rocks, but if you keep your eye out for cairns you should be able to find your way to the top of Rincon Peak.

Rincon Peak is right up there with Mt. Wrightson in terms of scenic beauty. There are views in all directions, and the top is bare rock, perfect for taking a nap on. There is a huge cairn here and another trail register in an ammo can.

Go back the way you came up, turning right at the first signed trail junction, and right at the second signed trail junction.

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