June 2022
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Mt. Wrightson

If you’re looking to get out of the heat or smoke in the Prescott area, you might head to the Old Baldy Trail on Mt. Wrightson, near Tucson.

You don’t usually hear ‘Tucson’ and ‘avoid the heat’ in the same sentence, but Mt. Wrightson begins at 5,400 feet, about the same elevation as Prescott, and rises to over 9,450 feet. This 11.7-mile hike is considered strenuous.


You may not want to tell your wife or mother about the history of this trail, as it could make them nervous. In 1958, a group of Boy Scouts went for a hike on Mt. Wrightson. When they set out the weather was perfect, with blue skies, but a storm came up suddenly. Three of the scouts became disoriented and froze to death on the mountain. You’ll find a sign memorializing the boys at Josephine Saddle, the first plateau rest stop, about 2.5 miles from the parking lot. Since that fateful day, thousands have hiked this trail without a similar occurrence.

This is also the first great spot for a snack and a human-friendly squirrel. Several other trails start from this junction. Josephine Saddle is at 7,080 feet, so you’ve already hiked up more than 1,500 feet.

During a recent trip with grandson Scott Johnson, the parking lot was full, but we were lucky to find one open spot. Two things happened as soon as we parked. First, the view of the beautiful surrounding mountains; second, an overzealous ranger ticketed our vehicle before we could get to the self-pay station.

That was after we'd asked him where to pay. When we brought this to his attention, he canceled the ticket, saying that there was  half and hour to pay, and we were able to laugh about it, a nice memory with my grandson. It’s always great to get out with grandkids, especially when Scott thanked me for taking him on another adventure.

This part of the hike begins in Madera Canyon, and just a short way up the trail, those ahead of us had spotted an elegant trogon, one of the most colorful birds to be found anywhere, though it had moved on before we got there. Birders come here from around the world to spot as many as 250 species, including an assortment of hummingbirds and owls.

Above 7,000 feet we began seeing patches of snow. Oak, alligator juniper, sycamore, Arizona walnut and pine trees provide periodic shade cover during the trek. White-tailed deer and even black bear are often spotted on Mt. Wrightson.

The scenic views are plentiful, and the farther up you go, the better they get. About 3.7 miles up you come to slow but flowing Bellow Springs, a good spot for those who carry water filters.

Wild Arizona, a group that helps preserve wilderness areas, was helping to clear the trail. Mt. Wrightson is one of 90 wilderness areas that the group helps protect. Congress designated this as a wilderness area in 1984, and the US Forest Service manages its 25,141 acres. The many hiking trails in the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness area range from well used to primitive.

Two trails lead to the top, the other being the Super Trail. Mt. Wrightson is the highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Directions: From Tucson, go south on I-19 for 24 miles to Continental Road (Exit 63). Turn left onto Continental Road and continue 1.1 miles to turn right onto Whitehouse Canyon Road, which merges into Madera Canyon Road, and follow the signs another 5.6 miles to the Madera Canyon Recreation Area. The trailhead is at the far end of the recreation area, near the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area.

Special Consideration: An $8 parking pass is required — just make sure you pay it quickly!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com