Espiritu Canyon Trail

A typical view of the trail.

I’ve been looking for a dog friendly, backpacking trail into the Rincons, which is a bit of a challenge since dogs aren’t permitted in Saguaro National Monument.  Tanque Verde Valley has some good camping areas but it gets too much traffic.  After checking out the Rincon Mountains map I picked up from the Visitor Center on my last trip up Mt Lemmon, it appeared Espiritu Canyon Trail was just what I was looking for.  So last Saturday, Saja and two friends, Matt and Jo, joined me an a little reconnaissance hike.

Espiritu Canyon runs up the northeast corner of the Rincons to Fox mountain.  The trail head is outside Coronado National Forest on public land and is accessed from a jeep trail that forks off of Reddington Road between the 14 and 15 mile markers (right where the road makes a sharp 90 degree turn to the north).  You definitely want a high clearance vehicle for this trip.  We parked on a ridge about six miles off of Reddington and hiked the last half mile to the trail, which begins at a dry well.  A quick word about the trail.  There really isn’t one.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the first people to hike this route in a couple of years.  We followed a jeep trail for a quarter mile until it veered off up a hill, and from that point on the trail was pretty much the dried stream bed.  Easy as anything to follow, but rough walking.

Taking a break

Taking a break

We didn’t see any sort of trail markers the entire day so we just followed the wash up into the mountains, twisting and turning the whole way.  The canyon alternated from a narrow, high walled defile to a wide, meandering river bed.  Walking on the bottom of the canyon through thick brush made it difficult to get a bearing on the peaks, so it was challenging to keep track of our progress.  Thanks to the meandering route our ground track was significantly longer than our straight line distance and it took us three hours to travel three miles as the crow flies.  We made it as far as the fence line at the Wilderness boundary and with our water running low decided it was time to head home.

There is water, but it's pretty scummy

There is water, but it's pretty scummy

Since we spent the entire hike down in the canyon, the scenery was a bit disappointing.  It’s probably better once you start the climb up to Fox Mountain, but that is a good four hours from the trail head.  Give yourself at least seven hours to get to Fox Mountain if you try this hike and make sure you pack in plenty of water.  There were several pools and a couple of springs, but no flowing water, and you’ll definitely want a filter if you plan to drink from them.  Don’t count on finding water here, especially in the summer.  One more word of caution, this trail will be a death trap in a monsoon!  Stream bed trail, steep canyon walls, dense underbrush, and flash flood equals bad news.  Plan accordingly.

Hot?  Just roll in the mud!

Hot? Just roll in the mud!

If you are looking for solitude, then you’ll like this trail, but if you are just out for a day hike then the canyon is probably too remote and difficult to get to.  I’ll hike the entire trail later this year and will post an update.

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Filed Under: ArizonaReddington PassRincon MountainsSoutheastTrail ReportsTucson Trails


About the Author: Tucson, AZ Realtor & Investor. My true passions however are hiking and whisky (although generally not at the same time). If you have a question about any of these just drop me a line!

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  1. Brian says:

    You should hike the canyon all the way and cross the ridge. I’ve did this hike over to happy valley about five years ago. There was great scenery towards the top and on the other side (sycamore and deer creek canyons). I hiked down deer creek until I hit the ranch road and then followed the road south to happy valley. There was an amazing amount of deer in the sycamore canyon. The trail was sketchy at best as you stated. I think I might try it again soon, but will hike up the turkey creek trail and then bushwack over to deer canyon along the park boundary like you have done.

    • Desert Dog says:

      Brian, I’d like to do that hike and maybe continue it up Turkey Creek to the top. Would be a nice multi-day trip.

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