At 9,456 feet, Mount Wrightson is the tallest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains and Tucson, Arizona region. The summit offers outstanding views of southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.
Mount Wrightson can be hiked via the shorter, steeper Old Baldy Trail or longer Super Trail. Both trails are accessed from the Madera Canyon trailhead.
Note: Hike statistics were recorded with Gaia GPS app.
- Distance: 11.8 miles out and back
- Hike Time: 5 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,000 feet
- Fee: $5 for a one day pass
- Dogs: Yes
- Difficulty: Hard
Although the trail ascends 4,000 feet to the top of Mount Wrightson, the grade itself is gradual throughout and free of any overly steep sections. The path is also well-maintained and, for the most part, clear of obstacles. When I hiked Mount Wrightson in October 2017, I did not encounter any large boulders, though there were a few fallen trees.
The hike up Mount Wrightson is forested and full of ecological diversity, in contrast to the parched Sonoran Desert valleys that surround it. Madera Canyon and the Santa Rita Mountains are situated on a sky island, a designation given to isolated mountain ranges that are separated from each other by desert lowlands.
Because of its cooler and wetter climate, Madera Canyon supports a rich and diverse selection of plants and wildlife. Given this fact, you are sure to encounter a beautiful array of wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and reptiles on your hike. There are occasional sightings of black bear in the Santa Ritas and mountain lions are known to inhabit the area as well.
There are numerous springs on the Mount Wrightson trail system, but they run dry during certain times of the year, so hedge your bets. I suggest you carry three to four liters of water on your hike to be on the safe side.
Also, temperatures in Madera Canyon and atop Mount Wrightson are sure to be cooler than Tucson, but they can get hot in the afternoon, especially during the summer. Get as early of a start as possible to make sure you are hiking up in the shade. Until you reach Josephine Saddle, you are hiking on west facing slopes and Mount Wrightson is big enough to block the sun for most of the morning.
The hike begins at Madera Canyon Trailhead located at the end of Madera Canyon Road, accessed from the White House Canyon Road which begins in Green Valley, Arizona. From I-19, take exit 63 and follow signs for Madera Canyon.
- The Nature of Madera Canyon
- Madera Canyon Wildflowers in the Santa Rita Mountains of Southeastern Arizona
- Water: Carry 3-4 liters of water. Do not count on Sprung Spring, Bellows Spring, or Baldy Spring to be running.
- Best Time to Travel: May through October
- Safety: Use NOAA to get individual forecasts for Madera Canyon and the Mount Wrightson summit. During the monsoon, lightning storms tend to occur in the afternoon.
Want to hike Tucson’s best trails? Read my Best Hikes in Tucson article or check out our individual Tucson Hiking Guides.