IV: Madera Canyon, Kent Springs


To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Patrick planned a nice hike for us in Madera Canyon. Located about an hour south of Tucson on the edge of the Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, Madera Canyon is known for its excellent birdwatching. (Apparently this is the third best location for bird watching in the country!) We simply enjoyed the chance to hike at a higher elevation and see a change of scenery.

I believe it normally costs $5 to park at any of the trailheads, and $10 to stay at a campground with your trailer. Cash or a check must be deposited into a box at each parking lot; bring exact change! As we visited on Presidents’ Day weekend, we got lucky and parked for free.

(See map of Madera Canyon hikes.) We planned on hiking to Bog Springs but continued along the trail until we reached Kent Springs. After reaching Kent Springs, we took a different route on the way back in order to pass by Sylvester Springs as well. The total roundtrip hike was 5.8 miles with a 1760-foot elevation gain.

Starting from the Madera Picnic Area we hiked for 0.9 miles along a wide, well-developed path that gently sloped uphill. We probably only gained a couple hundred feet here. As we started at about 4800-feet, the landscape was already different from typical desert scenery.

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A dried up riverbed with red leaves from oak trees.

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Not too much shade during this part of the hike, but at 5000 feet it was pleasantly warm.

I suppose I should mention that the trail was shockingly empty while we were hiking. In almost 6 miles we only saw 4-5 other groups of hikers. We also read that this was a popular hike for dogs, and we were sorely disappointed when we only saw two dogs at the very end of the hike. After the first 0.9 miles we reached an intersection that would take us to either Bog Springs or Sylvester Springs. We turned left to continue onto Bog Springs.

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Once past the intersection of trails to Bog Springs and Sylvester Springs, the path became steeper and began to open up to some marvelous views. I think this city might be Green Valley, but I’m not sure.

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As we continued onto Bog Springs the trail also narrowed considerably.

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During a short break I climbed down the mountain side a bit to reach a large, flat, relaxing-looking rock. When I got there I discovered it had already been claimed by this sunbathing lizard! It was kind enough to allow me a lengthy photo shoot.

After 1.2 miles we arrived at Bog Springs, and it was here that we realized the true beauty of the hike was the hike itself, and not the destination. I’m not sure what I was expecting (maybe a natural, bubbling spring in the ground), but the attraction turned out to be a tub with a hose leading into it from the actual spring. The murky and uninviting water was one of the least exciting things we saw during the hike. (At this point I was still excited about the lizard though. I love lizards.)

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Bog Springs – the first of three springs we visited

After attempting to locate the actual spring and failing, we had a quick snack, retraced the trail for 0.1 miles and continued climbing the next 1.2 miles to Kent Springs.

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Again, the trail opened up allowing us grand views of southern Arizona.

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Along with the higher elevation came some baby spruce trees!

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Santa Rita Mountains – one of the greener sights we get here in southern Arizona

1.2 miles and an 800-foot elevation change later, we arrived at Kent Springs. Here we stopped to take a longer break and have more snacks. While we were eating we decided to take a separate trail back to the car. The path by Sylvester Springs was equal length to our original route, so we opted to see some more of Madera Canyon on our way back.

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Kent Springs – the second of three springs we visited

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Enjoying a break and a quick snack

Once we started toward Sylvester Springs we quickly realized that this was a much steeper trail than the one we had hiked in on. Although we were going downhill, the footing was sometimes uneven and we ended up going slower than expected.

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The trail from Kent Springs to Sylvester Springs parallels a dried up riverbed for the first portion.

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One of the most beautiful sights along the trail were the vibrant purple and red rocks we kept coming across. While the red was likely from high iron content, I’m not sure what caused the purple color.

700 feet later, we arrived at the third and final spring of our visit, Sylvester Springs. This had the clearest water of all three springs, and we could see the water flowing out of the hose as well.

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Sylvester Springs – the third of three springs we visited

After passing Sylvester Springs, the trail remained steep until we crossed the riverbed (with flowing water at this point). By the time we crossed back over the river (dry again), we were almost back at the original intersection of the trails to Bog Springs and Sylvester Springs.

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A tree along the path seems to have started a rock collection.

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Crossing the river for the first time at a junction of several trails. It looks more like a stream here but flows steadily further along the path.

Once we reached the trail junction it was a short mile back to the car. We somehow managed to come out near the campgrounds and make a wrong turn, but eventually ended up where we belonged!

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We took such a leisurely pace (5 hours) that the Sun was starting to set on our way back!

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Back at more typical desert elevations – a flowering cactus

This was one of my favorite hikes I’ve done in the Tucson area, simply for the change of scenery and because we once again had beautiful weather for it. I’m already hoping for a second trip to try out some more trails, particularly toward Mt. Wrightson.

2 thoughts on “IV: Madera Canyon, Kent Springs

  1. Madera Canyon is a great hiking area, I encountered a doe and its fawn on a trail once, many years ago. We all eyed each other for a few seconds and then they slowly moved on, it was a memorable encounter for me, not sure about the deer though.

  2. That sounds awesome Roy. I’d like to see some larger wildlife on these hikes, although not TOO large. I did get a nice image of a jackrabbit on a recent hike in Bear Canyon. Coming up soon!

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