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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.