At 9,456 feet, Mount Wrightson is the tallest peak in the vicinity of Tucson Arizona. It is located in Madera Canyon, part of the Santa Rita mountains and the Coronado National Forest, and it's a popular excursion approximately 30-minutes south of Tucson. Unlike its massive northern neighbor Mount Lemmon, Wrightson has a distinct rocky peak (as a matter of fact, it was named Mount Baldy at one time for this very reason) that offers arguably the best panorama in the region. From its peak, you can get an unobstructed view of southern Arizona and into Mexico on a clear day.
Wrightson (and Madera Canyon) is a popular destination for many a desert dweller and offers a variety of hiking trails and recreation areas. The trails are easy and well maintained but carry a steady climb of 4,036 feet from bottom to summit. Along the way, you'll go through scrub oak and ponderosa pine forests, being shaded most of the way until the last half mile. The shade and high altitude make it a great hike even in the summer desert climate.
There are two main trails to the summit, and they cross each other twice, making a figure "8". The Old Baldy Trail is the shorter of the two at 10.8 miles roundtrip. The Super Trail is the other one and is about 14 miles long roundtrip.
From Tucson, drive south on I-19 toward Nogales. About 20 minutes south of Tucson, exit on Continental Road (there's an obvious sign for Madera Canyon Recreation Area). Turn left and go under the freeway. You'll go straight through the first stop sign, but turn right soon after onto White Horse Canyon Road. There are obvious signs for Madera Canyon along the way.
Once on White Horse Canyon Road, you'll drive 11 miles straight into the Madera Canyon Recreation Area, enjoying a view of Wrightson along the way. You will have to pay a $5 day use fee for parking in the national forest. (FYI, once paid, this fee will also allow you to visit Mount Lemmon and Sabino Canyon in the Tucson area during the same day.)
Inside the Madera Canyon Recreation Area, follow the road as it goes past some gift shops and lodges and winds its way up the canyon for several miles. Near the end of the road, there's a well-signed turn off to the left for the Baldy and Super trails. Turn left onto this side road and drive a few hundred feet and you'll come to two parking lots. The entire trip is on paved roads.
Make sure you purchase a day pass to park in Madera Canyon. The forest service enforces parking rigorously. Besides, it's only $5 so don't take the chance of getting caught. You can buy the pass at any of the self-serve kiosks in the parking areas.
When To Climb
Wrightson can be climbed any time of the year due to the great trail conditions. However, be prepared for wintery weather at the summit, especially during spring and fall when the valley below is temperate. You will encounter snow from fall through early spring.
As a testament to its dangers, there's a memorial at Josephine Saddle (the first saddle where the two trails meet) for three unlucky boy scouts who perished there in a freak winter storm in November 1958.
Yes, camping is allowed in designated campgrounds. There's an additional $10 per vehicle fee for camping.
Your best bet for current conditions is to call the Coronado National Forest, Nogales Ranger District. (520) 281-2296
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