Mount Hopkins is the second-most prominent mountain in the Santa Rita Range in southern Arizona, about midway between Tucson and Nogales. Situated west of the range highpoint Mount Wrightson, Mount Hopkins is an attractive pointed mountaintop housing the Whipple Observatory. The giant blocky observatory building sits smack on the very summit*, and is visible from many miles away. A narrow paved road snakes to the summit, but a far more rewarding hiking route starts from the popular Madera Canyon to the north, with a variety of trails and options for loop hikes.
Madera Canyon is incredibly popular. Its proximity to Tucson (about 45 miles), paved road access, beautiful scenery, picnic tables, running streams and multitude of hiking trails means that on most weekends from spring to fall, it will be packed. The trailhead(s) are at 5,400 feet, high enough to mitigate the worst of the summer heat, meaning that half of Tucson may be up here trying to catch some relief during the summer. Despite the crowds, you’ll find the trails to be relatively uncrowded. Most people are out for easy nature strolls. Many more are probably seeking out mighty Wrightson. Relatively few will be heading up to Hopkins. All of the trails are well-maintained and a pleasure to hike. This is easily one of the premier hiking regions in the state.
(* Actually, a pile of rocks near the garage/power plant may be slightly higher. The map shows a tiny 8,560-foot contour here)
Mount Hopkins, looking up into Madera Canyon
Follow Interstate-19 south from Tucson about 20 miles to the town of Sahuarita. Take the Continental Road exit, and proceed east. Make a couple of right turns, following the signs. You’ll turn onto White House Road. Drive 13.5 miles southeast into Madera Canyon.
The road is paved to the end and in usually fine condition. It gains about 2,500 feet from Sahuarita to the end at Madera Canyon, and the final few miles can be steep. There are narrow one-lane bridges along the way. Although not specifically prohibited, pulling a huge trailer may not be advised due to the steep sections, narrow bridges and a couple of tight turns in spots.
Visitors will be obliged to purchase a $5 day-use permit, available from many self-help kiosks spaced near the parking areas. The upper trailhead parking areas are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and they can be pretty strict about ticketing people who arrive early or stay late. There is strictly no camping at the parking areas.
This use permit can be used on the same day on the Catalina Road and Sabino Canyon hikes north of Tucson
The observatory from the summit road.
Camping is available at the Bog Springs Campground, about 1.5 miles before the end of the road. Turn left at the sign, and drive 0.6 mile to the loop campground. There are about 10 spots in a very pretty setting. A site costs $10 per night as of 2011.
The Santa Rita Lodge
offers cabins and simple amenities. There are a number of summer homes up here, too.
Sahuarita is a small town but has all amenities. Nearby Green Valley is also a full-service city. Tucson to the north has all sorts of places to stay, eat and shop.
External LinksWhipple Observatory
Coronado National Forest: Madera Canyon
Trip Report, 9-10-11 (www.surgent.net)