The Rincon Mountains form a gigantic wall rising over 6,300 vertical feet east of Tucson. The pointed summit of Rincon Peak is more visually prominent, while the range highpoint, Mica Mountain, lies about a dozen miles north of Rincon Peak and is more rounded. Both peaks lie within Saguaro National Park, with Mica Mountain being the park's highest point.
The Rincons are the only significant mountain range in Arizona never to have been bladed for roads, leaving the upper mountains in as pristine a condition as would be possible in this day and age. While there are no roads, the Rincons are crossed my miles of excellent trails, and are popular with multi-day backpackers. Dayhikes in the Rincons are usually limited to the lower elevations due to distance, but hardy hikers can easily manage the longer distances needed to attain Mica Mountain in one long day. The upper Rincons feature healthy, mature forest, canyons, streams and rock formations, things not "obvious" when viewing the range from below.
There are three "standard" routes to Mica Mountain, ranging from 16 to 26 miles round trip. The most popular comes in from the west via Speedway Boulevard, but the round trip from this trailhead is 26 miles and is often done as an overnighter. It is popular because of its easy access directly from Tucson, and for the beautiful views had along the whole hike. The shortest of the three standard approaches comes in from Happy Valley from the southeast. A 4-wheel drive vehicle will be needed for the remaining couple miles to the trailhead, from which it is 8 miles to the summit (and 8 back, for 16 miles total).
Mica Mountain's summit is so broad that it's hard to "know" you are there when you get there. It once held a lookout tower, but all that remains are concrete footings, a couple signs and a lot of trees. The views are limited, but nearby points, such as Spud Rock, or Man Head Rock, offer amazing views down over the valleys and deserts. Most people would agree that the summit is nothing much, but the trip there is well worth it.
The mountain can be hiked nearly all year. In summer, it can be warm even at the higher elevations and the thunderstorms that build from July-early September can be ferocious. Bear in mind it would not be easy to "get down off a ridge" once high on Mica Mountain, and that Tucson has a well-earned reputation for violent summer thunderstorms. In winter, snow will cover the trails. Late Fall and Spring are ideal. I suggest to go in April, when there is still some snowpack up high, but it has melted enough to see the trails. The streams will be running, offering water, while the days are usually pleasant and dry. There will be some muddy parts, but not too bad if you time it right.
There are three popular ways to approach Mica Mountain:
(1) From Tucson via Speedway Boulevard. Take the Douglas Springs Trail and plan for a very long day or an overnighter;
(2) From the north via Forest Roads 4417 and 4424. This is off of Redington Road and this road can be rough. You descend off a spur and catch the trail from here to the top. This segment is part of the Arizona Trail. I have not explored this route and am told the road is usually in bad shape. This round trip can be about 20 miles if you have to park early. From here, take Trail 95 to the top;
(3) From the southeast. Exit Interstate-10 at Mescal Road (about 35 miles east of Tucson) and Forest Roads 35 and 4408. That last spur to the trailhead is a bit rough and needs 4-wheel drive mainly for one very steep section with inconvenient ruts. Once at the trailhead, take the Turkey Creek Trail. This route is excellent and passes Man Head along the way.
Contact the Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Ranger District, at 520-749-8700, or the Saguaro National Park, Rincon Mountain District, at 520-733-5153.
Forest Service Map: Coronado National Forest (Safford and Santa Catalina Ranger Districts)
Topographical Maps: Mica Mountain; Tanque Verde Peak; Happy Valley.
This is a short thumbnail of the route from the southeast (Turkey Creek Trail):
From the trailhead, walk about two miles north through foothills. Eventually the trail passes a gate, then drops to a saddle, all this at or near the National Park boundary. Then start hiking upwards. The life zones change from woodier scrub trees to more montane fir and spruce, with that nice mat of pine needles and pine scent. You come to Mud Hole Spring, then to Deer Head Spring, then to Spud Rock Camp. The trail junctions are well signed and the trails are easy to follow and a delight to hike.
Then follow Heartbreak Ridge Trail past Man Head Rock, which offers excellent views, then follow Fire Loop, Mica Meadow and Bonita Trails to the top. If this sounds minorly confusing, it isn't. The national park provides excellent trail maps and everything is signed and everything is "logical". The views are wonderful, and the last couple miles is atop the broad plateau, with easy grades and lovely walking through high forest.
A typical hiker should take about 5-7 hours one way, pushing 10-11 hours round trip for the day. Wear usually comfortable hiking clothes. Given the elevation change, expect it to be noticeably cooler higher, especially in Spring and Fall. You should be aware of bears, but they typically do not cause trouble as long as you use common sense.
Backcountry camping is allowed in the Rincon Mountain District. A fee of $6 is charged each night, and permits may be purchased at the Visitor Center. There are six wilderness campgrounds, all accessible by horse or foot, and all are located at least six miles from the nearest trailhead. Water is available seasonably in the wilderness area. Check with the Visitor Center for the current water report. There are no developed campgrounds in the park.
A lot of good open camping is available from the southeast approach, with many open spots along Mescal Road and happy Valley Road.