One of the major summits in the Tucson area, Rincon Peak is rarely climbed due to the long and strenuous hike required to reach its summit. Further isolating the peak is the 1.5 hour drive to the trailhead, most of which is on rutted dirt roads. For many Tucsonans this peak is their favorite local hike, mostly due to the lack of visitors it receives. Sweeping 360 degree views reward those who are willing to make the 8.1 mile and 4300’ hike.
The route to the summit winds through several distinct ecological zones, including chaparral, riparian, and alpine areas. A good portion of the trail steeply ascends through large boulder fields, while another portion winds lazily through a ponderosa forest. The final ½ mile is quite steep, and the summit is a rocky knob with uninhibited views of Tucson, Mt. Lemmon, Happy Valley, and Mt. Wrightson. Trail conditions are often primitive, and on any given day you may be the only party attempting the summit.
From Tucson take I-10 east for about 35 miles to the Mescal Rd / J-Six Ranch Rd exit 297. After the exit turn left (north) on to FS35. The road is paved for about the first four miles, then transitions to well-graded dirt, and gets more poorly graded as you continue into Happy Valley. After a total of about 16 miles from I-10, you will come a big brown sign marking the turnoff for the Miller Creek Trailhead. Bear left, and stay left as smaller roads branch off. The trailhead parking lot is just a short distance off the main road. Total drive time is an estimated 1.5 hours.
The road conditions are usually fine for a passenger car to make the drive to the trailhead, although this will make for a slower approach. In the rainy season, the road’s many river crossings can get flowing pretty good, and 4wd and some common sense are recommended.
No permits required for day hikes, you are asked to sign in when entering Saguaro NP. No dogs are permitted on this trail.
For camping in Happy Valley:
As long as you are east of the Saguaro National Park boundary, you will be in Coronado National Forest. The Santa Catalina ranger district manages the area, and requires permits for camp fires. The ranger I spoke with told me the permits could be bought at the Sabino Canyon headquarters, at the intersection of Sabino Canyon Rd. and Sunrise Dr. When I commented that this was over 2 hours away from Happy Valley, he suggested that you might either buy a permit from a field ranger once in Happy Valley, or call the Sabino Canyon office at 520.749.8700 to have them fax you a permit. I might just take my chances… but you didn’t hear that from me.
Check the Santa Catalina Ranger District website for more information and phone numbers.
There are also permits required for camping in Saguaro NP. You can call the Rincon Mountain District at 520.733.5153, or check out the website for email contacts: Saguaro National Park
Preferred climbing season is fall and spring. As usual in Tucson area, its hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. Expect temperatures over 100 degrees at the trailhead in the summer months, and snow in the winter. Also, during the rainy season (July-Aug) the Happy Valley Rd. often washes out, or the river crossings become dangerously flooded.
Happy Valley is a wonderful camping area with many car-camp sites located next to flowing streams. Grassy plains, oaks, cotton wood, and sycamore adorn the area, as well as manzanita and yucca. The elevation of Happy Valley is about 4200 ft. Some parties also like to camp at the higher Happy Valley camp, a good 5 miles from the trailhead, and within Saguaro NP, at about 6200’. See ‘Red Tape’ section for permit info.
The Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700, has current trail conditions, and check the Ranger website for additional trail information: Miller Creek Trail
Local climbing organization: Southern Arizona Climbers Coalition: www.gosacc.com