This six-day adventure serves up a healthy dose of big elevation as you leave the Santa Rita Mountain zone and traverse the mighty Rincon Mountains via Saguaro National Park. This impressive mountain range dominates the skyline east of Tucson, yet sees few visitors covering almost 75 miles. The AZT from Cienega Creek to Gordon Hirabayashi Campground is almost entirely singletrack and features more biological diversity than any other trip we offer. You’ll walk through riparian gallery and dense stands of saguaro cacti, then camp in the tall pines before descending back to grasslands and oak-juniper woodland. Unlike most of our other trips, two days and one night will require backpacking without vehicle support as you’ll spend the night at Manning Camp in the heart of Saguaro National Park.

We created this trip for those who don’t want a guide, don’t want to be supported during the week and generally just want their own self-serve adventure with a bit of logistical assistance. Each day we relocate a very deluxe camp setup (provided by Ready Camp) of (2) 10×10 canopies, full kitchen, dry firewood, camp chairs, fresh water, coolers of food and beverages (you purchase prior to trip) and all your personal gear like tents, bags and clothing. You can go as cheap or deluxe as you want on food, beverages and amenities!!

Arrival Day


Our meeting point for this trip is Hotel Tucson in Tucson, AZ. The day before the trip starts you can pick up a cooler (if needed) from us to do your shopping for the week.


Day One


Today’s route features a lot of elevation loss between the start and finish. The terrain makes the first few hours a challenge as you hike through the accordion-like ridges of the foothills. But soon you’ll be sailing through formidable terrain on well-built trail with outstanding views of the Tucson Mountains, Rincons, Santa Catalinas and other ranges of southern Arizona. The miles will pass quickly as you approach the day’s end near Twin Tanks – the only water source in this part of the desert. Hike length is about 10 miles.


Day Two


Today features a short climb to a saddle, then a gradual descent toward the distant Rincon Valley and the community of Vail. The trail crosses over some dirt and paved roads, but covertly passes underneath Highway 83 and Interstate 10. Look closely among the creosote forests and you’ll spot night-blooming cereus, red pineapple cactus, and other seldom-seen denizens of the desert. Before finishing your final day at the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead, walk along the AZT into Cienega Creek Natural Preserve. This oasis features perennial water with native fish, a dense riparian gallery, and a charismatic population of coatimundi. Tonight’s camp is in Colossal Cave Park just a short van shuttle from Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead. Hike length is about 12 miles.


Day Three


Begin your trek at the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead near the town of Vail, then walk through Cienega Creek Natural Preserve on your way north. Abundant wildlife can be seen along this perennial stream, including native fish, coatimundi and Cooper’s hawks. After climbing a small ridge you’ll descend into Colossal Cave Mountain Park, where an underground tour of the cave is recommended if you have the time and interest. Continue north past massive cottonwood trees and lush Sonoran Desert vegetation with colorful geology, then cover a few miles of broken limestone soil before arriving at Pistol Hill Trailhead. You soon enter Saguaro National Park about 4 miles later where our shuttle will meet you at the Hope Camp Spur and return you to our camp at Pistol Hill. Hiking distance is 14.8 miles.


Day Four


After rejoining historic Hope Camp Trail, let the climb begin! Throughout the day you’ll walk through four distinct biomes, and watch the landscape transform from saguaros to junipers to pines. After 12.5 miles and 2,300 feet of elevation gain you’ll arrive at Grass Shack Campground and your first natural water source. Rest your legs here for a while, then get motivated for the final push – 3.5 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Camp near historic Manning Camp where fresh water and the sound of wind blowing through the tall pines will lull you to sleep. Total mileage is 12.5.


Day Five


With the hardest day already under your boots, pack your backpack and begin the traverse through the heights of the Rincon Mountains. Admire the sparkling mica and granite rocks as you make your way north. A 1.4-mile spur trail to the top of Mica Mountain will take you to the highest summit in the Rincon Mountains. It’s worth the effort but don’t expect inspiring views as the summit is covered in forest. Back on the AZT, the trail begins its descent down the north side of the Rincons. Inspiring views across the San Pedro River Valley begin to appear through the trees, and after three more miles the forest fades away and you’ll see Redington Pass in the distance. After more descending, then a 2-mile gradual climb up to the pass, you’ll arrive at camp where cold beverages await. Total distance is 11.2 miles (or 14 miles with the Mica Mountain ascent).


Day Six


Enjoy hiking through the transition zone between the Rincon and Santa Catalina Mountains on today’s trek to the northwest. The trail passes through grasslands, then a pleasant mix of oak-juniper woodland as you begin to ascend the Catalinas. Watch out for ornery horses near Bellota Ranch, then climb a steep set of switchbacks to Molino Pass. From here you’ll have an impressive vantage point – to the east is the San Pedro River Valley and the Rincon Mountains, and to the west is Sabino Canyon and Tucson in the distance. Descend a steep segment of trail, cross Mt Lemmon Highway, then enjoy a winding trail uphill for 3 miles to reach Gordon Hirabayashi Campground. Total distance is 13.1 miles.

What’s Included


  • Shuttle Van and driver
  • Luggage, gear and cooler/food relocation
  • Ready Camp kitchen and general gear


Not Included


  • Alcoholic Beverages – we can haul and keep them cold though!
  • Lodging
  • Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner
  • Weather Control – Mother Nature has a mind of her own

Tucson International Airport has plenty of flights each day. Phoenix, AZ is also only 90 minutes away