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Mtn biking (and hiking) the King Canyon Trail

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Today I did a Mtn Bike and Hike on the King Canyon Trail. I found out tonight that mtn bikes are not allowed on the trails inside Saguaro National Park. The trailhead is in the county park, the trail then goes into the national park, where mtn bikes are not allowed. Oh well. I did it and it was a great ride/hike.

Type: Mixed - uphill, downhill, beginner, intermediate

Level: Intermediate

Short Description: Trail starts as an old jeep trail, heads west then turns north and connects to the Sweetwater Trail at the saddle below Wassen Peak. Then take the single track trail on the west side of the canyon back down to the trailhead.

Directions to TH: West over the Tucson Mtns and right (north) on Kinney Rd. Just past (north) of the entrance to the Desert Museum you will see an unmarked gravel parking area on the right. The sign for the trail is actually up the jeep trail a hundred feet or so.

Long Description: This trail was more of a challenge than I expected, glad I brought 3 bottles of water and 3 bottles of Propel. Make sure you bring plenty of water/fluids, even when it is not hot, this is the desert after all. The last time I saw this trail I was hiking down, thus I didn't really notice just how steep the jeep trail is. Plus my bike front dérailleur had a problem - it didn't want to shift down to the small chainring, leaving me with 8th gear as my lowest gear, ugh!

On with the trail - I started by taking the old jeep trail. The other option is to take the wash, but it's not as bike friendly. The jeep trail is very rocky for quite a ways. As you get near the junction with the wash it will turn downhill, you'll go over some 'slick rock' and into the wash. You'll follow the wash upstream to a point where it forks. The left fork will take you to the 'proper' King Canyon trail or to the Sandero Esperanza Trail which leads to the Man-a-goh picnic area (a nice rest stop). I took the wash fork to the left. Ride through the wash, soft gravel/sand, making for a tough ride. About 10 minutes up this fork you'll see a cairn on the right, on top of a boulder. The old jeep trail continues here. You'll see it before you get to the entrance to the old trail which is overgrown, whence the cairn.

Heading up the jeep trail - this trail is rocky and steep. I had to hike my bike much of the way because of my 'no shifting to the small chainring' issue. There are a few washouts but there is a way around each of them. There is also alot of thorny bushes (cats claw?) and Prickly Pear in the trail, you will get scratches. Eventually the trail levels off and I was able to actually ride for more than a few seconds. Looking to the left across the canyon you can often see the 'other', the proper, King Canyon trail. Eventually you'll come out in the saddle where the Sweetwater trail heads up to Mt Wassen. A good area for a rest, though little to no shade. There are a couple flat rocks under a large bush I was able to a small respite from the sun under.

Going back - I took the proper King Canyon trail. This is single track all the way back to the wash where you take the fork to the right. It's also all downhill except for one short section shortly after you start down. Watch out for the rocks that span the trail to keep the water from washing out the trail, hit them wrong and you'll be doing an end-o. There are some ruts to watch for as well. This trail eventually comes to a section of stone stairs heading down into the wash. Here you can either take the wash across to the 'slick rock' and the jeep trail back to the parking lot, or you can go up the stone stairs on the opposite side of the wash and hike/ride up to the picnic area, which is what I did. Once at the picnic area there is a ramada providing some shade, picnic table and bar-b-cue pits.

Finish - you can ride back down to the wash, to the jeep trail (up the 'slick rock') or if you are more adventurous, you can try the wash all the way back. If you do go down the wash be aware there are numerous 'falls'. Some of these are vertical falls as much as 6 to 8 feet. There is always a way around them, but you'll be walking your bike around them. The wash, like all washes, is full of soft sand/gravel, so riding non-stop can be difficult. Once you get near Kinney Road you'll see the trail go up the left side of the wash, that will take you up into the parking lot.

Finish option - From the picnic area you can take the Sandero-Esperanza trail north-east. This will bring you to the fenced and covered Gould Mine, a vertical shaft mine. From here you could take the Gould Mine trail back to the parking lot, it will come out at the wash directly across from the trail up to the parking lot. I hiked this trail over a year ago, haven't ridden it, so I can't say anything about the condition of this trail.

Final Comments - From the farthest west part of the jeep trail you get a great view of the King Canyon and the Altar Valley. From the saddle at the junction with the Sweetwater trail you'll get a good westerly view of northwest Tucson. I rode this on a weekday morning so I came across only one other hiker on the entire length of the ride, weekends will probably have a bit more traffic as this is a popular hiking trail.

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