Cave Canyon Trail leads from Cave Creek Basin to Florida Saddle and the northern end of the Santa Rita Crest. Florida Saddle is one of the two main trail hubs in the Santa Ritas. Trails radiate from it to virtually every corner of the mountain range. Cave Canyon Trail is one of two major trails that provide access to this spectacular high country from the east. The other is Gardner Trail #143 which is located a few miles to the south.
These two little-used trails are connected via the Crest Trail #144 and Super Trail #134 along the top of the mountain range and via a short trail called the Cave Gardner Cutoff Trail #10 which provides a path between their two access roads. (While we're talking about access, please note that the road leading to the Cave Creek Trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle, especially when the stream has water in it.) A loop can be put together using Cave Canyon and Gardner Canyon trails and various combinations of other high country trails.
The climb up Cave Canyon Trail is relatively steep, so you'll most likely find yourself enjoying the view as you take time out to catch your breath or rest your horse. From the heights of the trail, the smooth, muscular-looking slopes of the Mustang Mountains stand out across the broad lower Cave Creek Valley. North of the Mustangs lie the Whetstones, and beyond is the San Pedro Valley. Farther south, the horizon is defined by the massive Huachucas capped by 9,466-foot Miller Peak. The high slopes of the Santa Ritas are home to a forest that varies according to aspect (the direction it faces) and altitude.
Forest communities range from scrub oak and high desert pinyon-juniper woodlands on lower or south-facing slopes, to stands of ponderosa, Arizona and Chihuahua pines and Douglas-fir on higher or north-facing slopes. This diverse ecosystem provides excellent wildlife habitat for large animals such as Coues white-tailed deer, black bear and an occasional mountain lion. Smaller animals such as Arizona gray squirrels and a number of songbirds and hawks are usually easier to see and, unless you're a hunter with a particular quarry in mind, just as rewarding.
Restrictions: Motorized and mechanized vehicles and equipment, including mountain bikes, are not permitted in Wilderness. See the Wilderness section of this guide for more wilderness rules and ethics.
Directions: At an intersection 21 miles south of Interstate 10 and 4 miles north of Sonoita on AZ 83, turn west onto Gardner Canyon Road (FR 92). Keep to the left at three-quarters of a mile and take the right fork at 4 miles around a piece of private property. Continue a total of 10.3 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road.
Day Hiking: Remote trail/forested setting, short route to the top, access to eastern slopes of the mountain, loop possibilities. 2.0 miles of this trail are within the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness. USGS Map(s): Mt. Wrightson