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About Madera Canyon

Traveling to Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is accessed from Interstate I-19 about 30 miles south of Tucson and 30 miles north of Nogales, AZ on the US / Mexico border.

  • Exit I-19 at exit 63 that is titled Continental Road and Madera Canyon.
  • Turn east on Continental Road, continue straight ahead through a traffic signal, cross the Santa Cruz River, and turn right at the next four-way stop. You are now on Whitehouse Canyon Road.
  • Cross the railroad tracks and continue up the hill to the southeast. Slow down for the Continental School, cross the cattle guard and you are now in the Santa Rita Experimental Range operated by the University of Arizona for research on grasses, grazing, and range fire. For birders, there are many species along this road as you drive through the grassland bajada towards the canyon.
  • After about six miles turn right on the paved Madera Canyon Road. If you continue straight ahead on the gravel road, you can access the headquarters of the Experimental Range or continue through Box Canyon to state route 83.
  • Heading south on Madera Canyon Road you will cross three one-lane bridges then climb towards Madera Canyon between Mt. Wrightson on your left and Mt. Hopkins on the right.

Fees, Passes & Parking

The U.S.Forest Service charges a daily fee for use of canyon facilities. Every parking area has a fee station where you can pay by correct cash or check (there is no way to receive change). Parking areas are located throughout the canyon. You must park in a designated area or you will be ticketed, and perhaps towed.

Annual passes can be purchased in the canyon at the Santa Rita Lodge, the Tumacacori National Historic Park south of Tubac, or a Forest Service office. National passes accepted include; Golden Age Passport, Golden Access Passport, Golden Eagle Passport, and the National Parks Pass with a Golden Eagle sticker affixed. All pay receipts or passes must be clearly displayed on the inside of your windshield or dashboard while parked.
If you have a National Pass, you do NOT need to purchase any other pass to park in Madera Canyon. Your Annual pass, National pass, OR purchased Daily pass, clearly displayed, is all you need to park and visit any location within the Madera Canyon Recreation Area.

Most National Forest system lands are open, free of charge for your use and enjoyment.  However, Madera Canyon is in a National Forest Recreation Area where more facilities are provided by the Forest Service, requiring a local Forest Pass or accepted Inter-agency Pass.

NOTE: Failure to purchase or properly display a pass may result in a citation. If you use a windshield shade, make sure the pass is displayed between the windshield and the shade so it can be read from the exterior of the vehicle.  Fee areas are routinely patrolled by compliance officers, who do not enjoy citing visitors, but it is part of their job.

Visitor Information About the Canyon

There is no gate or sign indicating you are in the Canyon, except for a sign on a right-hand turn to the Visitor Information Station where volunteers greet visitors and provide information on facilities and safety and direct visitors to features of the canyon that best meet their needs.  Brochures and information (but not passes) are available here. Station volunteers:

  • answer questions about the Canyon,
  • provide literature about the canyon and other important facts,
  • act as a link to US Forest Service personnel.

This is also the entrance to the Proctor parking area, handicap accessible trail, and beginning of the Bud Gode Interpretive Nature Trail. Continuing up the paved road will bring you first to the Whitehouse parking and picnic area. The next parking area is the Madera parking area with picnic sites on both sides of the road. Next is the Santa Rita Lodge on the right, where you can park to look at birds at the many feeders or make plans to stay overnight.

Further up the road, now at about 5,000 feet elevation, is the Amphitheater parking area on the right with access to the Nature Trail. Above this is the Madera Kubo Cabins on the left, then another bridge and the Chuparosa Inn B & B on the right, and finally the large Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area and Trail Heads with parking, many picnic sites, rest rooms, and trail heads.

Make sure that you either display your Golden Age or similar pass on your dashboard or purchase a seasonal pass or one-day pass for use of the canyon or you may be subject to a fine.

Rules of the Canyon:

  1. Park in designated lots only. 
  2. Fee stations are in all lots, please pay where you park.
  3. All pets must be on a leash at all times.
  4. All fires must be in a grill beside picnic tables only.
  5.  All music and radios must be on low volume.
  6. Put all trash in bear-proof containers.
  7. Please do not play bird songs or calls to attract birds.
  8. Please do not smoke anywhere in the canyon except in your car or at a picnic site.

Picnicking
Madera Canyon is a lovely location for a picnic, especially when escaping the summer heat of Phoenix or Tucson.  Picnic tables and grills are located near parking areas throughout the canyon. The White House Picnic area provides for larger groups — up to 30 or so. Advanced reservations cannot be made. All picnic areas have nearby bear-proof trash receptacles and accessible toilets. Bring your own charcoal, there is no firewood available in the Canyon. Fires may be built ONLY in the grills and must be fully extinguished before you leave.

Hiking
Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails.  The Mt. Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails, including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail, where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. For these trails, hiking boots and layered clothing for temperature change are needed. Always bring drinking water hiking and stay on the trails. Do not short-cut switch-back trails, this leads to soil erosion. Hiking brochures, with detailed trail maps are available at each trail head.

→ Madera Canyon Hiking Trail Map PDF

→ Hiking Trail Descriptions PDF

Accessible Trails
From the Proctor area, a paved loop trail good for wheelchairs and walkers has occasional benches for resting. The trail follows Madera Creek and provides seniors access to the beauty of the lower canyon. Another paved loop trail at Whitehouse is often used by visitors requiring wheelchairs. 
To arrange an Accessible Trail Tour for a group of seniors, please email us: info@friendsofmaderacanyon.org.

Weather in the Canyon

Madera Canyon Road climbs from the Sonoran Desert floor in Green Valley, at 2,700 ft. with summer temperatures from 85° to 105°F (30° to 40°C), to 5,500 feet with temperatures 20°F cooler. Monsoon rain storms begin in early July and continue through August into September. Storms do not occur every day and usually are small and highly localized, but when they are over you, prepare for hail and a brief downpour with falling temperatures. Dry washes fill with rushing water and Madera Creek can flood, so be careful. In winter, expect snow above 5,000 feet and temperatures near freezing in the canyon. For all these climate conditions, be prepared with adequate foot gear and layered clothing.

Be aware that storms often form on the Santa Ritas out of sight from Madera Canyon, and later drift full-force over the rim to catch hikers unaware. Cooler, moist temperatures can make animals more active — bears and rattlesnakes live in the canyon so pay attention to where you step and to your surroundings at all times. Poison Ivy grows in many places along Madera Creek. Biting chiggers are present, particularly in the grassy meadows around Proctor and White House. Mosquitoes are often numerous at dawn and dusk anywhere in the canyon, so a good insect repellent is recommended. Enjoy the Canyon's bounty, and stay safe!