Length: 0.84 mi
The Rucker Gates Route begins 2.7 miles up the Rucker Trail from its trailhead at Rucker Forest Camp at the end of Rucker Canyon Road, at the point where the Rucker Trail makes its very first switchback and begins its steep climb to the ridge above. Rather than beginning to climb, drop down towards the creekbed instead and follow the faint trail that continues up Rucker Canyon.
Where the Rucker Trail makes its first switchback, a gap in the rocks along the trail, along with several cairns 20 feet ahead, indicate the start and the general direction of the Rucker Gates Route. After dropping down to a lower level, the first 750 feet stays on the eastern bank of the creek, and a very faint trail can be followed. It then crosses the creek and continues on the western bank for another 250 feet before crossing again. 400 feet later, the visible trail ends at another creek crossing. A fire circle here indicates the area has been used as a camping spot in years past.
From here, it's just walking up the creek. Rucker Canyon makes a sharp bend to the left almost immediately after the trail ends, with a smaller, narrow side canyon continuing to the northeast. No major obstructions block traveling up the creek, but if a large amount of water is flowing you may wish to occasionally move up onto to the banks to avoid wading through deeper pools.
1000 feet after the trail ends, the canyon begins to narrow significantly, with high rhyolite cliffs climbing overhead. Another 1000 feet beyond and you're at the base of the Rucker Gates themselves, towering columns of rock rising 700 feet on either side of the canyon floor. Passing through the gates, the canyon swings around to the right and then back to the left and after 600 feet you'll come to the first and smaller of two grottos, about 20 feet high and 40 feet deep. It's only 300 feet and a few more bends beyond that until you reach the main attraction—the main grotto, with a 100 foot wide entrance, 40 foot high ceiling and 75 foot deep chamber. A seep at the upper rear can cause an ice cascade down the back wall to form during cold winter months. With or without the ice, it's a spectacular sight.
600 feet further, a small side drainage comes in from the north, and a few shallow caves have seeps of their own which can also cause ice formations. During spring snowmelt, one such cave has a seep out of the ceiling which can be observed flowing like a faucet.
Rucker Canyon continues beyond for several miles until it hits the base of Chiricahua Peak, without many major obstacles, but while it's a beautiful hike, there's nothing beyond that can top the area around the Gates.
Last updated November 18, 2013.