Rucker Trail #222

Current Trail Conditions

A trail crew worked the first 2.7 miles of this trail to the start of the switchbacks out of the canyon in late 2015/early 2016, rerouting the washed out portions. Several more crews have cut logs and brushed the trail to the junction with the Red Rock Canyon Trail since then, most recently in February 2017.

The connection to the Price Canyon Trail is followable and the tread and switchbacks are in good condition, but it is quite overgrown and has some deadfall at the lower end.

Length: 4.66 mi

Difficulty: moderate

Condition: good

Elevation range: 6150 ft – 7620 ft

Elevation gain/loss: 1,535 ft ↑ / 340 ft ↓

Average slope: 4.9%

Access

The Rucker Trail is accessible from four major locations.

The western terminus is located less than a tenth of a mile before Rucker Forest Camp at the end of Rucker Canyon Road (FR 74E). When approaching the camp, a very small parking area can be seen on the left side of the road, with trailhead signs present here. (31.78389, -109.30462) The trail parallels the road and passes through the camp, where a 100 foot spur trail from Rucker Forest Camp itself connects in after 0.13 miles, (31.78475, -109.30312) and it is possible to park here as well. Parking at Rucker Forest Camp costs $10 per day. It is unclear whether the trailhead parking is also subject to this fee, but it likely is.

The southern terminus of the Raspberry Ridge Trail is located along this trail 0.17 miles beyond the Rucker trailhead, that trail coming in from the north just beyond a pedestrian gate on the Rucker Trail. This junction is well-signed. (31.78501, -109.30234)

The northeastern terminus of the Red Rock Canyon Trail is located immediately after completing the climb out of Rucker Canyon and that trail connects from the south at a switchback atop the ridge between Rucker and Price Canyons. (31.79620, -109.25734) This junction is marked with a sign, but that sign uses the old name of Sage Peak Trail.

The Rucker Trail's eastern terminus is located along the Price Canyon Trail, (31.80457, -109.25384) 3.76 miles above its trailhead and approximately 1.75 miles below its upper terminus at the Crest Trail.

History

In July 1878, Lieutenants John Rucker and Austin Henely, stationed at a U.S. Cavalry post named Camp Supply at the time, attempted to cross a flooded stream following a monsoon downpour. Both drowned, and Camp Supply was renamed to Camp Rucker—several buildings and ruins of others remain at this site and can be visited along Tex Canyon Road a short distance southeast of the Rucker Canyon Road turnoff. Whitewater Canyon, called such for the rapids which formed in places following heavy rainstorms, was renamed at the same time to Rucker Canyon in the Lieutenant's honor.1

Trail Description

Rucker Forest Camp to Raspberry Ridge Trail

From the trailhead just before Rucker Forest Camp, the Rucker Trail heads northeast, paralleling the Rucker Canyon Road. After less than a tenth of a mile, you will enter the camp and pass to the right of the public restrooms. Another 250 feet beyond, an unsigned spur trail connects the turnaround loop at the end of the road with the trail, and this is commonly used as the trailhead by people who park in the campground. The trail at this point was once a road, and 100 feet beyond, a gate blocks vehicular access, with a pedestrian gate on its right side for easy trail access. The Raspberry Ridge Trail junction lies 40 feet beyond, that trail heading north up Bear Canyon.

Raspberry Ridge Trail to Upper Rucker Canyon Trail

The first six tenths of a mile of this trail was originally a logging road, and it is possible to still see evidence of that in places. A second gate lies 60 feet beyond the junction, then the trail just parallels the creek for a while, crossing occasionally. After a tenth of a mile, you will pass a metal water tank on the left side of the trail, with the Wilderness boundary marked by a sign shortly beyond.

1.3 miles beyond the Wilderness boundary, the old Upper Rucker Canyon Trail connects in (31.79065, -109.28002) and climbs from here to the Red Rock Canyon Trail on the ridge high above. The trail is not visible at this junction, there are no signs or markers, and the lower end is only marked with occasional cairns as it passes through an area of extensive deadfall before entering a side canyon, but it becomes surprisingly visible as it climbs higher, considering the very low amount of use it gets.

Upper Rucker Canyon Trail to Rucker Gates Route

Almost immediately beyond, the trail enters a section of new tread, cut into the sidehill on the left side of the canyon for a short distance before dropping and crossing the creek to the right, then crossing again to the left almost immediately after. It turns right on the other side of the creek and ramps up, contouring around a small ridge and skirting around an extensive section of flood damage before dropping back down to the creek through the rock rubble and crossing again.

Nearly three quarters of a mile remain along the canyon bottom, but the trail does occasionally climb higher up the bank before dropping back down again. Creek crossings can be faint through here, but they are usually marked with a cairn to indicate the direction of the route after crossing.

The Rucker Gates Route heads north immediately at the very first switchback of the Rucker Trail. (31.79545, -109.26527) When the trail swings hard to the right and begins its steep ascent to the ridge above, the rough route to the spectacular Rucker Gates and their grottoes drops down through a gap in the rocks lining the edge of the trail in the direction of several rock cairns below.

Rucker Gates Route to Red Rock Canyon Trail

The trail immediately begins to climb, switchbacking to the right, and then back to the left. Over 40 switchbacks occur before reaching the ridgetop, but the trail is quite well graded and very easy to follow through here. After 0.44 mi, the trail reaches an intermediate high point and there is a good viewpoint just off the trail to look down into Rucker Canyon, including a good view of the Rucker Canyon Gates. (31.79537, -109.26354)

Curving around the ridge to the southeast, the trail descends slightly as it passes some interesting small rock shelters just above the trail to the right, then it crosses a drainage and resumes its generally northeastern direction, climbing again towards the next set of switchbacks. The remaining 0.68 miles is very straightforward, just ascending constantly through seemingly endless switchbacks.

The trail emerges onto the ridge at a signed junction with the northern terminus of the Red Rock Canyon Trail. (31.79611, -109.25741) The Rucker Trail turns left here, while the Red Rock Canyon Trail to the right will take you to Sage Peak and beyond. A loop can be done back into Rucker Canyon via the Upper Rucker Canyon Trail which starts on the other side of Sage Peak.

Red Rock Canyon Trail to Price Canyon Trail

Heading north-northeast out of the junction, the trail almost immediately passes beneath a very distinctive rock overhang that almost resembles cliff dwellings of some sort, but is entirely natural. Passing this, it is possible to walk off the trail to the right to a small clearing (31.79648, -109.25714), and going beyond provides a fairly climbable route to the top of the rock outcrop. Both make excellent lunch spots with views into both Rucker and Price Canyons. Sentinel Peak and Jones Ridge dominate the view to the east.

Continuing along the trail, which grows more brushy and faint from here, it follows the spine of the ridge, passing to the east of the next high point after 0.15 mile, then after another nearly ¼ mile you will come to the remains of an old Wilderness Boundary sign—a remnant of the 1964 boundary from before the Chiricahua Wilderness was expanded in 1984. (31.80098, -109.25566)

After another 1000 feet, the trail starts to curve a bit more to the northeast (31.80361, -109.25555) and descends slightly towards the first switchback 280 feet later. (31.80416, -109.25495) Three more switchbacks occur over the next 400 feet, and from the last (31.80379, -109.25487) it's a straight shot northeast to the canyon bottom and the unsigned junction with the Price Canyon Trail. (31.80458, -109.25383)

Map

Topographic map of Rucker Trail #222

Footnotes

  1. Kimrod Murphy, The Devil Played Hell in Paradise, First Edition, 2010, p. 177

Last updated May 3, 2017.