Emigrant Canyon Trail #255

Important Note

USGS and USFS maps show this trail as largely following the creek bottom, when in reality it frequently has bypasses around areas of the creek which are difficult to traverse. Those bypasses still largely exist but can be difficult to spot at times.

Length: 4.85 mi

Difficulty: moderate

Condition: moderate

Elevation range: 4750 ft – 5845 ft

Elevation gain/loss: 1,310 ft ↑ / 670 ft ↓

Average slope: 2.5%


The Emigrant Canyon Trail is accessible from two locations, one of which has not yet been surveyed.

The northwestern terminus is at the end of Forest Road 255. From Bowie, take I-10 Business through town to Apache Pass Road and turn south. Follow this paved road for 10.6 miles before turning left onto the unpaved Old Fort Bowie Road (not identified by name, but there is a sign indicating Emigrant Canyon is in that direction) for nearly half a mile before turning left onto Mulkins Ranch Road. Follow this graded county road 4.6 miles to the National Forest boundary, at which point it becomes Forest Road 4222. After a third of a mile further, you will come to a fork. Take the left fork, passing through a gate, then 0.1 mile beyond take a left fork again onto Forest Road 255. After 140 feet, you will pass through another gate. The road is only drivable for the next 400 feet, so find a parking area and follow the remaining 0.58 mile length of the road on foot to the (unsigned) trailhead. (32.12359, -109.36892)

The southeastern terminus is 0.13 mile southeast of the confluence of Bitter Creek and Wood Canyon, along the Indian Creek Trail. This junction is marked by the remains of an old car and a metal signpost with a fragment of a sign remaining nearby but not attached. (32.07842, -109.32870)

Trail Description

FR 255 to Emigrant Pass

From the unsigned trailhead at the end of Forest Road 255, (32.12359, -109.36892) the trail heads south-southwest and drops almost immediately towards the blown out creekbed. Cross the creek heading roughly south before curving to the southeast. The trail picks up on the other side (32.12292, -19.36904) and traverses the bench above the creek in a roughly eastward fashion for 300 feet before switchbacking (32.12276, -109.36821) and climbing steeply up the slope for 130 feet before resuming its eastern heading. (32.12306, -109.36819) It continues along the top of the ridge, from which a roadbed may be visible on the opposite side of the canyon to the south. This road can be accessed from the canyon below and travels about a mile towards Emigrant Tank. The trail drops down after 0.17 mile to cross a side canyon—a crossing which is currently blown out and would be difficult to traverse on horseback. (32.12260, -109.36572) From there, it passes through a quite pleasant wooded embankment above the main creekbed for several hundred feet before crossing to the south (32.12210, -109.36530) and following the canyon bottom for nearly 250 feet.

You can just continue up the creekbed for a while, but the trail does emerge from the creek again on the south side of the canyon (32.12158, -109.36496) and it's less distance and easier walking. After 0.13 mile it returns to the creek for a short stretch. Over the next approximately 0.2 mile it's often easier to stay in the creek, but most major bends in the canyon have a trail shortcut that cuts off some distance if you can spot them.

A major bypass you won't want to miss, however, begins on the east side of the canyon immediately after a bend to the south. (32.11805, -109.36291) The first 225 feet of trail parallel the creek on a higher bench, then it swings to the south and begins to climb a ridge to bypass a narrows and waterfall in the canyon bottom. This waterfall is relatively short and can be scaled by many people, but the trail is definitely an easier route. After a quarter mile, the trail drops back down and passes through a gate (32.11435, -109.36139), then 100 feet later returns to the creek.

Only 275 feet beyond, another major bypass begins—this one even more important, because the waterfall it goes around cannot be safely climbed. The trail leaves the creek on the east side of the canyon, heading south-southeast, at a point where a small side-canyon connects into the main canyon on the east side. (32.11350, -109.36074) After a third of a mile, you will come to a nice mesa with a great view into the canyon below and which can serve as a good, but sunny, lunch area. The trail continues on to the southeast, dropping down out of the flat clearing into a wooded area. After 350 feet, a Forest Service trail sign can be seen on a tree along the trail. (32.10900, -109.35783) The trail continues another 130 feet before dropping back into the creek, but after only 250 feet it resumes again on the east side of the creekbed for nearly 450 feet. Again, this is an area where it may be more simple to just remain in the creek, but the trail is easier walking.

Remain in the creek for the next two thirds of a mile until you come to a fork. (32.09867, -109.35803) Take the left fork, but only for 100 feet before heading towards the slope of the higher "island" between the two forks. The trail resumes 50 feet south-southwest (32.09827, -109.35802) and climbs up the slope onto the flat. Follow it for approximately 400 feet until you enter a large clearing. The trail disappears here briefly, and you will have to head nearly due south for 300 feet to the opposite end of the clearing. Remnants of an old unreadable Forest Service sign can be found here. (32.09649, -109.35806)

The spring box—made out of an old tire—of Kay Spring lies nearly 200 feet southeast, (32.09630, -109.35757) right along the canyon bottom below. The spring source itself can be found a distance up-canyon by following the pipeline. (32.09536, -109.35715) This appears to be a fairly reliable spring, but it is used by cattle and water from it should be treated before drinking.

The trail heads south from the edge of the clearing, staying atop the divide between the two canyons, then contouring in a generally south-southeasterly fashion around the northeastern slope of a ridge. After 0.43 mile it gradually climbs to a saddle atop the crest of the ridge. (32.09087, -109.35584) From here, the trail heads up the ridgetop to the southeast, almost in a straight line. After nearly a quarter mile, it begins to drop back down the northeastern side of the ridge into the canyon. Another quarter mile later, (32.08585, -109.34979) you will be 100 feet above and southwest of another spring box made in the same fashion as Kay Spring. The trail does not go directly to the spring but continues southeast 0.14 mile before dropping into the creek. Follow the creek bottom approximately a third of a mile before exiting it a final time and climbing to the southeast for 465 feet to Emigrant Saddle. A fence crosses the saddle and a gate marks where the trail crosses it. (32.08249, -109.34202)

Emigrant Pass to Wood Canyon

Heading east out from the gate at Emigrant Pass, trail curves east-northeast over the next 400 feet, then southeast into Bitter Canyon after another 250 feet. The trail is quite rutted out and damaged for a section through here, but easy to identify and follow nevertheless. After dropping into some tree cover, it passes alongside and then crosses Bitter Creek in another 150 feet, (32.08181, -109.34008) then climbs to parallel it for a little over a quarter mile, before passing the confluence of Bitter Creek and an unnamed southern fork. (32.07992, -109.33657) Near here, it crosses again and continues south of the creek for the remainder of its length.

Climbing higher, the trail is quite distinct and begins to follow an old roadbed. After 0.4 mile, it crosses a usually dry side drainage and turns sharply to the north-northeast (32.07864, -109.33047), then east-southeast again shortly after, ramping downhill into Wood Canyon. About 600 feet past the sharp bend in the trail, it connects with the Indian Creek Trail at the bottom of Wood Canyon, next to the ruins of an old abandoned car. (32.07847, -109.32874)


Topographic map of Emigrant Canyon Trail #255

Last updated May 8, 2017.