Upper Rucker Canyon Trail #223A

Important Note

This is an unofficial name derived from the sign "Upper Rucker Canyon" at the upper terminus. One source refers to it as the "Upper Rucker Trail". 1 Another calls it the "Obsidian Trail", a name which is undoubtedly linked to a rumored but unconfirmed "Obsidian Spring" on the west side of Sage Peak.

Length: 2.06 mi

Difficulty: difficult

Condition: terrible

Elevation range: 6350 ft – 7380 ft

Elevation gain/loss: 1,805 ft ↑ / 120 ft ↓

Average slope: 15.5%


The Upper Rucker Canyon Trail is accessible from two locations.

The lower elevation northwestern terminus is along the Rucker Trail, 1.67 mile up-canyon from its trailhead parking area outside Rucker Forest Camp. This junction is not marked by a sign and the trail is not visible here, but it is marked by a wide line of rocks extending into the trail from the south. (31.79065, -109.28002)

The higher elevation southeastern terminus is along the Red Rock Canyon Trail, approximately 2 miles southwest of its northeastern terminus at the Rucker Trail. This junction is marked by a sign which states "Upper Rucker Canyon ⅛" with an arrow pointing northwest along the trail. (31.77807, -109.26942)

Trail Description

The Upper Rucker Canyon Trail is a little-known trail between the Rucker Trail and the Red Rock Canyon Trail 1000 feet above to the southeast. It gets very little use and has not been maintained for a very long time. There is extensive flooding damage to the bottom end, and at several drainage crossings. A large number of dead trees have fallen across the trail. The entire trail can be followed from end to end, however.

From Rucker Canyon, leave the Rucker Trail where a three foot long row of rocks extends partway across the trail (31.79065, -109.28002) and head southeast for 130 feet. (31.79036, -109.27981) There is no visible trail through this stretch, due to flooding damage, but there are frequent rock cairns marking the route. Head roughly east for 450 feet and you will have entered a very rocky area. (31.69019, -109.27843) To the south, a shelf between two drainages gradually climbs up. Follow this as it slowly curves back to the east over the next 550 feet. Towards the end you will leave the shelf and approach a point where the canyon narrows and bends sharply to the south, with rock flow from flooding covering the canyon bottom from side to side. (31.78931, -109.27720) Walk roughly south along the canyon bottom for nearly 200 feet. You will see the remnants of an old roadbed, with trees growing in the middle of it, climbing out of the west side of the canyon here. (31.78882, -109.27714)

Walk up the roadbed, following rock cairns. Remnants of the pine needle-covered trail begin to be visible along here, on the right side of the road. After a short distance, the road swings more to the southeast. After nearly 500 feet, and a short distance after the trail proper climbs above the roadbed, you will reach the first of 44 switchbacks. (31.78772, -109.27640) 270 feet beyond, at the second switchback, (31.78791, -109.27719) a game trail heads to the northwest while the actual trail goes southeast.

The trail climbs to the southeast for about a tenth of a mile before reaching the first of several large, rough washouts. (31.78672, -109.27616) The trail fades as it approaches a small side drainage then disappears entirely for a 10 to 15 foot stretch before resuming slightly higher on the other side. After picking back up, it continues on the same course for another 200 feet before switchbacking again. 270 feet and another switchback later, the old roadbed from earlier crosses the trail at an angle, climbing roughly to the west. (31.78611, -109.27586)

Two tenths of a mile and four switchbacks beyond, the trail reaches a major washout where crossing a side canyon, this one much larger than the previous. An approximately 60 foot stretch of trail is blown out and completely missing, and it can be hard to spot where it picks back up again. You will need to cross the canyon bottom heading southeast. There is steep vertical wall along here where flooding has cut down ten feet or more, but a much more gradual slope that can be walked up lies a short distance north, after which you can swing back to the south briefly and pick up the trail again. (31.78433, -109.27564) It briefly heads east from here as it crosses a ridge dividing the previous side canyon from the main canyon, then swings southeast and a little over 300 feet after the previous washout comes to another, smaller one. (31.78400, -109.27481) You can cross it easily and the trail resumes after a short distance on the other side, heading northeast.

The final washout is another tenth of a mile after the previous. (31.78377, -109.27392) Here, the trail drops down the north slope of a small drainage and disappears. It continues on the south side of the drainage, higher above, but you can't easily see it from here. Continue up the drainage roughly 20 feet before turning to the right. A faint path here provides the most gradual route up the slope, but overgrowth and downed trees can obscure it.

Half a dozen or more switchbacks span the next 0.16 mile, and the steepest part of the trail lies through here. After passing the steep portion, the trail becomes relatively straightforward, climbing more gradually but with frequent switchbacks. Switchbacks can occasionally be easy to miss, with game trails heading off in another direction at the corner. Watch for rock cairns or flagging tape occasionally marking the fainter turns. After another 0.55 mile, the trail passes between a rock gateway with a spire on one side and a larger outcrop containing small caves and natural windows on the other. (31.78161, -109.27079) Stacked rockwork supporting the trail here looks quite old but remains in good condition. Almost immediately after, downed trees have caused a steep bypass that requires caution for the short stretch before returning to the proper trail.

Five final switchbacks across 750 feet remain until reaching the Upper Rucker Canyon Viewpoint. A large rock cairn marks this point along the trail, (31.78074, -109.27066) although the true viewpoint is about 200 feet to the northwest. From here, it's a relatively flat 0.23 mile along a fainter trail to the upper terminus along the Red Rock Canyon Trail. From the Viewpoint, it's not immediately obvious where the trail goes, but head southwest and you'll pick it up shortly. A mix of old and new blazes on the trees should become visible within 100 feet. (31.78045, -109.27049) From here the trail should remain visible despite being quite faint. The junction is marked by a deteriorating sign saying "Upper Rucker Canyon ⅛" and an arrow to the right, as well as a fallen-over sign with mileages in both directions for the Red Rock Canyon Trail. (31.77807, -109.26942) This sign is older and refers to the "Sage Peak Trail", a name that is no longer in use. The Red Rock Canyon Trail descends northwest back down to the eponymous canyon and ascends north-northwest towards Sage Peak and the divide between Rucker and Price Canyons.


Topographic map of Upper Rucker Canyon Trail #223A


  1. Cachor Taylor, Hiking Trails and Wilderness Routes of the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, 1977, p. 140

Last updated April 11, 2016.