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Name: Rice Peak Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on three user votes)
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (Demanding 4WD). See Trail Description for updates.
Time: 3 - 5 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 11.25 miles (Loop) Elevation gain/loss/change: +3691 / -3691 ft / -0 ft (Loop)
Type: Loop Avg Elevation: 5500 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter (snow may be present in the winter) Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: High Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: September, 2009
Short Description: A nice 4WD trail that ends up at almost 7000 ft
Geocaches:Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Lady Bug Peak; Cinn#1; Arizona Trail - Beat Feet
References / Contact Information: Rice Peak Trip; Peppersauce Campground
Points of interest: Rice Peak, Peppersauce Campgrounds, Peppersauce Cave. A great place to go play in the snow.
Special Considerations: With the large number of roads in the area, this can be a confusing trail, although it would be hard to get seriously lost. During summer months, watch for lightning on the summit. Due to fire activity, there is an increased chance of flash-flooding in the canyon bottom. Watch for ice in winter. There are dangerous drop-offs along the edge of the spur road to the summit.
How to get there: Take Oracle Road north out of Tucson. Oracle Road turns into State Highway 77. Follow Highway 77 past Oracle Junction to the town of Oracle. Turn right on American Avenue (just past mile marker 100) and follow it through the town of Oracle for 2.4 miles until reaching Mt Lemmon Road. Mt Lemmon Road becomes a dirt road after a few miles. Bear left at a major junction shortly after the road becomes dirt. You are now on the Mount Lemmon Control Road. Continue for 5 miles until reaching the turnoff for the 4wd road to Rice Peak, which is on the right, directly across from Peppersauce Campground. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

December 2014 Update: I've heard from reliable sources that the trail has become more difficult at the switchbacks and lockers may be required to do this safely. The trail may now be a 3.5 out of 5.

The Rice Peak trail is located in Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The Rice Peak trail is a scenic, moderate 4wd trail. There are numerous other four wheel drive trails to explore as well as hiking trails (the Oracle Ridge segment of the Arizona Trail intersects and follows Rice Peak road for a couple of miles).

The first portion of the trail is easy along the canyon bottom and the loop. This portion of the trail is steep at times, but is well graded and should be possible for any 4WD vehicle with low range gears. The 1.3 mile climb up the spur road to the summit of Rice Peak is more difficult. The spur road to the summit is very steep with lots of loose rock and should only be attempted by experienced drivers with high-clearance 4WD vehicles. The road is narrow and there are few areas to pass another vehicle. There are stomach-churning drop-offs along the edge of the shelf road and a few large rocks jutting out of the road may prove problematic for low-clearance 4WD vehicles. Vehicles without traction devices may struggle to find traction in some areas - a locking differential is a plus on the spur road. There are tight switchbacks which will require multi-point turns for long vehicles.

As you will see from the gallery, my favorite time to go on the Rice Peak trail is after a nice snow storm. Don't expect to make it all the way to the summit, the steep hills are almost impassible with snow. But if you go early enough, you can get off the beaten path and find some fresh snow to play in.

General Information and History

The road begins in the bottom of a shady canyon at 4600’ and climbs steeply to the summit of Rice Peak at over 7600’ in just 5.8 miles. The summit of Rice Peak was badly burned in the Aspen Fire of 2003, but vegetation is starting to recover. There are great views of the Catalinas and distant mountain ranges from the top of Oracle Ridge and from the summit of Rice Peak. It is possible to make a partial loop by following an alternate route on the return trip. The trail from the top of Oracle Ridge to Rice Peak is a spur trail that dead ends at Rice Peak.

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The Trail

The first portion of the trail is relatively flat and smooth. As you progress up the trail you are in a large canyon. There are numerous primitive campsites in this area. The trail follows alongside and then crosses a usually dry creek bed. Along the way, there are some large trees which provide some nice shade. After crossing the creek bed, the trail begins to climb steeply. After approximately 2.2 miles, there is a short rocky trail on the left that leads to an old mine. There are a couple of open shafts, a large tailings pile and an old wooden head frame.

Back on the main trail, the road continues to climb quickly until it reaches the top of Oracle Ridge. Once it reaches the top of Oracle Ridge, the trail levels off somewhat until it reaches the base of Rice Peak. Along the ridge top, there are great views of Samaniego Ridge and Charouleau Gap to the west as well as great views of the San Pedro River valley and the Galiuro Mountains to the east. From the ridge top you can see how steep the trail gets as its snakes towards Rice Peak. Upon reaching the base of Rice Peak, you will see a road that departs to the left – this is the optional loop that provides an alternate route for the return trip.

December 2014 Update: I've heard from reliable sources that the trail has become more difficult at the switchbacks and lockers may be required to do this safely. The trail may now be a 3.5 out of 5.

But for now, aim your vehicle towards the right and continue up the spur road towards Rice Peak. The section of trail from the base of Rice Peak to the summit is the scenic part of the trip, but it is also the most exciting, so keep your eyes on the road. This part of the trail is very steep with wild switchbacks and dizzying drops. There are lots of loose rocks and a couple of small rocky ledges to climb. After conquering most of the climb to Rice Peak, you will reach a small saddle and a fork in the road. Turn left at the fork (the right fork only goes a short distance before ending abruptly with little room to turn around) and continue just over 0.5 miles to the summit. The final 0.5 mile segment of trail to the summit of Rice Peak is extremely steep and covered in large, loose rocks. My vehicle spun its tires as it struggled for traction on this section, but it reached the summit without any real difficulty. It is not necessary to drive this 0.5 mile portion as there is adequate room for a couple of vehicles to park and turn around at the saddle. Get out and enjoy the 360 degree views on Rice Peak. To the north you can see the Iron Door restaurant at Ski Valley and the Mount Lemmon summit. To the east in the valley below lies the town of San Manuel, and just beyond is the San Pedro River and the Galiuro Mountains. To the west are the town of Catalina and the Tortolita Mountains. To the north, Oracle Ridge stretches out before you and it is clear just how much elevation you gained along the spur road to the peak.

Go back down the spur road until you reach the junction you passed earlier. Turn right to follow the loop (left to return the way you came). The loop portion of the trail is well-graded. Views are limited as the trail descends through juniper and pine forest. There is a short section that is very steep, which is followed by a very tight switchback. The signs recommend that you pull forward and then back down the switchback because of the tight turn. After approximately 2.3 miles the loop is complete and the road re-joins the road you were on earlier. Turn right and follow the road back down until once again reaching the Mount Lemmon Control Road.

Have fun and be safe.

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