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Name: Kentucky Camp Trail Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating:(based on one vote)
Type: Bike Difficulty: (Challenging). Most of this trail is easy, but there are some difficult hills which usually require at least some hike-a-bike and can be a little scary
Time: 3 - 5 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 12 miles (roundtrip) Elevation gain/loss/change: +679 / -508 ft / +171 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 5200 ft
Best time to go: fall, winter, spring Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium Educational Merit: Medium
Danger/fear rating: Medium Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: See trail description Last updated: August, 2009
Short Description: One of the best bike trails in southern Arizona
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. KY in AZ; Old Lady Cache; Bear’s Garden of Fun
References / Contact Information: Kentucky Camp History;Kentucky Camp; Arizona Trail
Points of interest: Kentucky Camp—take a trip back in time. Nice camping spots along Gardner Canyon. Great singletrack biking
Special Considerations: May require a State Trust Land permit (see update on permit page). Lots of old mines in this area, stay away from open mine shafts and be careful of mine tailings.I would not bike this trail alone.Trail is located in illegal immigrant and smuggler high traffic area, see page regarding warning (it's not as bad as it sounds). Also, there have been mountain lion sightings in the areas. Again, I’ve been in the area more than 50 times and never seen one, but you never know
How to get there: The trail begins at the Kentucky Camp parking lot. To get there, drive 21.5 miles south of I-10 from exit 281 heading toward Sonoita on Arizona State Road 83. Follow SR 83 as it travels through the beautiful rolling hills and historical ranch grasslands of southeastern Arizona. As you get closer to the start of the trail, the scenery will change from rocky, cactus-laden hillsides to large working ranches. Turn right at Gardner Canyon road (FR 92) at waypoint 001. Drive on the dirt road until you reach waypoint 002 and a sign that directs you to Kentucky camp (about ½ a mile). Take the right. Stay on the main road. Keep going straight at an intersection of another trail at waypoint 003 (another sign here). Continue of the main road, ignoring the many 4wd trails leading off left and right until you reach waypoint 004 which is the parking area for Kentucky camp (there is a sign here too). You can get detailed description of the road to this parking area from the Kentucky Camp 4WD Adventure (though 4WD is not required).

Trail Description

This is one of the best mountain bike trails in southern Arizona. It’s got something for everyone, except those who crave extremely technical rides. The trail winds its way through grassy fields, mountain foothills and high-desert flora. Not only is it beautiful and fun, you can take a trip back in time to the late 1800s! You get to visit Kentucky Camp and ride along a portion of the famous Arizona Trail. At only an hour and a half from Tucson, it’s a trail that shouldn’t be missed! The last mile of the trail can be accessed by car and it's a great spot for the younger children to learn to mountain bike.

If you have some extra time, there are lots of other places and trails to explore in this area. Dispersed camping spots along Gardner Canyon are wonderful and can be accessed by most RV’s and campers.

A note about the weather here. I’ve seen snow here in the winter. With an elevation of about 5000 feet, the area is about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than Tucson. Important: It can get windy here. If it’s windy at all in Tucson, it’s usually HOWLING here and the ride can turn from fun to painful.

The gate at Waypoint 004 (the parking area) is unlocked on Saturday so you can drive all the way down to Kentucky Camp (instead of the short hike) - at least in theory. I have seen the gate locked on some Saturdays and open on others.

General Information and History

Kentucky Camp signifies a small, late 1800s mining camp that went bust after a very short life. Although the mining camp only lasted two years (from 1904 to 1906), mining in the area started in the late 1800s. Placer gold was discovered in the Santa Rita Mountains in 1874 around the Greaterville area. At first, the placer gold was easy to recover; as the Arizona Citizen reported in 1875, “Horace Arden, not noted for working imprudently hard” was producing an ounce of gold a day. This was even more significant in that he had to transport, most probably by burro, the dirt to a water source for washing. A gold rush was now on to the Greaterville area and up to 500 miners worked in the surrounding gulches in the 1870s. The main camp in the area was named Greaterville, which is a few miles north of Kentucky Camp. Greaterville had numerous stores, a post office and a school. Greaterville boomed until the late 1800s when all of the easily retrievable placer gold had been recovered. Unfortunately, Greaterville is on private property and cannot be accessed by the public.

The major problem with placer mining in southeast Arizona is the lack of water. Large amounts of water are required to separate the small gold flecks hidden in the layers of clay. The lack of water gave the miners two choices: transport water to their prospects or haul unrefined dirt to one of the permanent streams. Neither of these two options was very profitable.

At the turn of the century, two men thought they could solve the water problem and make it rich where others had failed. Forming the majority of the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company was an engineer named James B. Stetson and a wealthy entrepreneur named George McAneny (although by some accounts his name last name was Avery, Mackinney or McAvery). They started construction on a series of ditches, damns, tunnels and pipelines to solve the water problem. Their plan was to catch the rain and snow run-off and channel water from the permanent streams to where the placer gold was. They thought they could catch enough rainwater from the summer monsoons and snow melt to run the mining operation for up to 10 dry months. This water would be piped down the hillside to high-pressure hoses which could “wash away” hillsides. Between 1902 and 1905, approximately 8-1/2 miles of this work had been accomplished at a cost of approximately $200,000. In some areas, the single-track you’ll be riding along is the actual drainage channels carved out of the mountains. Along the way, you’ll pass some historical markers with information on the mining and water collection system. You’ll also see remnants of the old pipes, dams and bridges.

In 1904, the construction of Kentucky Camp began in earnest. This site, which was the company headquarters, consisted of 5 one-story buildings: a large 10-room hotel and office, 2 three-room cabins, a barn and an assay office.

The weather did not cooperate for the first portion of 1904 and the rains did not come until late that year. The venture was making progress until May 1905 when James Stetson died when he fell from a third story hotel window in Tucson. Rumors abounded that he was sick, fainted or even pushed, but nothing was ever proven. The company’s largest investor tried to keep things going, but a series of legal battles tied up the money needed for the remaining development. The last dying gasp of Kentucky Camp came when George McAneny died shortly thereafter. A resulting battle for the estate tied up all of the assets and the remaining investors were unable to keep the company running.

The land and buildings at Kentucky Camp was sold to the family attorney prior to 1911 and was used as a ranch until the 1960s. Weather, lack of upkeep and vandals took their toll on the camp until Coronado National Forest acquired it in 1989. It is currently being refurbished by the National Forest Service to bring it back to its original state. The intent is to use the camp as an interpretive site of what a typical late 1800s mining camp was like.

The camp is slowly being returned to its original condition with the help of volunteers, donations and limited government funds. Many of the building have rebuilt roofs to keep the weather out. The hotel / office and one of the cabins have a rebuilt wrap around porch. One of the cabins has been completely redone and can be rented out as a bed but NO breakfast. At this time I believe the fee for staying in the cabin is about $75 per night.

The remaining cabin and assayers office have been stabilized and are awaiting further work. The barn roof and some of its walls caved in a few years ago and a new outhouse has been built for public use. Some artifacts, pictures and history are available for viewing in the hotel office building. There is also a friendly caretaker on-site who can answer many questions about the work being done. This is a not-to-miss historical site in southeastern Arizona.

Also to note that most of the trail you’ll be riding on is along The Arizona Trail system which is nearly 800 miles of trail that runs from Mexico to Utah.

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The Trail

From the parking area, take the dirt road through the gate and down the hill to Kentucky Camp (Waypoint 005). If this is your first time here, my suggestion is to keep riding through the camp and explore it on the return trip. It’s a nice place to rest before that last, long climb to your car when you’re tired.

As you come into the camp, turn left and go between the large building with the wrap around porch and the caretaker’s camper. Head southeast down the single track. You’ll quickly come to a gate (one of about four along the trail). This part of the trail runs along the tall grasses in a large wash. It’s slightly downhill and a lot of fun.

Keep riding for about a mile until you reach Waypoint 006. The trail crosses a dirt road, keep going straight. After another quarter mile, you’ll come to a fairly steep, difficult and long hill. The trail has lots of baseball sized rocks and is very difficult going. Some of my friends can make it up most of this with only a few stops to catch their breath. I have to push my bike up about half the hill. Keep going, it’s worth it.

You’ll make your way along some of the drainage channels as you slowly climb up hill. At Waypoint 007, take a right on the dirt road. This is my least favorite part of the trail. The road is rocky, not difficult, but annoying. Don’t fret, it only lasts for about a mile. At Waypoint 008, you turn left on nice single track again.

But wait! While you’re at Waypoint 008, look at a faint trail to your right. This leads to another interesting portion of the drainage/piping system from supplying Kentucky Camp. It’s only a hundred feet or so, go take a look. Another cool thing to see is the remnants of a rock/wood bridge that held a drainage pipe at Waypoint 009.

Once back on single track, ride to the top of a hill looking down on Gardner Canyon Rd at Waypoint 010. The trail switchbacks down a very steep hill. Be careful here. A fall here would be bad news. Ride or walk your bike down the hill to a parking lot on Gardner Canyon Rd (Waypoint 011). Take a right and ride along the road. At Waypoint 012, the single track resumes on the left. I don’t recommend taking this trail though. It’s very difficult and not much fun. If you do, it leads very close to Waypoint 014. Keep going straight on the road, go through the wash and up the hill. Keep going on the road until you reach an intersection at Waypoint 013 (after about half a mile). Take a left on the dirt road. Keep going on the road for 0.25 miles until Waypoint 014.

There’s a single track on the right. Take it and go up a short, fairly steep hill. Once on top of the hill, have a great time on the single track as you ride along the mountain. The road is down below. This is my favorite part of the trail. You can race along the single track for about a mile until it heads across the wash and hits the road again (Waypoint 015).

During the rainy season, this area is beautiful with water running through the wash. If you like, you can ride up the road for a long way (the 4.9 mile loop up Gardner Canyon, the connector trail to Cave Creek and back to Waypoint 013 shown in blue on the map), but this is where I usually turn around and retrace the track back to Kentucky Camp. If you’re into beautiful scenery, a terrific ride and rich Arizona history, Kentucky Camp is a great place to go for a day.

Have fun and be safe!

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