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I’m Sara! I’m 21, a senior in college, and a journalism major.  I love to read, write, travel, and listen to music.  I’m always on to my next adventure.


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Name: Manzanita Falls Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Difficult trail)
Time: 4 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: Varies depending on route (3 - 6 miles roundtrip) Elevation gain/loss/change: +1100 / -1100 ft / +0 ft (roundtrip)
Type: Out and back or modified loop Avg Elevation: 6000 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter, summer (after a winter storm-snow melt) Fees: None at this time (see fees for Mt. Lemmon)
Fitness rating: High Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Medium Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: August, 2012
Short Description: A difficult bushwhacking hike to an unmarked waterfall that would be well worth it when the water is flowing
Geocaches: Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Manzanita Falls; Aces & Jacks; Lizard Rock
References / Contact Information: Manzanita Falls; SDMB Mountain Biking; Summit Hut; Youtube; MTBR; Hike Arizona
Points of interest: Manzanita Falls; Bug Springs Trail
Special Considerations: This can be a very difficult hike. If the unofficial trail leads all the way to the falls, it may not be so bad. The bushwhacking is difficult. See description before proceeding.
How to get there: From Tucson, head northeast toward Mt. Lemmon. From Tanque Verde, turn left onto Catalina Highway. Continue to Mt. Lemmon Highway. Go to the Bug Springs Trailhead at mile marker 11.5. Click here for directions and a map.

Trail Description

This is a short, but very difficult hike to an unmarked waterfall near the Bug Springs Trail on Mt. Lemmon. I do not recommend the path we took on the map or the GPS coordinates. This was a fact-finding hike and we made a bunch of mistakes.

Reading some posts from the Geocaching site, I knew there was an unofficial trail that got you at least part of the way there, but I guessed wrong and didn't find it until halfway back. Finding this trail can make the difference between having a great experience or not.

We did considerable bushwhacking. The manzanita was so thick in spots, it was impassable without a machete or chainsaw. We had to start, stop, turn around many times along the route. It added significant mileage and difficulty. There were many spots in which we had to crawl on our hands and knees to get under the brush or push our way through. Long pants and shirt HIGHLY recommended. The one saving grace was there wasn't too many thorny bushes or cacti.

I do not know how close the unofficial trail gets you to the falls, so you still may be in for some tough going.

Ok, enough of the negative side. On a positive note, the falls were beautiful (even without water). If you visit when there's significant water flowing, they would be outstanding. The falls are not one large vertical drop, rather a series of rock faces, nooks and dips. I believe the best time to go is after a winter storm during the snow melt.

Google Maps and Google Earth

GPS tracks for this adventure were recorded with My Tracks software on my Android cell phone. This is an awesome piece of free software that allows you to record GPS tracks, waypoints and historical data. It will tell you things like elevation gain, time history, average speed, etc. It will also let you take a tour (similar to playing a time accurate movie) of your track on Google Earth. You can send your tracks to friends or upload them to Google.

Google Maps
Click here to view this adventure's track on Google Maps.

Google Earth
You can also download a Google Earth movie (called a tour) of this adventure (must have Google Earth on your computer). Right click here to download the .klm file, then select "save target (or link) as..." For help on how to play the movie on Google Earth (not very intuitive), click here.

General Information and History

Although I don't have any history of these falls, I DO know why they are called Manzanita Falls. The entire hillside is covered in thick groves of manzanita. You will become very familiar with it after this hike. I am just extremely glad manzanita does not have any thorns.

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The Trail

You start at the Upper Bug Springs trailhead (Waypoint 0001). Head up the Bug Springs trail toward Waypoint 0002. If this part of the trail seems difficult, I wouldn't attempt to make it down to Manzanita Falls.

We left the Bug Springs trail at Waypoint 0002, but I would not recommend it. It's not too tough to get up to the ridge, but on the way down to the falls, the manzanita gets thick and tough going.

You can try going up (and then down) Bug Springs trail until you reach Waypoint 0007. This is at a small creek/wash crossing. The unofficial trail we found heads up the wash on the left. You will probably not know it's the trail until after a little while.

This trail can be difficult to follow at times. There are some rock cairns placed along the way, but not a ton. This steep trail will head up the mountain. You will go to the left of a large rock outcropping. The trail leads over the top and to the right (Waypoint 0006).

The trail heads across the saddle before going down the ridge to the valley below (Waypoint 0005). Then it follows the ridge down to the heavily wooded wash.

As we came in from the other way, we intersected this trail at approximately Waypoint 0004 and I do not know what becomes of it between there and the falls (Waypoint 0003). I would not recommend following our path to the falls as shown on the map. Follow the unofficial trail for as long as you can. Find your way to Waypoint 0003. This is the aproximate location for the falls.

Manzanita Falls isn't just one drop, it's a series of falls for probably between 100 - 200 feet. You can climb the rocks on the left looking up (west side) to see each series. Enjoy this area. There are some nice small pools and the views are incredible.

You can try to go out the way we came in. There are some thick manzanita groves (but not as bad as the ones in the west valley). It is much shorter this way, though it's all bushwhacking until you reach Waypoint 0002 along the Bug Springs trail. Or you can go back along the unofficial trail.

Whatever you decide to do, be safe and have fun!

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