This Is A World-Class Birding Destination - Also, there are many great hiking trails that range widely in difficulty.
May 1, 2016
We in Arizona are blessed to have a world-class birding destination in our own backyard. Madera Canyon and Madera Creek cover four different habitat types, from the desert to the top of the Santa Rita Mountains.
There are tons of great trails to hike, ranging in difficulty from paved and handicapped-accessible walking trails, to steep and difficult trails that will take experienced hikers to the top of the mountains.
You'll not only see beautiful birds here, but also you'll have the chance to see a variety of Arizona wildlife, including deer and other mammals. For birding information, including the latest bird sighting lists, visit the Friends of Madera Canyon Web site at friendsofmaderacanyon.org.
To Get There
To get to Madera Canyon, take I-19 to exit 63, about 30 miles south of Tucson. The road is well signed. You'll know you've arrived when you see the sign for the visitor information station. There are several parking and picnic areas.
You'll need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service for day use and there are fee stations at every parking area. You can pay with cash or check, but there is no way to get change. If you have a national pass, you don't need to pay the daily fee. You need a pass to park at a trailhead or use the restroom, too.
Awesome Hiking Trails
The hiking trails at Madera are awesome. You can print out a map of the hiking trails on the Friends of Madera Canyon Web site at friendsofmaderacanyon.org.
From the Proctor area, there is a paved loop trail with benches here and there for resting. It's great for wheelchairs and strollers. It follows the creek and allows you to see the gorgeous lower canyon.
There is another paved trail at Whitehouse. The friends of Madera Canyon will even arrange an accessible trail tour for groups – just send them an email at email@example.com.
Before you head out on the tougher trails, give the Bud Gode Interpretive Nature Trail a go. It's self-guided and has 29 exhibit panels that will tell you a lot about the climate, the sky islands, the geography, plants, animals, etc. It's very interesting and a fun walk.
Free Trail App Is Useful
There are detailed topo maps of each trail at all the trailheads. I usually take a photo with my phone for reference on the trail. Another resource that I've come to love lately is the free app called AllTrails. It gives you lots of information about trails and you can find trails near you or search for trails by name or location. It's pretty cool and even has photos of each trail.
There are a few places to stay in Madera Canyon, including the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Kubo Cabins, and the Chuparosa Inn B&B. There are small gift shops in the Lodge and in Kubo (I bought a very cool Madera Canyon sun hat while I was there!), and they sell annual passes as well. You'll also find lots of bird feeders around these places, which makes them an ideal place to sit in the shade and watch for birds.
Town Of Green Valley Has Amenities
Close by is the town of Green Valley, which has plenty of restaurants, motels, gas stations, etc. There are no restaurants or gas stations in the Canyon, so be sure to bring a picnic and plenty of water, and fill up with gas before you come.
If you'd like to camp, the Bog Springs campground has 13 sites with no hookups. You can pitch a tent or park an RV (up to 22 feet), but this small campground is very popular, especially during birding season in spring.
Pets must be leashed and firewood is not available, so bring your own firewood or charcoal or a camp stove for cooking. Bring a few extra garbage bags, too. You'll want to leave this outstanding area in as good or even better condition than it was when you arrived. Pack it in, pack it out. Pack and saddle stock are not permitted in campground. There is a limit of two vehicles and 10 persons per site and a 14-day stay limit.
Photographing The Birds
Photographing birds can be difficult because they move so much and they are usually quite a distance away. But, I am living proof that you don't need a lot of expensive equipment and huge lenses to get satisfying bird photos.
I use a Canon SX50HS, which is a digital camera with a 50x optical zoom which can be even further enlarged digitally. It's under 5x5x4 inches and weighs just over a pound, making it easy to carry even when hiking.
My TrekPod turns into a tripod when necessary, but I usually don't take the time to do that. You can rest the camera against a tree or post, or on a rock to get good steady images. I use a 32 GB card so I can take tens of thousands of photos and not worry about running out of room. Even on automatic mode, it takes wonderful photos. It has a built-in flash and also a hot shoe. I absolutely love it.
Many Great Spots Near Tucson
Nearby in the Tucson area are many wonderful places to visit, such as the Saguaro National Park (east and west areas), the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, San Xavier del Bac, Pima Air and Space Museum, Catalina State Park, Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, and the Titan Missile Museum. I especially enjoyed the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – what a great place to take photos of beautiful Arizona wildlife.
The Missile Museum
The Missile Museum was a blast (pun intended!). You'll get a mind-blowing look into life during the cold war, see an actual Titan Missile, and tour the site above and below ground. There are one-hour tours every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and you get to stand on top of the launch duct and see the huge missile, then go down into the silo and and see the launch control center and a lot of other cool stuff.
I totally enjoyed it. It's $9.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors, military, and groups. Ages 5 – 12 are $6, and children 4 and under are free, as are school and youth groups. If you can't manage the 55 steps to and from the underground site, call ahead and make a reservation.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a must-see. Most of it is outside, so if you go during the hotter months, be prepared for temps over 100 degrees. Come early - the museum is open from 7:30 a.m. til 5 p.m. from March through September. It will probably take you at least two hours to see everything.
One of the new things here is an aquarium exhibit with salt and freshwater tanks with species from the waters nearby, many of which are endangered.
Admission is $20.50 for ages 13-64, $18.50 for seniors, $8 for 3-12, under 3 free, $16.50 for military (active or retired), and $15.50 for Arizona/Sonora residents ages 13+.