Kartchner Caverns State Park has more than just caves! You can experience the park aboveground on the series of trails designed for an easy stroll or a more strenuous hike. With the newest trail, you can now take a longer hike along the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains.
The new Ocotillo Trail is a 1.7 mile addition to the previously existing Foothills Loop trail. The full loop, which encompasses both trail segments, is about 3.2 miles in total. No motorized vehicles or bicycles are permitted on this trail.
Ocotillo can be accessed from the Foothills Loop in two locations. North: from the group ramada, take the Foothills Loop north (counterclockwise) and turn right onto the Ocotillo Trail after about 1/2 mile. South: from the group ramada, take the Foothills Loop south (clockwise) and continue straight onto the Ocotillo Trail after about 1 mile.
A gentle yet steady elevation gain will be experienced until reaching the saddle that indicates the half-way point of the trail. There are several wash crossings, so be please alert during summer monsoon storms. There are several benches along the way but shade is sparse along most of the trail.
The northern portion of the trail meanders through gentle hills, wash crossings, and wraps around the north portion of a large limestone hill. From time to time you will be treated to sweeping views of the San Pedro River Valley and the Dragoon mountains to the east. The saddle is a great place to stop and enjoy views of the area's famous "sky island" mountain ranges with the Huachuca mountains to the south, the Whetsones to the south and west, and the Rincon and Winchester ranges to the north. The southern portion of the trail traverses a steep hillside overlooking a shallow drainage.
Throughout your hike, a multitude of ocotillo plants can be seen from the aptly named trail. In spring, enjoy the reddish orange blossoms that grace the tops of these spiky desert plants. These blooms are a favorite of hummingbirds! Ocotillo only grow their bright green leaves when there is adequate moisture, they can drop and regrow their leaves several times a year to conserve moisture during times of drought. Other vegetation includes prickly pear, cholla, and barrel cactus, mesquite, whitethorn and catclaw acacia (wait-a-minute bush), brittlebush, ephedra (mormon tea), century plants, shin dagger agave, desert spoon, beargrass, and yucca.
The Guindani Trail (#398)
Located on the east flank of the Whetstone Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, this trail is 4.2 miles in length ( the first mile is an easy walk, next two-thirds of the trail is a moderate difficulty, and the last leg is strenuous). This is a shared-use, non-motorized trail that is well-marked with directional signs.
Trail elevations range from 4750’ at the park trailhead to over 5620’ at the highest point along the Guindani Trail. The summits along the crest of the Whetstone Mountains are over 7000’ in elevation. Vegetation is mesquite-invaded Chihuahuan semi-desert grassland at the lower elevations and open oak-juniper woodland on the higher slopes.
Access to the Guindani Trail is located on the west side of Kartchner Caverns State Park campgrounds; a kiosk marks the entrance to the trail. For more information, contact: Sierra Vista Ranger District, 5990 W. Hwy 92, Hereford, AZ 85615 or call (520) 378-0311.
The Foothills Loop Trail (loop)
This trail is approximately 2.5 miles, rated moderate to difficult. There are four access points; one at the northwest end of the Discovery Center parking lot near the group use ramada, one at the north end of the lower campground, one at the north end of the upper campground and one at the trailhead gate leading into the National Forest.
This is a hiking trail, with no bicycles or motorized vehicles permitted. The trail climbs the limestone hill north of the cave and descends into the wash that follows the fault between the Whetstone Block and the San Pedro Block. A short spur trail at the upper portion of the Foothills Loop Trail leads visitors to the scenic Mountain Viewpoint.
Informational signs along the Foothills Loop Trail will discuss such trail highlights as the foothills, scenic view, riparian area, bedrock mortar and the Native Americans that inhabited the area.
Some of the vegetation seen on the Foothills Loop Trail hike include: ocotillo, creosote bush, mesquite, desert broom, acacia, wait-a-minute bush, scrub oak, barrel cactus, prickly pear, buckhorn cholla, and hackberry.
The Hummingbird Garden Walk
The Hummingbird Garden Walk is located on the southwest side of the Discovery Center. The walk is lined with a variety of local vegetation. Some of the varieties include: catclaw acacia, velvet honeysuckle, beargrass, yellow bells, black spine prickle pear, autumn sage, agave, desert bird of paradise, desert spoon, fairy duster, chaparosa, and hesperaloe.
Hikers should ensure that they wear comfortable clothing, durable shoes and have plenty of water when hiking, especially in summer months. Hats, sunscreen and regular consumption of water will help prevent exhaustion and heat-related injuries. Hikers should stay on developed trails to prevent erosion, damage to vegetation and personal injury. Please report any problems along the trail or trail damage to the staff at the front desk. In addition to the amazing trails within this park, your Arizona state park trail system has opportunities waiting for you state wide. Adventure is only a short drive away!