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U.S. Forest Service

Santa Rita Mountains

Santa Rita Mountains banner scene. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Hiking trail in an oak-pine forest. This hiking trail is going through an oak-pine forest on the way to Mount Wrightson. Photo by Larry V at

Yuccas growing along a trail in the mountains. What are these yuccas doing way up here? Actually, it is common to see a few desert plants like yuccas, agaves, and sotols at fairly high elevations in Sky Island mountain ranges. Photo by Larry V at

Mount Wrightson. This is a view of Mount Wrightson from just below the summit. Photo by East King at

Arizona manihot (Manihot davisiae). Arizona manihot (Manihot davisiae) is very rare. It grows in canyons at lower elevations in the Santa Rita, Santa Catalina, and Baboquivari mountains. Photo by Ries Lindley at

High Point: Mount Wrightson, 9,456 feet

Elevation Change from Base: 5,856 feet

Vegetation at Highest Elevations: Pine forests

The Santa Rita Mountains are the fourth highest of the Sky Island mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and they rise nearly 6,000 feet above the desert floor. They are extremely rugged with steep slopes, sharp peaks, and narrow ridges. Much of the vegetation is pine forest mixing into oak-pine forest at lower elevations. Several of the deeper canyons have perennial streams and well developed riparian communities.

Special Places:

  • Madera Canyon: This canyon drains the north side of the mountain range and its perennial water flow supports a healthy riparian forest. Like most small streams in the Sky Islands, it disappears into the desert soil at lower elevations. This canyon is a mecca for bird watchers and photographers. Over 230 species of birds have been recorded in the Canyon with 15 of them being hummingbirds. Bird watchers from all over the world arrive in search of such avian specialties as the elegant trogon, elf owl, sulfur-bellied flycatcher, and painted redstart.
  • Mount Wrightson Wilderness: This wilderness of 25,260 acres includes most of the high peaks and ridges of the mountain range. A climb to the summit of Mount Wrightson is one of the more popular hikes in this wilderness, but it is only for the very fit. The “easiest” route to the summit is a round-trip hike of over 16 miles that gains more than 4,200 feet in elevation.
  • Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory: This astrophysical observatory is located on Mount Hopkins, an 8,585-foot peak west of Mount Wrightson. The observatory has six different telescopes. There is a visitor’s center at the western base of the mountains and guided tours of the observatory are available.

Special Plants:

  • Amoreuxia gonzalezii
  • Arabis tricornuta
  • Asclepias lemmonii
  • Conioselinum mexicanum
  • Hexalectris colemanii
  • Laennecia eriophylla
  • Lilium parryi
  • Lupinus huachucanus
  • Malaxis porphyria
  • Manihot davisiae
  • Muhlenbergia duboides
  • Muhlenbergia elongata
  • Muhlenbergia xerophila
  • Pectis imberbis
  • Potentilla rhyolitica var. rhyolitica
  • Senecio huachucanus
  • Sisyrinchium cernuum
  • Stevia lemmonii
  • Tragia laciniata

Further Reading: