We did an overnight trip heading up Rice Peak with our good friend Scott, his son and his son’s friend, through Forest Road 29 in the Coronado National Forest from Oracle, not too far north from Tucson, Arizona.
It is an out-and-back trail that is about 5.5 miles one way to the peak. We camped at one of the beautiful dispersed camping spots a little farther in from the trailhead where it is more rugged and less crowded. Join us on this weekend overlanding adventure.
We rolled out around noon to get on State Route 79 for our drive towards Oracle, Arizona. The drive was beautiful and the traffic was light, given it was mid-day on a Friday. You could still see some late season snow remaining on Mt Lemmon from the distance.
We also got a glimpse of the Galiuro Mountains from Mt Lemmon Road, it is one of the Sky Islands of the Coronado National Forest. Little did we know that we will be offroading and overlanding on the north end of that area in just a month’s time with the Offroad Passport® Club.
Mt Lemmon Road turned into dirt road not far from the Rice Peak trailhead, which is across the road from the Peppersauce Campground. We aired down the Nacho Honey Badger and started making our way to the dispersed camping spot further into the trail, which we think would be perfect for us.
There was quite a few camp spots along the trail in the beginning and to our surprise, they were already occupied by travel trailers and groups that were quite large. Luckily, as we work our way further into the trail, the terrain got a bit rougher and definitely would be hard for vehicles without 4 x 4 and high clearance to make it without potential damage.
We arrived at our camp spot in good time with plenty of day light left to setup camp and relax for the evening.
It was going to be cold and in the high 30s, so we brought the Annex S for our iKamper Skucamp 2.0 to give us extra privacy and extra room to keep our camp space warm. I found that the Annex S helps trap warmth in a little bit in cold weather, so when you get out of the tent and climb down the ladder, you are not immediately exposed to the elements. It is a nice luxury item I have really enjoyed so far.
You will see a little time-lapse video we put together in the video above how easy it is to setup the Annex S. Usually takes us about 10-minutes to get it attached to the roof top tent and staked down. No poles required!
We had a great time chilling by the camp fire, exchange stories and enjoy the quiet evening.
Early next morning, we made breakfast and warmed up by the camp fire to prepare for an exciting day of trail riding to Rice Peak. Jeremy tested out his prototype coffee making stand and I tried the instant Laksa Curry Noodles that I picked up from Bee’s Market in Colorado City for breakfast. It was just enough flavor to bring back lots of fun memories I had living in Singapore during my high school years.
As we were leaving camp, two relatively new Jeep JLs came up the trail and shared that they were headed up to Rice Peak as well. We let them go ahead of us since we knew we will be filming and taking it slow heading up.
The trail meanders through the northern foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, in and out of the Peppersauce Creek under shady oak trees. It made for a really fun, moderate drive over rocks and small boulders. There were a couple of slightly steeper, loose rock sections that require some navigation, but it was nothing too difficult for a stock 4×4 SUV to do.
There were many forks off of the trail, so we were glad that we had the trail guide from TrailsOffroad loaded on both our GAIA GPS and onX Offroad apps to make sure we stayed on track. We did not come across the other two Jeepers, and hoped that they found their way around to stay on track to the peak.
As we approach the last section of the trail heading up to Rice Peak, there were definitely signs of the damage from the Burro Fire in 2017. The Forest Service has bulldozed and smoothed out the trail to allow the fire crew access to combat the Burro Fire. The more challenging obstacles like the Dead Man’s Drop, Way Point 16 on TrailsOffroad, was leveled out and not as scary as it would have been before. We think the monsoon rain over the years may have washed the spot out slightly, but maybe still not as bad as it used to be.
The last little bit of the trail to the peak was steep hill climb covered in loose rocks. You might slip and slide a bit going up this section, rear locker will help, but not absolutely necessary. Scott’s Jeep does not have lockers and he made it without any challenges.
We arrived at the Rice Peak Summit and found ourselves in awe of the 360-degree panorama view of Mount Lemmon, Oracle, Oro Valley, and the Charouleau Gap.
As we were hanging out at the top, the two Jeeps we crossed path with earlier in the day had finally made their way to the peak also. They took a different route, using the Rice Peak trail guide by FunTreks.
We moved around and made room for them to park at the tiny flat area. There might be enough space for one or maybe two more vehicles to be up here, but turning around to get back down would require some serious maneuvering.
We decent the way we came up to head back to the trailhead. It was just as fun and interesting going back down navigating the wash outs, narrow shelf road and a handful of sharp turns. It felt like we were practicing for Black Bear Pass in Colorado!
What a beautiful state we live in. If you are in the Tucson area and would like a nice day trip or an overnight camping/offroading trip, we highly recommend Rice Peak!