Madera Canyon--Whitehouse Picnic area

About this Location

The Whitehouse area is named for the nearby ruins of an old white adobe house built at the mouth of Madera Canyon in the 1880s. Tables and charcoal grills here are tucked under mesquite and oak trees a short distance from Madera Creek. In addition to the single table sites, facilities include a large ramada for group get-togethers. Wildlife watching is at the top of the menu at Whitehouse. The Madera Nature Trail, portions of which are paved and barrier-free, leads from the picnic area into nearby mesquite and oak woodland and sycamore-shaded riparian area. This trail actually stretches from Proctor Trailhead, a short distance down-canyon from Whitehouse Picnic Area, to Roundup Picnic Area at the end of the Madera Canyon Road. Since it was built a bit at a time, tread surface and interpretive features vary along its length. Coues white-tailed deer regularly browse within sight of it, barely taking notice of the presence of nature lovers focusing binoculars and clicking cameras just a few feet away. An overlook of Madera Creek provides opportunities to view more secretive species such as javelina and coatimundi as they stop for a drink. Along the two paved loops of the trail, which the Green Valley Hiking Club helped construct, there are interpretive signs in English and Spanish pointing out historic sites and other points of interest. Trailside wooden benches provide opportunities for more leisurely contemplation. Trails, trailhead information stations, and interpretive signs along the Madera Nature Trail are maintained by the Friends of Madera Canyon, a hard-working group of volunteers dedicated to keeping this area as clean and inviting as possible.

Drive south from Tucson on I-19 to the Continental Road/Madera Canyon Exit. Turn east and follow the signs 12 miles to scenic Madera Canyon and the picnic area. The entire route is paved.

About Madera Canyon

See all hotspots at Madera Canyon

If you are entering eBird data for Madera Canyon there are several eBird hotspots in Madera Canyon. There are hotspots for each of the parking and picnic areas, feeding stations, and several trails. Please use these hotspots whenever possible and try not to merge a hike or drive through the canyon into one checklist.

Also, be aware that the Pima-Santa Cruz County line cuts east-west through Madera Canyon. County boundaries are important for eBird data collection and reporting. The county line crosses Madera Canyon Road at the Madera Picnic Area, about at the midpoint of the big parking area on your left as you head up the canyon. If you can see the Santa Rita Lodge, you are in Santa Cruz County so please use the “Madera Canyon--Santa Rita Lodge” hotspot. Otherwise, use the “Madera Canyon--Madera Picnic Area” hotspot. If birding at the Bog Springs Campground, which is bisected by the county line, use the “Madera Canyon--Bog Springs Campground” unless the birds you are noting are on the north side of the campground, then create a personal spot that is in Pima County.

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northern slopes of the Santa Rita Mountain range east of Green Valley and south of Tucson, Arizona. The flora along with the streams that carved out this canyon help to sustain the many bird, mammal, and insect species that breed and visit here. Visitors from all over the world arrive in search of such avian specialties as the Elegant Trogon, Elf Owl, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and Painted Redstart. Over 230 species of birds have been recorded in the Canyon with 15 hummingbird species among them.

Thousands of birders, hikers, photographers, artists, and those simply seeking a place to enjoy a picnic under the shade of a sycamore tree—next to the cool water of a creek—have fallen in love with Madera Canyon.

Madera Canyon, one of the most famous birding areas in the United States, is a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains with riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests. 

The road to Madera Canyon enters through desert grasslands and ends in juniper-oak woodland, where hiking trails lead up to the “sky island” through pine-oak woodland to montane conifer forest and the top of Mt. Wrightson (elevation 9,453 feet). The spectrum of birds found in these varied habitats includes four species of tanagers: Summer at Proctor Road, Hepatic starting at Madera Picnic Area, Western up the trails in the conifers, and Flame-colored as an occasional breeder. Hummingbirds, owls, and flycatchers are also very well represented in this area. Montezuma Quail are inconspicuous but present near grassy oak-dotted slopes.

In the Santa Rita Experimental Range below Madera Canyon can be found birds of the desert grasslands and brush, including Costa’s Hummingbird, Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Scaled Quail, Phainopepla, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, Black-throated, Brewer’s, and Rufous-winged Sparrows.

At Proctor Road, most birders walk the productive first section of the trail to Whitehouse Picnic Area to find Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Lucy’s Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Varied Bunting, Summer Tanager, and sometimes Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The dirt road shortly above the parking lot may have Western Scrub-Jays and a Crissal Thrasher.

Farther up the road, the Madera Picnic Area has Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, and Dark-eyed Junco. Three Myiarchus flycatchers, Western Wood-Pewee, and Hepatic Tanager can be found here in season. Watch overhead for Zone-tailed Hawk among the Turkey Vultures.

At the end of the road at the parking lot, the trailhead leads to Old Baldy. Elegant Trogons are most often found along the first mile of either the Super Trail or the Carrie Nation Trail. Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher are common along the trails. Yellow-eyed Juncos breed higher up towards Josephine Saddle.

Night birding is a Madera Canyon highlight, especially in May. Listen for Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Elf Owls, and the much rarer Flammulated and Spotted Owls. Whip-poor-wills are in the forest and Common Poorwills can be heard near Proctor and below. Lesser Nighthawks, Barn, and Great Horned Owls often fly across the road through the beam of your headlights as you approach the canyon.

Friends of Madera Canyon publishes a comprehensive “Birds of Madera Canyon” checklist that is available at the Visitor Information Station, trailheads, and website.

Content from Official Website and Friends of Madera Canyon website