I rated this as difficult as the trail is so seldom used, it's hard to find in many places, and it does get steep towards the top. I did this years ago and so I can't speak for what it might look like now. It is very quiet up this trail as you will probably encounter no one. Grasses get very tall at the end of summer on the lower section. This puts you on top of Agua Caliente saddle as your destination. With an extra vehicle, or someone to pick you up, you could go down the Vault Mine trail back to Madera Canyon as an option. I returned the same way to where I parked along the Agua Caliente road.
This is an easy hike that starts on a trail from the Agua Caliente road, and then eventually connects to the old mine road that leads to the mine. You could hike up from Chino Basin on that old road, but that would be a little further and the road in there is really rough. There is no real steep grades anywhere along here so it makes for an easy in and out. It is also the preferred route to start on if you plan to summit Elephant Head. There is a trail on your left, that breaks off into Chino Canyon from the mine road that will take you on your way to Elephant Head. Continue on the road till you get to the mine, and it's worth kicking around for a while and explore the old mine area. Follow the road, and the trail as well, back to your vehicle. The road up to this parking spot is not suitable for cars. It's pretty ugly, so a high clearance truck is better. Doesn't need to be 4 x 4, but clearance will help with the boulders.
I have done this hike twice. Not sure I'll tackle it again, as it makes for a really long day. Florida Canyon trail is steep and long on it's own, never mind going further to Baldy Saddle. Both times I have done it, I have stopped at Baldy Saddle with Mt. Wrightson looming only 9/10 of a mile away. But I wisely turned around there both times, as that extra almost 2 miles would really wear on you. Florida Canyon trail was so thickly forested before the Florida Fire in the summer of 05' The canyon faces north and had some of the biggest trees in it I had seen anywhere on the mountain. Sad to see a lot of them burned and blown down. It is a little eerie walking thru there if there is any kind of wind blowing. Lots of burned trees are still standing and creak back and forth in the wind. You never know. Once at the top of Florida Saddle, you continue on the crest trail to Baldy Saddle. This section is almost easy compared to what you just climbed up. This trail passes by the top of the burned out saddle above the shovel area. Great views to the west from this spot. Once you get to Baldy saddle, a short rest is in order and then the long hike back to your vehicle. The last mile or two on the bottom of the Florida trail seems like it will never end. This hike too, is not for the casual hiker. This produces sore everything!!
I haven't hiked this trail since they blocked the road to the actual trailhead. But I used to hike this trail a lot years ago. Mostly due to there never being anyone over here. Not sure why they gated the road about a mile from the trailhead, and I probably won't do this trail again because of it. It's a long enough hike as it is from the trailhead. This mapped out at 9 miles, but I think it's more like 10 total. I did this once in the winter of 83' too. That year the Santa Rita's saw a lot of snow, and we walked in snow pretty much the whole way. Gardner creek seems to always have water in it, no matter what time of year. That was another reason I came over here a lot. It is a little higher than Madera Canyons parking area, and so the vegetation is a little different. Lots of Ponderosas right by the trailhead. This was always a great spot to camp too, and we did that often. The trail is a fairly steady climb the whole way up. Very wooded so lots of shade. That may not be the case anymore in some spots though since the 05' fire. I haven't been up there since that. So if you don't mind tacking on another 2 miles to this hike, I would do it as it is a nice canyon
This trail can be hiked in either direction. I have drawn this heading up to the Carrie Nation Mine site, across the Agua Caliente trail back to Josephine Saddle, and then down the old Baldy trail. Beyond the mine, the trail is very steep until it gets to the Agua Caliente trail. It climbs about 800' in a very short distance. This stretch is a real pull. Once on the Agua Caliente trail,, bear left and it is easy going to Josephine Saddle. At the saddle, you will head down the Old Baldy trail back to the parking lot. An alternate descent is going down the Super Trail. That will add about a mile and a half though. But it is a real easy downhill. The Old Baldy trail is steeper.
I did this hike a few years ago, and it was a tough hike. I may not have the exact path here as some of it is on trails that people have made. My Garmin read 8 miles for this total. From the parking lot, you take the super trail until you cross the creek, and then a short distance after is the cutoff on the left, not signed, to what is called the pipeline trail. This is a well walked trail and takes you to the springs trail. Which is an old access road actually. From that jct., you head up that creek drainage until you get to another jct. that cuts back to the left. You have to be looking for it or you'll go right by. Probably a half mile from the springs jct. This will take you to Rodgers Rock. From Rodgers Rock, there is a use trail that someone started that goes up a steep ridge and connects to the springs trail again, but you will bear right. The ridge from Rodgers is the toughest section. Now you are on the trail to Armour springs. This section is a little overgrown due to the fact it is not used by many. It will take you to a saddle which has been given the name The Shovel. Lots of new ponderosas growing since the fire in 05'. This is right below the burned out saddle that is along the crest trail. This would be a great spot to camp as it is wide open with lots of places you could pitch a tent. So this is for the adventurous as it involves a little of everything!!