Anyone who has hiked the upper elevations of the Santa Catalina Mountains, more than once or twice, has probably used The Marshall Gulch Trail to link up with other trails. Many people have picnics by the parking area and use this trail just to wander in the woods. It's a great trail to take the grandkids for a little excursion. Sabino Creek is just left of the parking area as it begins its drop into the upper reaches of Sabino Canyon.
Unfortunately, the large Aspen Fire of 2003 severely burned the upper sections of the canyon and many acres of lush forest were lost and the area was eroded quite badly. The area is recovering and the new Aspens are already taller then your average man. The Marshall Gulch Trail, FS#3, climbs from the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area up to Marshall Saddle. The trail is in good condition and fairly easy to follow.
The trail starts on the west side of the parking area at the end of the road, just to the right of the restrooms. There is another trail that begins behind the restrooms, but that is not the Marshall Gulch Trail. The official Marshall Gulch Trail has a sign, and it takes off straight up the hill from the parking lot. Do not place any of your gear at the base of the sign, as this is the only place in this mountain range where I have found Poison Ivy.
After the short steep stretch at the beginning, the trail enters the wilderness area and contours up Marshall Gulch on its right hand slope through dense pine/fir forest. The stream almost always has water in it, though in the driest months it may only be occasional pools. Just as you make your first crossing of the creek a side trail comes in from your left. This is the cut through trail from behind the restrooms. Put a marker here if you will be coming back this way, as you really don't want to take the cut off trail. The last time I was up there, there was a lot of deadfall.
The trail meanders up the stream bed crossing back and forth a couple of times. After about 0.5 miles the trail crosses to the right side of the creek and then heads up, with the stream below you 35 to 50 feet. This area of the trail usually has a lot of ferns and various wildflowers.
At about 1.0 miles the trail makes a sharp left crossing of the creek for the last time. Watch for this crossing as many hikers have gone up the hill straight ahead and you can mistakenly follow their footsteps. After 1.2 miles the trail climbs up, over some flat rocks, and comes to Marshall Saddle.
Marshall Saddle is a five-way trail junction for a number of trails. The Aspen Trail, FS #93, takes off to the left and the right (north and south). To the north it is 1.3 miles and 1000 feet of gain to the top of Radio Ridge. To the south on the Aspen Trail it is 2.5 miles back to the parking area at the picnic area. The Wilderness of Rocks Trail, FS #44, continues straight ahead (west). The Mint Spring Trail, FS #20, takes off to the right (northeast) and ends at Carter Canyon Road.
Any number of round trip or loop hikes can be made using the Marshall Gulch Trail as a starting, middle or finish link. An easy 3.7 mile loop can be made by starting on the Marshall Gulch Trail to Marshall Saddle and then take the Aspen Trail to the left, stopping at "Lunch Ledge" and return to the parking lot. A little harder hike would be to do the same hike clockwise. A good work out hike with a lot of up and downs would be to start at Ski Valley and take the Aspen Draw Trail, FS#2 to the top of Radio Ridge then down the Aspen Trail looping around to the parking area at the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area, up the Marshall Gulch Trail to Marshall Saddle and then back up the Aspen Trail to Radio Ridge and back down to Ski Valley. This is a great 9.2 mile loop with 2950 feet of ascend and 2300 feet of descend.
I like to leave my vehicle in the town of Summerhaven and catch a ride to the Marshall Gulch Trailhead with someone. Then I hike out the Mint Spring or Turkey Run Trails to town and stop at the Pie Shop to reward myself for a nice day of hiking.
There are two other trails that depart from this parking area. The Aspen Trail, FS#93 leaves from the southwest corner and climbs gradually in a southerly direction. The Sunset Trail, FS #90 leaves from the southeast corner and stays on the west side of Sabino Creek for about 300 yards and then crosses the creek on some flat rocks.
One-Way Notice: This hike is listed as One-Way. When you hike several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
Sabino/Madera - $5 per day or $20 annual. Catalina State Park $6 per day. Sabino Canyon Tram is $8 extra.
Paved - Car Okay
To Marshall Gulch Trailhead From Tucson, at the intersection of Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway, go North on the Catalina Highway just over 30 miles. You will pass the small community of Summerhaven. The road ends at Marshall Gulch picnic area. You really can't miss it, it's all the way to the end. The parking is limited so come early!
Take the Catalina Highway off Tanque Verde Road in Tucson. Drive 4.2 miles to the Forest boundary and continue 26 miles through Summerhaven to the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area. All roads are paved, but chains or 4-wheel drive may be required in winter because of snow. The trailhead is at the end of the road. You'll have to walk the last couple of hundred yards in winter when the road into the picnic area is gated closed.