Overvuew: This is one of the signature hikes of the Catalinas and a true winter tradition, hiking from Sabino Canyon to Catalina State Park. This can be accomplished as a challenging, beautiful dayhike in the late fall, winter or early spring. The route takes off from the popular Sabino Canyon Recreational Center. From there it's up Sabino Canyon via the Phoneline Trail to Sabino Canyon proper. This short segment takes you to the West Fork Trail where you head northwest to the highpoint, Romero Pass, then descend down the Romero Canyon trail to the parking lot at Catalina State Park.
These trails have been individually written up here on HAZ by keepmoving and myself, and I'll reference you to those descriptions as more quality beta for this hike. This description will string together the route and highlight the major points of the trails, as well as serving for a place to the log this oh-so-worthy hike here on Hike Arizona.
This hike is best done in winter, but please note that snow at Romero Pass and high water levels in the West Fork can potentially make this hike undoable, or leave you with the option of having to turn around and complete a 30 mile hike back out in the dark if you are not prepared to camp...PLEASE research the weather and water conditions before attempting this as a dayhike.
Hike: The easiest way to start this hike is to blast off (early) right down the Sabino Canyon paved road. Take this short initial leg for about 1.2 miles, past stops 1 & 2. Your goal is to hit one of the connectors to the Phoneline Link Trail. Around tram stop 3, look for a small typical Catalina trail sign showing a route crossing over Sabino Creek (potential for messy water crossing here) and pointing to the link trail 0.1 miles away. Cross the creek, root up the side of the hill and pop onto the well established Link Trail. Hang a left and switchback up to the Phoneline Trail. This is again signed and will put you at roughly 2 miles in.
Hang a left onto the Phoneline Trail and hike up the fairly level trail, up Sabino Canyon via it's southern wall. The sun will probably rise on you here, affording special views and you'll hear water running in the Creek far below. This section of trail is about 3.2 miles to the end of the road and the junction with the Sabino Canyon Trail #23, about 5.2 miles in.
Hop on to the Sabino Canyon #23 Trail and continue the beautiful hike up Sabino Canyon. Up here the canyon closes in a little bit more, the walls become a little more steep and everything just becomes a little more grand for a while. Eventually you venture away from the creek a little and enter Sabino Basin with large views north into the basin and the canyons draining in. Soon enough, you descend back down to the canyon bottom. This trail is a little over 2 miles. The trail ends in the creek bed at the junction with the West Fork Trail #24 and East Fork Trail #24A.
Take the West Fork #24 trail and head northwest along the wonderful West Fork. There is an immediate creek crossing that is well cairned then the trail heads along the north flank of the creek for about 1 mile before the largest creek crossing of the hike. This can be tricky in moderate water conditions. If the creek is roaring this may be impossible to do and stay dry...please bear this in mind. Not long thereafter a large cairned path breaking off to your right will lead to Hutch's Pool and it's reliable water. This is about 1.6 miles into the West Fork Trail and is absolutely worthwhile. The next 3.4 miles of the West Fork start with a climb up a ridge and away from the creek for a bit with expansive wide open views up and down the canyon that are simply stunning. The trail then comes back to the creek to make several crossings through a riparian wooded and shaded stretch that is extremely pleasant. The trail is a little faint through here, and leaf-littered but always there. The crossings are all well cairned. At the time of this write-up the crossings here were all dry though there was moderate water in the West Fork crossing before Hutch's Pool (as a reference point). With high water conditions, some of these could be problematic. At about 12.2 miles into your hike you will come to a signed trail intersection in a wooded area with the Cathedral Rock Trail #26. This goes left. Stay straight/right on the West Fork and continue climbing up the last leg of the 6.8 mile West Fork stretch, the 1.8 mile climb up to Romero Pass. This last leg immediately climbs out of the wooded area and begins some long, winding switchbacks up the northeast wall of the canyon. You are exposed again. You can look back down canyon for some of the best views of the day, over Rattlesnake Peak to Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak, which may well be covered in snow. The trail is a little narrow and overgrown here, but still easy enough to follow. On the other side of the canyon you can see the Cathedral Rock trail switchbacking wildly up onto Pusch Ridge. Before long you reach the highpoint of the hike, Romero Pass, and the end of the West Fork Trail. This is about 14 miles into the hike, and sits a just under 6100 feet.
At Romero Pass you can see forever southeast and northwest. It's often windy and cold. There may well be snow and ice, so please research the conditions so you are not surprised when you get there. The last leg of this hike is the nearly 7 mile hike down Romero Canyon trail to Catalina State Park. The initial steep descent down the side gully up to Romero Pass can be tricky in the ice and a little faint, so some familiarity with this trail or a GPS may help. This wooded stretch will then make some creek crossings (all dry as of this time) that are well cairned. After almost 2 miles you will come to the old Trail Camp site. From here the trail heads up a little then onto the exposed northern wall of Romero Canyon where the views again become commanding. Soon enough the trail descends sharply back down to the canyon bottom and briefly crosses over the canyon onto the south side before crossing again at Upper Romero Pools. A short jaunt brings you to the classic Romero Pools where you cross Romero Canyon for the last time before climbing back up to the Montrose Divide, then making your quick descent back down to civilization at the Catalina State Park trailhead, right around 20 miles from where you started.
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.
At the trailhead
5:35am - 7:24pm
Nov, Dec, Feb, Mar → 7 AM
Paved - Car Okay
Sabino/Madera - $5 per day or $20 annual. Catalina State Park $6 per day. Sabino Canyon Tram is $8 extra.
To Sabino Canyon Recreation Trailhead From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Grant/Kolb Rd head northeast on Tanque Verde. Turn left at the second light on Sabino Canyon Rd. Go about 8 miles up Sabino Canyon Rd and you come to a four way stop with Sunrise. Go straight through the intersection and take the next right into the parking lot of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Signs marking the way start on North Kolb road.
This is the universal directions to Sabino Canyon Recreation Center. Hikes take off from all directions and some you might need to hike another trail to get to the start of your hike. Reference the hike summary for details.
From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 117 mi - about 1 hour 57 mins From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 14.1 mi - about 30 mins From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 261 mi - about 4 hours 1 min
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.
page created by fricknaley on Dec 15 2009 10:03 pm
Warning: heat kills!
Avoid 8am to 5pm over 90 degrees. Prehydrate & stay hydrated. Hikebot recommends using an umbrella to block the sun. Avoid Heat Illness - do NOT hike when temps exceed 100 degrees, period.