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Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools, AZ

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Guide 34 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
4.4 of 5 by 12
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 7,415 feet
Elevation Gain 1,600 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 16
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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7  2019-08-24
Mount Lemmon / Lemmon Rock Loop
11  2019-07-15
Aspen-Marshall with a hint of Mint
4  2018-06-02 friendofThunderg
5  2018-05-05 friendofThunderg
10  2014-09-03
Upper Sabino Canyon
7  2013-06-15 southpawaz
7  2013-06-15 cindyl
33  2012-06-02 GrottoGirl
Page 1,  2,  3
Author fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 383
Photos 3,724
Trips 2,742 map ( 18,136 miles )
Age 43 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
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Preferred   May, Jun, Sep, Oct → 8 AM
Sun  6:06am - 6:31pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Refreshing Lemmonade?
by fricknaley

Likely In-Season!
After a couple of scorching days in Tucson I ritualistically go searching for some swimming holes. There are some neat ones up in the Catalinas. They take some work to get to, but it's worth it. I first went to the Lemmon Pools in Upper Lemmon Canyon a couple of years ago. Today I decided to try and see if I could find my way back. This requires access via a couple of Catalina highcountry favorites in the Marshall Gulch and Wilderness of Rock Trails. Once off route there is some serious scrambling and it is easy to get turned around, so this hike is for the more experienced only please.

Take off from the popular Marshall Gulch trailhead at the top of the Catalina Highway just beyond Summerhaven. This trail description is well documented by the webmaster himself under the hike "Aspen/Marshall" and I have no significant beta to add. This trail is a Catalina highcountry beauty traveling along a creek with towering pines, ferns and flowers along the way. The burned areas are mixed throughout and recovery is evident. What a pleasant area to spend the day! After about 1.2 miles the Marshall Gulch trail ends at Marshall Saddle and a trail intersection with the Aspen Trail from the left and the Wilderness of Rock trail straight ahead.

Hop onto the Wilderness of Rock trail and begin a gradual descent of sensory overload. This trail is well described on this site by Lizard and I reference you to that. The Wilderness of Rock trail is perhaps the jewel of the Catalinas in my opinion and offers everything you could want: forever views, scented pine forest, multiple creek crossings with water often present, flowers, and of course amazing rock formations. If there is something else to see, I don't know what it would be.

Cruise along the Wilderness of Rock trail, at about 1.6 miles after the Marshall Saddle junction you will pass the intersection for the Lemmon Rock trail on your right. This is a steep climb up to an unbelievable Catalina lookout. That's for another day, though. Stay on the Wilderness of Rock and very soon you cross the creek again. Keep going and enter the Wilderness proper. You are looking for the second creek crossing after the Lemmon Rock junction. It is about 0.6 miles past the Lemmon Rock junction. Here you will want to turn left and leave the trail. Take a good look at your surroundings because it can be hard to recognize when you return. At the creek crossing, Lemmon Canyon is to your left. There is a large Pine and boulder here you can use as a landmark to pass through, I remembered this from my prior trip. Pass through here and begin your scramble along the upper reaches of Lemmon Canyon.

You may hear and or see water along the canyon. I would recommend staying along the left/east flank of the canyon. There is a VERY faint path you can see at times, but if you don't that is fine. Just make your own way as far as you'd like. You can go for over a mile just remember the way up is going to be a tough off route scramble. The views down the canyon are amazing. The exposure can be a little severe at times and make sure, above all else, that you are careful and don't cliff-out on your way down to the pools. The water was very clear from the recent rains and also very COLD. There are a series of pools up here. I was not able to make it all the way down to some of the larger ones due to some recent injuries. Just make your own way and enjoy this beautiful, hidden wonder.

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2007-06-17 fricknaley
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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.

Most recent of 16 deeper Triplog Reviews
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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I was looking for a cooler place to hike than the VOS, and decided that Mount Lemmon was a good choice.

We did this loop CCW, and the climb back up to Mount Lemmon on the Lemmon Rock LO Trail was a butt-kicker.

On the way down from Mount Lemmon, while on Mount Lemmon Trail #5 we went past the WOR Trail for about .2 mile to a really cool view point -- it is well worth checking out. On the way to the view point we came across a green mohave rattlerblack-tailed rattlesnake alongside the trail. This snake was not very happy to see us.

We made a side trip to Lemmon Pool -- the water was clear but it was down 10-12 inches from being full, and the waterfall was not running.
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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A day spent at the pools with CJ and the pups. We took a lot of naps, swam and read while at the pools and waited out the warmer part of the day to hike the pups out. Met a ranger who let me know she did not like dogs on the way in, that was fun. Steady traffic on the trail on the way out. Several water sources along the Wilderness of Rocks Trail.
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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This is a fun little area and was a perfect hike and hangout to get some quality time with the pups after an April full of dog watchers and the Grand Canyon.

Perfect temps and a pleasant hike on the way to the pools in the morning. We did run into one couple at the swim hole, but they left shortly after and we had the place to ourselves all day. We swam, enjoyed a couple of adult beverages and chilled at the little oasis for several hours (I have the sun burn to prove it). Lemon, like everywhere else in the state could use some rain. However, there was no shortage of water along the Wilderness of Rocks Trail and along Marshall Gulch to the Sunset, which was perfect for the pups on the hike out, as it was a little warm at times in the direct sunlight. I think this could be a fun area after a little rain.

Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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My second day on the mountain and "I'm felling much better now" ;) . I had a great recovery nap last night, and had no plan as of 08:00, so I grabbed the laptop, headed to Ski Valley and used my phone to pipe in a track. I knew I was limited in several ways, but picked the best route for my general needs. Great Choice! I'm not gonna go into detail here, but this trek was the conception of a "Peak of Summer", Mega-Loop, in the the upper-front range of the Cat's. The high elevation diversity along this route cannot be matched. I plan to refine this into a Description, where I'll be much more specific in the transitions (soon to come)...
Incredible day in the high of the low country. :y:
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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whenever it's really hot in the (tucson) valley, i think of heading up here to take a dip in the pools. we ended up getting off the trail after where i had been previously, and it was a little sketchy there. we made it back to the off-trail "trail," and we managed to find the pools. we did see mark (MrBadBern) and joseph (My Joseph) on the way out.
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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Cindyl picked this one out for us this weekend, and with her assurance that she had been there twice, I pulled a couple waypoints out of an old forum thread and off we went (didn't catch the hike description since I looked under L and not U). We took our time going up Marshall Gulch, with stops for a number of flower pics, and were glad that the crowds thinned out after we hit the Wilderness of Rocks Trail.

As we worked our way down towards the waypoint I had, I was starting to wonder if there was going to be much if any water in the pool, as the creek along the way was mostly dry. As we approached the waypoint I had marked, cindyl said we were getting close, and indeed we were. When we got to the creek crossing where we were supposed to start down, however, she wasn't sure we were in the right place. We made our way down a short way and realized that following the creek down wasn't going to work out too well for us, so we climbed up on the southeast side and stayed high. Eventually we caught sight of a bit of trail (which was the way she had been before) and made our way to the waypoint for the pool. Before dropping down, we followed the trail to its end at a cool little campsite above the pool.

We sat and enjoyed the pool for a nice break, entertained by a pair of red dragonflies, before climbing up and back out. Rather than going out the way we had come in, we stayed high on easier terrain and made a beeline for a spot on my GPS track to get back on trail.

On the way out, we passed by a large group of backpackers settling in at a nice spot where there had just been a pair starting to set up on the way down. We paused for a break not far past the site, and met @MrBadBern and @My Joseph, who had hiked down with the group but weren't staying, as they started back out to the trailhead. We followed along at our own pace, and eventually made it back out and headed back down to town.
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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A sad farewell hike to the beauty of the pine country before the man shut us out. Of course, I don't think the man was wrong... I just don't like the idea that I can't enjoy my public lands because there are idiots out there who can't respect the natural environment.

It was a delightful day - not as hot as we thought it might be. In fact, by the time we arrived at the pools it wasn't quite hot enough to jump in that icy cold water. Overall there was much more water on the mountain than I'd expected, and nearly every spring and regular filling hole had at least a trickle. It bodes well in such a dry year, and I hope that it means that our Catalinas may escape this fire season without as much destruction as some of our other Sky Islands.

Our hike back up to the car was much more pleasant on the Aspen Trail than the Lemmon Rock Trail is. I had not been on that stretch of the Aspen Trail since the fire in 2003, and found that not only is the trail in far better condition than it was before, but that the burn opened up some unique views that I very much enjoyed. May become a regular haunt of mine ;)
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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When I heard that they were going to close Coronado NF, I knew that it was imperative that I get up to Lemmon Pools for one last float before I have to start getting creative with my summer hikes. The day before the closure, my pool-hiking partner in crime Wendy and I got an early start with the intent of spending the entire day on the mountain. We parked at the top and took a very windy Lemmon Rock Tr. down, starting at 8:30am. It was surprisingly clear in the morning, the smoke from the Murphy and Horseshoe 2 fires was not visible. We reached the pools at 10:30 and it was striking how low they were. At least a foot and a half lower than the last couple of times I've been here. Which was kind of good, because it meant that the water wasn't as cold as usual either. The weather was a little cool for swimming, so we spent several hours just hanging out, enjoying the surroundings, napping, looking at maps, and reading books that we'd brought.

Finally around 2pm, even though it wasn't really that hot out, we decided that it would be a shame to leave without going for a float. I spent most of the time in the "punchbowl" ricocheting myself off the sides like a pinball. :D Lemmon Pools is great for the floatie because you don't have to get your whole body in the chilly water. Finally, at almost 3pm, we left our watery paradise and started our hike out. Temperatures were perfect and we were surprised to not have to use our umbrellas. Instead of taking the same way out, we took the Wilderness of Rock to Marshall Saddle and the Aspen Tr. and powerline back to our car. I've got to admit, the hike out was a bit of a slog. I hadn't gone on a "real" hike for about a month because of my river trip and I could definitely tell. It was windy and almost cold on our hike out and we got back to the car 10 hours after we'd started. It makes me sad that the forest has to close because idiots were not paying attention to fire restrictions, but if that's what it takes to keep the mountain from burning up, so be it.
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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It was very hot in the Wilderness of Rocks section of this hike. It was nice to get to Lemmon Pools. There wasn't as much water flow going into the pools, but the water depth looked about the same as it was last year when I went last year near this time, but the water temperature was much warmer this year.

I talked to the fire lookout at Lemmon Rock. He said that there were 10 fires this weekend that were left unattended - so not only are folks disobeying the "no fires" restriction, but then they are leaving it to start more fires in our hot and dry forest. With this much ineptitude on the part of forest patrons, I'm all for the Forest Service shutting down the Coronado until monsoon season. Dave, the lookout, told me that the reason that he wasn't there when I visited two weeks ago was that he was in Flagstaff graduating from NAU. If you see him, be sure to congratulate him.
Upper Lemmon Canyon & Pools
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Took my backpacking gear on a dayhike for Grand Canyon training purposes. I usually have to work on Fridays, but my appointments cancelled this morning, so I had a bonus hiking day this week. It was already 8am when I found out, so I decided to make a trip up the mountain for cooler weather. I was originally going to do the Mt. Lemmon/Lemmon Rock loop. As I turned off onto the Meadow Trail I realized that a trip to Lemmon pools would accomplish similar elevation gain/loss with a bonus waterfall and swim. I also happened to have my floatie with me because I'd thrown a bunch of gear in my pack to add weight. Fortunately, I'd only walked a short while on the Meadow Tr., so I turned around and called Mr. Sirena to let him know my change in itinerary.

I got hiking by 10:45 am, under Fraleylicious skies which made for a great video from the Lemmon Rock Lookout:

The exposed switchbacks were pretty warm, and there are quite a few wildflowers proliferating in the burn area. I was happy to reach the forested canopy. The water level was over the stepping-stones on the first creek crossing from the recent rains. My new shoes felt good on the steep downhill. I reached the Wilderness of Rock trail and quickly made it to the second creek crossing where the route to the pools take off. I noticed a new cairn before the creek with some stomped-down branches and decided to give that a try. I briefly got off the route, which was a little irritating because by this time it was hot and exposed and I just wanted to be at the pools already. I reached the pools at 12:45 and went for a float- it was so cold I had to put my legs up on a ledge and stay in the sun to be comfortable. Since I had my gear with me, I had my air mattress for a siesta in the shade. I had some time to kill because my plan was to hike out when it was a little cooler and catch the sunset from the Lemmon Rock Lookout. While I was there, the level in the pools lowered by about 2 inches.

At 3:30, I started my hike out from the pools. My environment went from cool and comfortable to hot and exposed in a matter of minutes. The route was very clear on the way back to the Wilderness of Rock and I could see where I'd gone astray. The lookout loomed high above me. The bottom of the climb out on the Lemmon Rock Tr. was shaded and I took a break where it crosses the creek to kill a little more time before tackling the final switchbacks. It was still really warm at 5pm, and I was surprised to see that the upper part of the trail remained in full sun. Even so, I much preferred this route to the pools over the Marshall Gulch route. I got to the lookout and settled in to watch the sunset. The best part of the evening was watching the growing shadow of Mount Lemmon to the east. I could see a light way off to the south and I looked it up when I got home. It was the reflection off an observatory 20 miles south of the Mexican border.

As I was driving home, the moon rose, giant and orange and a perfect end to my day on the mountain.

Permit $$
Visit this link for full details.

There are four specific day use areas that require a Coronado Recreational Pass or a National Pass/America the Beautiful Pass.
1) Sabino Canyon - located on the Santa Catalina Ranger District (520)749-8700
2) Madera Canyon - located on the Nogales Ranger District (520)281-2296
3) Cave Creek - located on the Douglas Ranger District (520)364-3468
4) Mt. Lemmon at 11 day use sites.

Catalina State Park $6 per day. Sabino Canyon Tram is $10 extra.

Coronado Forest
MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
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!
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