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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 high-country 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. The webmaster himself has well documents this trail description under the hike "Aspen/Marshall," and I have no significant beta to add. This trail is a Catalina high-country 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 place 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 refer you to that. The Wilderness of Rock trail is perhaps the jewel of the Catalinas, in my opinion. It offers everything you could want: forever views, scented pine forest, multiple creek crossings with water often present, flowers, and of course, fantastic 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. Please 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 previous 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 way as far as you'd like. You can go for over a mile. Remember, the way up is going to be a tough off route scramble. The views down the canyon are incredible. 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 down to some of the larger ones due to some recent injuries. Just make your way and enjoy this beautiful, hidden wonder.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.