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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Samaniego Peak, AZ

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Guide 23 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
Rated
3.4
3.4 of 5 by 7
 
4
Statistics
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 12.25 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9,096 feet
Elevation Gain -1,965 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,432 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 7 - 9 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 29.41
Interest Peak
Backpack Yes & Connecting
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
12  2017-10-20
Samaniego Peak
markthurman53
13  2017-10-05 rvcarter
24  2014-05-28 Mountain_Rat
20  2012-10-13 sguffey
10  2012-10-11 Carioca43
45  2012-08-11 Sarae
15  2012-05-12 GrottoGirl
22  2012-05-11
Meadow Trail #5A
keepmoving
Page 1,  2
Author brianb
author avatar Guides 9
Routes 0
Photos 164
Trips 3 map ( 0 miles )
Age 51 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
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Preferred   May, Jun, Sep, Oct → Early
Seasons   Late Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:07am - 6:29pm
Official Route
 
4 Alternative
 
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Forest adventure with a view!
by brianb

Likely In-Season!
Overview
This is an awesome trip that seems to get little mention, perhaps because there is no trail directly to the summit of Samaniego Peak. It's a wonderful exploration of alpine and sub-alpine forest (7000 - 9000 feet), with pines and junipers on the Mt. Lemon side, manzanita and oak on the Samaniego Peak side, and beautiful grassland meadows in between. Perhaps most notable about the Samaniego Ridge Trail is its collection of striking, red Arizona Madrone Trees (similar to Manzanita Bush, but this is a tree and much larger) - I've never seen so many of these beautiful and seemingly rare trees in one place.


This route also offers some of the most incredible views in the Catalinas. Just a few paces off the Lemon trail at the top of Mt. Lemon, you're offered views of the entire south side of the Catalinas from 8500 feet in the sky. Just a few more paces place you atop towering sheer rock formations, which are so prominent that they're visible to the naked eye from Tucson 6000 feet below. Traveling down the west side of Mt. Lemon yields unique views (from the north) of Catalina landmarks like Cathedral Rock and Mount Kimball. From points along the Samaniego Ridge Trail, you're treated to rare views of the northwest side of Mount Lemmon and the 'Reef of Rock' area.

Finally, atop Samaniego Peak (7700 ft.), the view is absolutely breathtaking. You can see the entire western range of the Catalinas (the Pusch Ridge Wilderness) to the south. The vistas from the peak are as far as the eye can see in all directions, obscured only by Mt. Lemon to the east. Like other peaks in the Catalinas, it tends to be very breezy up there. Gusts from 30-50 mph are common from these peaks, and when I was there I had difficulty remaining standing upright! It's an awesome experience.

Caution
There is no trail from the Samaniego Ridge Trail to Samaniego Peak. The relatively short route (approx. 1/2 mi.) from the trail to the peak is difficult due to dense patches of pine and manzanita and very limited visibility (you're in a forest). Finding your way back to the trail is also hazardous due to the aforementioned factors and because the Samaniego Peak Trail is almost invisible in that area. Finding your way from the summit back to the trail can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, and it would be very easy to get lost. You should be confident in your route-finding skills (through a forest) and pay very close attention to your landmarks in this section.

1st Note
The 2000 ft. elevation gain is deceptive. The trail goes up and down hundreds of feet several times, and is very steep in places as well. This is a strenuous hike.

2nd Note
There is often 1-2 feet or more of snow on Mount Lemmon (and most of this route) from first snowfall until May or so. Even when I did this trip in March, there was snow most of the way, including two feet at the top!

3rd Note
BTW, Samaniego Peak is also accessible from the north end of the Samaniego Ridge Trail, but access to that end of the trailhead is remote, and I haven't gone that way before. This route would make the trip closer to 10 miles round-trip.

Hike
From the parking lot at the power station, enter the Lemon Trail at the trail sign just opposite the fence. Follow this trail (which travels briefly back on the road) through a brown metal gate onto an old dirt road/jeep trail (this is the upper part of the Lemon Trail). The trail will fork left after a while, leading to the Lemon Lookout Trail. Stay to the right along the old jeep trail. After a while, you'll pass a little metal storage hut. Along this area, peek over to the left (south) through the trees. This is where you can jump off the trail (just a few hundred feet) and catch awesome views of the south side of the Catalinas and Tucson below. Take note of the huge rock formations you'll see - map out where, further down the tail, you'll want to jump off again to access the top of some of these rock formations. Two or three of them are easily accessible and offer incredible views. You'll see one large rocky peak which is several hundred feet lower than the rest. You can scramble down to it and climb all the way to the top! (It's not as difficult as it looks from above, but be careful!)

After about 1.5 miles from the top, the Lemon Trail intersects with the Southerland Trail and the lower portion of the Lemon Trail. The intersection is marked with large signs, so you can't miss it. Turn right on the Southerland Trail 0.8 miles to the Samaniego Ridge Trail. Follow the very steep trail down the side of the mountain. You'll get your first glimpse of Samaniego Peak to the northwest here. The trail heads back uphill to the west and through beautiful grassy meadows. Here you'll have views of the central and west Catalinas. The trail begins to get a little spotty at times, so keep an eye out for it. If you find yourself without a trail, backtrack and pick it up again.

Continue to a small sign indicating the intersection of the Samaniego Ridge Trail and the rest of the Southerland Trail. Jump on the Samaniego Ridge Trail. After 0.6 miles through the woods on the Samaniego Ridge Trail, the trail splits-off to the Canada del Oro Trail - stay on the Samaniego Ridge Trail.

You are now about 3 miles from Samaniego Peak. The Samaniego Ridge Trail is very thin and can be hard to follow throughout much of the rest of the trail. The ground may be covered with leaves and pine needles, making the already thin trail hard to follow. The trail is sparsely cairned in many parts, however, so keep an eye out for them. You will travel up and down through a distinctly different forest ecosystem with deciduous trees like the gorgeous Manzanita Tree. It's a beautiful trek through the woods with lots of intriguing fallen trees and such. You'll also get some better views of Samaniego Peak along the way. After a while, however, the peak will be largely out of sight. Take note of it's relative location so you know when you're getting close - there are no signs or trails going up there.

You'll be fairly close (w/in a mile?) to the peak when you see a beaten-up and illegible metal sign that says something about Walnut Spring. I'll tell you how I got to the peak from here, but it may not be the best or easiest way - I've only been there once and had to 'wing it' (if you know a better way, let me know!!)

You have to jump off the trail and head for the peak at some point : I jumped off where this stump is just next to the trail. I headed up towards the peak long enough to catch a glimpse of it, and just headed uphill in that direction. You can't see the peak any more, but if you know roughly where it is, just keep heading uphill and you'll find it, right? ;-) The trek up was nasty as it was thick with trees, bushes and boulders - especially towards the top.

As it turns out, I reached the peak that is just north of Samaniego Peak. That was cool because this peak was at the top of a much more prominent cliff, and had more rock surface to run around on. Samaniego peak was just a short scramble away.

From Samaniego peak, I headed down to the valley below and then further back down towards the trail in the direction from which I came. I managed, somewhat luckily, to end up right back at the stump in the trail - but I felt lucky to have found it, as the trail is almost imperceptible in that area. One thing to remember is that this section of the trail is atop a steep ridgeline. If you begin to head steeply down the ridge to where you can see the Reef of Rocks to the east, head back up to the top of the ridgeline and you should eventually find the trail again.

Like I said, this part could get pretty hairy without careful planning and vigilance. I did it one way, but I would strongly recommend trying to find a second opinion on how to do it. Someone may have a more clearly defined route, but I couldn't find one. I also strongly recommend a topo/trail map!

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Note
This is a moderately difficult hike.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2001-04-08 brianb
  • Portion of Coronado Nat
    guide related
  • sub-region related
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 Triplog Reviews
Samaniego Peak
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This is my second try at this. I had a triplog ready to go and clicked on "add pooch advice" (don't take one), and lost what I had written by not backing out properly. Grrrrrrrrrr.

After reading the recent triplogs of a couple of Tucsonans who did this hike, Matt and I decided to give it a try, and dragged Niel into it. We actually didn't tell Niel where we were going til halfway up Mt. Lemmon. This is a deceptively difficult hike to a wonderful destination. The peak affords spectacular views of Reef of Rocks and the west side of Mt. Lemmon across the CDO. An added feature for the next few weeks is the considerable leaf color, but hurry, the aspen are already starting to shed their leaves.

I've hiked to Samaniego Peak 4 times, once from the west (trail is now gone), and 3 times from Radio Ridge. As usual, 3 years dulls the memory. When I last did this, the trail was clean and free of overlapping vegetation, thanks to maintenance by the Forest Service. The trail is now quite overgrown, especially past the junction with the CDO trail, with lots of thorny bushes, locust bushes, you name it. I can't emphasize this enough: WEAR LONG PANTS!. If you don't, expect your legs look and feel like you've been through a sandstorm/meat grinder. The bushes just wear the skin off your legs from the thighs down.

The vegetation growth and downed trees mean you'll occasionly need to stop and relocate the trail. I wouldn't say a gps loaded with my track is critical, but it would be greatly helpful. As a minimum, take a good topo map, even though it is not likely you will get very far off the ridge, and there are good metal signs at all the main intersections. The first time we did this hike from the top, the bushwhack to the ridge from just above Walnut Spring was a fight through manzanita and thorn bushes over some considerable boulders. Now, with the well-cairned and trimmed path, it's much easier, but still not a walk in the park. Beware that the cairns are not frequent on the lower part. On the upper part, you can pretty much see from one cairn to the next pretty easily. Just take your time and pick the path of least resistence. Once you reach the ridge, you still have some heavy class 3 boulder scrambling to reach the high point. There is a sign-in tube.

All in all, this is a great hike, but be aware that the climb out is considerable and takes place when you are most tired. The distance and ascent numbers don't provide a complete picture of difficulty. Take plenty of liquids and energy snacks. The hike is best suited for experienced, fit hikers. It is all to easy to get down to the Walnut Spring area, but the climb out can takes its toll, especially in warm weather. We were three tired puppies when we reached the car.
Samaniego Peak
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Warning, delayed posting

I spent the night in Spencer canyon, sleeping in a bit the next morning. By 7:30, I was on the trail with temps in the mid 50s and spotty clouds. I've wanted to do this one for several years, but could not justify 4 hours of driving for 6 hours of hiking. This week I would spent a couple of nights on the mountain, so this was the op.

I started off at a blazing pace, but with a tweak in the back, so the plan was to average about 1.5 mph with a decent break/s. On my way down the Mt Lemmon #5, I ran into turkey :0 At least 4, at most 7. They had no fear of me at all. From there on to Shovel Spring all I saw were Abert's squirrels and, oddly, I think, I saw some gold fish in one of the springs on the #5 (NO ALCOHOL INVOLVED!!!). I got to Shovel Spring( which I found NO trace of ) and encountered 3ish whitetailed deer. I heard a lot of them, but only saw 3 tails.

As I reached Walnut Spring, my back was feeling fine and I just had to scuffle the 1/2 mile to the peak :) Somebody put great effort into carving a path to the peak, though it's starting to be reclaimed. Though I managed to loose most of my tracks for the day, I was able to salvage the segment from the peak back down to Walnut Spring. It's posted, and would be quite helpful if you plan to hit the summit.

I located the register ( a 3" ABS tube with dry fitted ends), but upon opening it was taken breathless by a thriving mold inside. I left it to aire out whilst taking in the views, but upon later inspection decided to have no further contact with is decaying contents.

With peak in bag, I headed back. Usually, this is where I start the cruise home ( yea, usually down hill not up ), but it was getting hotter and I was gaining a bunch of elevation. Within the first mile of my return, my back was barkin' so bad that I dumped my last liter of water, cached my basic survival stuff and bino's ( 3 or 4 lbs means A LOT right now), put my head down and trudged on. The GeePuS died just where the 5 and the 5A meet, from there, I think I slept the remaining stretch to the parking lot. Reaching the 'Exploder', I now had access to water, gatorade, back brace, etc...

Now the adventure is done. I have a nice little cocktail lounge, kitchen, DVD player ( Trailer Park Boys, season 5 tonight) and a 7' x 9', nylon bedroom all to myself. SUCCESS!..
Samaniego Peak
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Started the AM observing the Hummingbird Banding/Monitoring session that was going on at the Mount Lemmon Observatory (http://humbander.net/humbander.net/Page_Four_-_ML.html) - highly recommended, to see the Hummingbirds up close - and maybe even hold one in your hand - is awesome!

After that we got started - Mount Lemmon Trail/Sutherland/Samaniego Ridge/CDO Shortcut/Samaniego Ridge/Walnut Spring. The Samaniego Ridge trail out to Walnut Spring was mostly easy to follow (only one spot where we stopped and had to search) - it winds in and out of older growth and areas regrowing from the Aspen fire - there are a couple of spots with great views!

Walnut Spring was an unexpected pleasure - a small bit of flow, green grass and trees to provide shade - a nearly mandatory break. After Walnut Spring we started to the peak - we just tried to keep picking the easiest path but by 2/3rds of the way up it turned out our path was less than ideal, we resorted to crawling on hands and knees at one point... But we made it! Great views - nice location. We found a better way down (not great, just better) and made our way back without incident (picking up the small section of the Samaniego Ridge Trail we bypassed on the way out and adding the Meadow Trail for fun).

Hummingbird Banding Pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmiles/sets/72157633938784912/

Hike Pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmiles/sets/72157633938911648/
Samaniego Peak
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Camped at Spencer canyon campground about 4 miles south of Summerhaven, then drove to the trail head. Set off on the hike from the parking lot, near the power-station, near the Mount Lemon Peak, skycenter. The morning weather was particularly spectacular as a cold front came through and brought low clouds, rain, and much colder temperatures -- very welcome considering the hot weather we came from in the valley. We loved the feeling as were literally "Walked through the clouds". However this provided a bit of a challenge for navigation, because of the low visibility, we had to rely on our maps and GPS since we couldn't see landmarks very well, and there are several trail splits in this area. Here is the route we used to Samaniego Peak: We followed the Mt. Lemon trail #5, but taking the Meadow Trail alternate segment #5a (0.8 mi.). We noted that the meadow would make a great camp spot, for tents in good weather (could be really really bad in a thunderstorm). Continued on Mt. Lemon Trail #5 (0.7mi) to junction with Sutherland Trail. Continued on Southerland Trail #6 (0.8 mi.) to junction with the Samniego Ridge Trail #7. Then took Samaniego Ridge Trail to Walnut Springs, which is at the base of the peak (3.3 mi.). Then we bushwacked to the peak (no trail) about (0.6 mi.). There are two spots where there are junctions with trails that lead east, down the ridge to Canada del Oro Trail #4, of course, just stay on the ridge to continue on to the peak. Total trip distance one way was 6.8 mi. (13.2 mi. RT). Our ultimate goal was to find a geocache near the peak -- Good job Dave for finding it! The elevation gain is about 2000 ft returning to Mt. Lemon Peak to the parking lot, but this is a bit deceiving as the trail follows the ridge which goes up and down enough that it feels like the actual elevation change may be much more -- be prepared for it to take longer that you think. Overall it was a perfect day -- a nice strenuous hike, with perfect cool weather, and absolutely gorgeous views of the valley below.
Samaniego Peak
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8) So nice to cool off and get out of the Valley of the Sun. Had a great time on this one with Sguffey. Enjoyed exploring a new area for me and a nice challenging hike. On the way down I enjoyed the ups and downs but not so much on the way back. Huge amount of variety on this one and noted the first evidence of tree rain I have encountered in AZ. You know where the clouds roll through and the trees capture the moisture from the air the a subsequent wind blow the drops off the tree creating a wet circle on the ground of the windward side of the tree. I had witnessed this in some wetter coastal areas but never in AZ. Also in the Walnut Spring area I encountered the most deer activity I have ever found. More deer acitivity here than Elk activity on Elk Point off of Volunteer/Sycamore canyons. Also the fall colors were quite nice :FG:

So many great backpacking camping spots this trail would make for a great loop out to mule ears and around to Catalina Camp and back up Red Ridge. (Yeah I think I will do that one next time) Btw I got lucky getting to the Peak only had crash through one scrub oak & nasty thorny bush barrier about 15' deep was able to find a couple of deer trails which got me close to the peak and rock scrambled the rest of the way.

Best part was finding Sawmill Restaurant Open in Summerhaven after finishing a very chilly climb as dark arrived. Car Temp guage read 38* on top. 8)
Samaniego Peak
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Managed a quick backpack to Walnut Spring with Tyler to check out the Samaniego Ridge. We haven't been out much lately, so we knew this was sure to kick our pumpkins a bit. Headed up the Catalina Hwy early on Sat. morning after some caffeine and Quiche at Le Buzz. Hit the trail by 8am and immediately enjoyed excellent views, tons and tons of wildflowers, and much cooler temps.

The hike to Walnut Spring went quickly. The spring was actually not as pretty as I was expecting with all the recent rain (can't believe I forgot to take a pic). I had known the tank would be skanky, but had thought the pool below the tank that is mentioned by multiple triplogs would be much nicer. It was better than the tank, but there was only a very slight trickle filling the pool, so it seemed a bit stagnant. Shovel Spring was better looking when we passed it, but we really wanted to stay on the ridge, so we decided to make do. We filtered the mosquito larve and other large bits out with a bandana, let my gravity filter do it's job, and then added chlorine tabs for extra insurance. The taste was still slightly yucky, but we managed.

We finished setting up camp around 11am. By then, clouds were starting to roll in, so we decided to nix our plan to try to bag the peak and instead took the best naps ever, snug in our hammocks. :D A series of pretty good storms rolled through with lots of rain and a bit of hail and LOTS of lightning. :scared: I was quite thankful that the cuben fiber tarp held up! It stopped storming by 4:30ish and we spent the rest of the evening soaking in the views of the Reef of Rocks and CDO below the ridge. There were so many different types of flowers to enjoy, too.

Sunday morning we headed back up the mountain. We didn't end up starting as early as we had wanted and the sun-exposed slopes were most certainly warmer than we had hoped for, but we made better time than we expected and were back at the top in time to have lunch on the patio of the Iron Door.

This was a great place to enjoy some much needed wilderness time. Next time we visit, I think we will either do a shuttle hike to Charouleau Gap, or do a loop with the Canada del Oro Trail.
Samaniego Peak
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Day 1: 15.4 Miles, On trail for 7 hours & 47 Minutes
Started on Meadow Trail at 12:44pm and worked my way down to the Samaniego Ridge Junction. I turned right at the junction and worked my way down the ridge for the first time. Enjoyed the great views of Cathedral Rock, The Window, and Pusch Ridge. I took a slight detour at the CDO Shortcut trail and hiked to CDO and back so I could cross it off my to do list. At Walnut Spring I took a short lunch break. After the spring, I attempted to get to the top of Samaniego Peak, but I started too far north and ended up getting cliffed out. I returned to the trail and considered making a second attempt at the peak, but the day was growing late and I wanted to set up camp that night on CDO, so I knew I didn't have enough time.

The trail after Samaniego Peak gets a little sketchy in a couple places. There is one section where it steeply switchbacks down the side of a ridge in some very loose soil. I ended up stepping in a particularly loose patch of soil, started a rock/dirt slide and slipped about 6 feet below the trail. I have no idea how mountain bikers manage to ride this trail without getting killed...

By the time I reached Charouleau Gap it was already 7:56pm and I was almost out of daylight. I was too stubborn to stop for the day, so I began the 3.5 mile trek along the jeep road to reach the CDO trail. I was hoping I would encounter someone friendly enough to let me hitch a ride to the trailhead, but didn't see a vehicle the entire time. By the time I made it to CDO it was completely dark out and I was navigating by flashlight. I didn't know how far I would have to travel on CDO to find a campsite and was ready to set up camp in the middle of the trail- but luckily there is a large campsite only a couple hundred feet from the trailhead.

Day 2: 10.7 Miles, On trail for 5 Hours & 56 Minutes
Despite being completely exhausted from the previous day, I only managed to get about 3 hours of sleep the whole night. As soon as it began to get light out, I ate breakfast and packed up my camp and was on trail at 5:45am. I knew it was going to be hot out, so I wanted to gain as much elevation as I could before the sun hit the canyon. I had some confusion just up trail from my campsite and followed an ATV trail across the creek, not noticing that the trail departed the ATV trail and continued to follow the east side of the creek. After some backtracking, I was able to correct my mistake and get back on the proper trail.

I had no idea how much water I would encounter along CDO, and was blown away that the trail followed a flowing creek for almost 5 hours! The area is so lush and green, with large trees that provide plenty of shade for much of the hike. The trail can be a little faint in areas due to all the leaves on the trail, but it generally sticks to the creek and is not too difficult to follow if you pay attention.

After leaving the creek, the trail goes through a burned area, then begins to switchback its way up to the CDO shortcut trail. The switchbacks provided excellent views down into the CDO and out towards Reef of Rock and Rice Peak. The rest of the hike was uneventful as the trail continued to gain elevation as it works its way back to the top of the mountain.

But wait, there's More!
I was so physically & mentally exhausted when I got back to the parking lot that I left my backpack on the ground next to my truck and drove away. I only realized my mistake when I got home and noticed my pack wasn't in my truck :doh: . I contacted the Sheriffs Dept and had the Mt Lemmon deputy check the parking lot for my backpack- but they couldn't locate it. I contacted the Palisades Ranger station and luckily a ranger showed up with my pack while I was on the phone with them :y: ! I drove back up the mountain and collected my pack from the ranger (with nothing missing) and drove back home again.
Samaniego Peak
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I read Brianb's log of this hike after our hike yesterday. Wish I had done so before. This is indeed a deceptively hard hike. The 1/2 mile bushwhack after leaving the trail near Walnut Springs to Samaniego Peak (we didn't find a good route) is through brambles and over and around boulders up an extremely steep slope. Expect this portion to take over an hour and to sap your energy. And dress defensively, because nearly every plant has thorns. We got cut up quite a bit. A machete wouldn't hurt.

Our departure from the trail was about the same place as Brian's but we went up almost directly west toward the peak. Coming back to the trail seemed easy but we needed a gps fix and a good map to intersect the faint trail.

This hike is extremely rewarding (especially the fantastic views from the peak, and Window Rock near Cathedral Peak) but expect nearly 3500 feet accumulated gain over a lot of rocky trail. However, thanks to some work by the forest service in the summer of 2010, the trail from Radio Ridge to Walnut Spring is now in good shape and pretty easy to follow (except for the bushwhack). We didn't generate a gps track to post, but Brian's is accurate.

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)


Directions
Map Drive
or
Road
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
From northeast Tucson, take Catalina Highway north into the mountains. (After about 3 miles into the drive there is a fee station - pay $5). From the point where you begin to climb steeply into the mountains (and enter Coronado Nat'l forest), drive 25 miles to the Ski Valley turn-off which is on your right. (If you reach a dead end - Summerhaven - you've gone too far - turn back). Turn right and continue another few miles up to Ski Valley (a little ski resort). Continue straight ahead past the parking lots in Ski Valley another mile or so up the smaller, paved road. Drive all the way to the top and park in a small gravel lot by a power station on your left - if you reach the observatory at the very top of the road, you just passed it. The Lemon trail begins just on the opposite side of the fenced-in power station.

NOTE - the last mile or so from ski valley to the summit is paved, but often closed in the winter. If it's closed, this adds another 2 miles round-trip to your journey. I found out the hard way... It's always been open when I've been there before in the summer. You might be able to contact the Coronado Nat'l Forest to see if it's open or not.
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