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Crystal Spring Trail #17, AZ

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Guide 24 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
3.7 of 5 by 6
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 3.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,800 feet
Elevation Gain -217 feet
Accumulated Gain 780 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.2
Interest Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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4  2019-06-29
Catalina Camp Trail
3  2019-06-05
AZT #11b PRW bypass
17  2016-08-30
Catalina Mts Crystal Spring Hike
5  2014-10-23 wha
7  2014-10-12 wha
12  2014-06-26 Mountain_Rat
2  2013-11-09 Sredfield
7  2013-11-05 Sredfield
Page 1,  2
Author BrettVet
author avatar Guides 15
Routes 40
Photos 335
Trips 48 map ( 525 miles )
Age 69 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Oct, Sep, Aug → 9 AM
Seasons   Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:07am - 6:29pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Catalina's Backside
by BrettVet

Likely In-Season!
The northern half of the Catalina mountain range is affectingly called "The Backside" by locals, not in relation to any particular body part, just in reference to being away from Tucson. Very few people hike the backside trails, because most are steep and rocky. The Crystal Spring Trail is neither and can be accessed from an intersection of the Butterfly Trail about 1 mile in from the Soldiers Camp trailhead or from the Control road. Most people think the control road is named for a fire control road, but it is actually named that because before the Mt Lemmon Highway was built it was the only access to Summerhaven. It was so narrow that the timber wagons and cars could not pass each other so they "controlled" the direction. Up in the morning and down in the afternoon. The Control Road takes off the Mt. Lemmon Highway at the fire station (mile 24.5) and turns to dirt just past the fire station. Road conditions on the Control road can be variable and seasonal. Most of the time a high clearance 2 wheel drive vehicle has no problem if you are careful. The trailhead is on the right 2.8 miles from the fire station, about a hundred yards after the metal gate. It s not well marked with only a metal post. Park in a campsite on the opposite side of the road. I would skip this road if it looks like snowfall is imminent.

The first 2 miles from the Control road the trail is well-maintained and reasonable level and it parallels the mountainside winding in and out of streams. Lots of scrub oak and clear running streams with seasonal waterfalls. Wildlife is definitely more abundant on the backside because of the privacy. Bear, deer and the occasional mountain lion like this area. Crystal Spring is kind of anticlimactic compared to the creek beds you had to cross getting to it. It is about a mile and a half in. From the spring the trail deteriorates fairly rapidly as it goes through the Bullock Fire area. It is overgrown with brush, the razor kind with lots of poison ivy because of the abundant water. It climbs steadily for about 2 miles to the butterfly trail. At this intersection right will take you to the soldier camp trailhead and left will take you around the backside of Mount Bigelow and add 4 to five miles to the hike. This would be a great 2 car shuttle hike to either trailhead or simply hike as far as you can and do an out and back hike. The first mile or two from the control road is a great hike for kids because it is easy has great views with water to play in and an adventure getting there. I hike this trail to the spring and back frequently and have never seen another hiker.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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.

2007-08-17 BrettVet
  • sub-region related

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking 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.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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I few months ago I came up with idea of doing a "circumnavigation of Mount Lemmon". I needed some miles, so decided to make an attempt on a late June weekend. Maybe it was a bit brash to try such a route during the summer months.

The goal was to start at Butterfly TH, go down to Crystal Springs trail, up the Oracle Control Road, down Oracle Ridge to Dan Saddle and then down to Catalina Camp, then down to CDO, up to Samaniego Ridge and then Lemmon Trail, then head down to WoR, back across Marshall Saddle, and connect with Sunset to finish the loop. A solid loop if I do say so myself, probably pretty close to a marathon with 6000+ feet of ascent.

The plan held up until Catalina Camp, where it started to get warm, and I really started to question whether I had it in me. This was the last bail-out point, and I took it. Luckily there was a trickle in the creek, so I was able to fill up before heading up Red Ridge (the first time I've had the, let's call it a privilege, of seeing this trail in the uphill direction). Surprisingly, I saw three other people on Catalina Camp and Red Ridge trails. Thought I was the only one stupid enough to be down there in late June.

When I got to Red Ridge, clouds had rolled in, and I was feeling much more alive. So I added a few miles back on by heading up the road to the ski resort, and heading down Aspen Draw (where it even sprinkled a little bit!), before taking a Mint Springs to Marshall Saddle detour.

Ended up a pretty good outing still, even if the whole circumnavigation has to wait until another (possibly cooler) day.
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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Crystal Spring to Butterfly
Posting this a few weeks late. We walked a little ways down Control Road, took #17 to the junction with #16, made a detour to the west and up Butterfly peak, and turned back East to a car that we had left at the Bigelow TH. I think the gain was a bit more, but in solidarity with msimmons I'm using these numbers...

I hadn't been on the Butterfly Trail since I did it East-West as a little kid - it was a lot tougher in this direction than I remembered. Lots of beautiful, lush stretches of trail on this hike. There were a lot of people when we first got on Butterfly, but there were surprisingly few (for a Saturday) as we climbed Bigelow on our way to the trailhead.
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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I did this one as a cool down from yesterday's hike. I like this trail. Very foresty. The first 2-1/2 miles were fields of fern. Though I saw only a tiny pool of water, the plant life is thriving here. Saw 1 deer, lots of chipmunks, and a pair of playful ravens who seemed to have made me their toy.

Both AZT signs suggest this trail to be 3.6 mi. My GeePuS agrees at 3.56. one way. If an actual, clean route is needed as an official one, here it be.

I caught some very early pics of the San Juan fire ( taken about the time it was first reported) and a few more within an hour that show its incredible acceleration.
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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Started on the Butterfly trail and did an out and back on Crystal Spring - I really love the first mile or so of the Crystal Spring Trail from the junction with Butterfly - such lovely places to linger in the trees and then at the Keebler tree!

Some of the drainages were dry but Alder Canyon and some of the later drainages had water including the lovely fall/pools before the Control Road.

Most of the trail was brown, but a few spots are already getting a little lost in the Green - such a contrast to the last time I was on the trail and it was an absolute riot of green growth!

Crystal Spring Trail #17
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We started at the Upper Butterfly parking and after a nice but uneventful hike turned onto the Crystal Spring Trail - compared to previous visits the trail was amazingly grown over with brush! The trail was still fairly easy to follow - but it felt like for half of the hike we were pushing thru the brush! Great to see the trail like this.

Pictures: ... 349586402/
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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We started at the Butterfly Trailhead/Upper end of the Butterfly Trail and hiked down to the junction with Crystal Spring - overcast day and actually a touch chilly, the young pine trees that are growing really add some brilliant green to the area! Crystal Spring is a delight - views, beautiful little spots to stop, water coming down the canyons!! We turned around at the Alder Canyon crossing (plenty of water) and on the way back spotted a band of Coati!!! There were 20+ of them, when we first saw them a few of them headed up into nearby trees on the rather dense hillside they were on - we stayed still and they came down and kept moving, but when we moved again we startled them again, this time with 10+ of them ending up in a single larger tree, we stayed still again and they slowly came down and moved away. Eventually only a single Coati was left in the tree - we guessed maybe this was an older male with the group, could have been our imagination (and we are certainly not Coati experts!!!) but the look/posture we were getting seemed more warning than fear... Eventually the last individual came down and moved away too. Amazing!!!

This is only the 2nd time I have seen a band of Coati and it was pretty special. Worth noting that Wes Noonan reports seeing a large band last year in this area (see his picture/description here:

(The first time I saw a band was off-trail in Pine Canyon above where the Palisades Trail meets the canyon - picture:

Pictures of this hike - - including a few shots of the Coati (oh how I wish I had a longer lens and more time to try to get a picture!!).

I would love to here about other sightings in the Catalinas!
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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Took the upper part of the Butterfly Trail and then turned onto the Crystal Spring Trail. The Crystal Spring trail is easy to follow and only has a few trees across it. Nice water flow at Alder Canyon - great spot to take a break on a hot day! Went to the Control Road Trailhead and then headed back. Pictures:
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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Finally made it out to hike the entirety of the Crystal Spring trail from the Butterfly trailhead. the forest service has done some chainsaw work on the crystal spring trail and the tons of downed trees. the forest is already claiming back the middle section via ferns and various massive weeds. aside from that, though, the trail is in pretty good shape (for the backside of the catalinas). the only sketchy section would be about 1 mile or so in the middle, but otherwise quite doable. there is some nice forest along the way, then a section of recovering burn. the middle stretch is loaded with poison ivy in 2 very short stretches.

the views are nice, of oracle ridge on the way out, and especially looking back at Mt. Bigelow on the return, with sweet views down Alder Canyon too. flowers are starting up along crystal springs, less so on butterfly thought the fern patch on the flank of butterfly peak was already sporting some huge fern over my head.

from the butterfly trailhead to control road and back is a nice, fairly tough hike on this backside trail. come on all you tucson/catalina lurkers...go out and hike crystal spring before it grows over again. :y:
Crystal Spring Trail #17
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Out getting lost with Jeff on the Crystal Spring trail in the wet, cool, crazy weather. This trail is pretty much a disaster after about a mile. We were pretty mangled by the time we got to the spring: soaked, dirty, bleeding, smelly, itchy....havin' fun too.

Cool to be out on the backside, where people are scarce and the trails even more so. Lot of running water just added to the appeal. Wisely turned around at the spring, and just beat the rain, lightning and fog when we got back.

Bonus on the way down = waterfalls everywhere

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
FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

To hike
Speedway east to Wilmot. Go north to Tanque Verde. North on the Catalina Highway to the beginning of the Mt. Lemmon Highway. Turn right at the fire station (mile 24.5) and turns to dirt and is called the Control Road. Road conditions on the Control road can be variable and seasonal. Most of the time a high clearance 2 wheel drive vehicle has no problem if you are careful. The trailhead is on the right 2.8 miles from the fire station, about a hundred yards after the metal gate. It s not well marked with only a metal post. Park in a campsite on the opposite side of the road. I would skip this road if it looks like snowfall in imminent.
3 pack - loud whistle
go prepared
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