register help

Cat Mountain, AZ

159 28 0
Guide 28 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson W
3.5 of 5 by 8
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 2.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,669 feet
Elevation Gain 1,183 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 2-3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 8.52
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Peak
Backpack No
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
4  2017-01-08 uphill_junkie
3  2015-12-27 Pivo
13  2015-12-27 AZHiker456
18  2015-02-01
Foggy Cat
5  2015-01-23 sirena
10  2015-01-21 Jim_H
20  2012-02-01 rwstorm
11  2011-01-23 GrottoGirl
Page 1,  2
Author PhilipMueller
author avatar Guides 15
Routes 5
Photos 926
Trips 53 map ( 310 miles )
Age 43 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:09am - 6:28pm
5 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Climbing to the Center
by PhilipMueller

Cat Mountain provides a stunning southern backdrop to an area of Tucson known as Starr Pass. At the southeastern edge of Tucson Mountain Park, it shoots out of the desert floor like Starr Pass' own Rock of Gibraltar. About a year ago, I incorporated Cat Mountain into a longer loop hike that started from a northern location in the Park, but this time around, I started the hike on the south-side base of the mountain. I'll include photographs from both hikes to provide a better overview of Cat Mt.

From the trailhead on the south side, you walk north on a wide trail/old road toward a narrow gateway between Cat Mt. and a lower, mountain that continues along Cat Mt.'s line to the west. At about the 1/2 mile point, you will be between the two mountains and see two red posts, with boulders to their east at the western base of Cat Mt.. From here, you can begin your ascent up Cat Mt. from a few yards south of the red posts or a few yards north. It doesn't matter; I've done it both ways. There is no real trail from this point forward. You'll see paths where others have scrambled, and near the top, you'll see some cairns here and there for suggested guidance, but you pretty much choose your own adventure. On this particular trip, I started on the south side of the posts.

If you approach from the south side of the posts, you will carefully start your ascent through a small patch of chollas and head toward the east/west spine of the Cat. Within a few minutes, you will be able to see a sliver of the desert valley (park land) to the north of Cat. You are on the Cat's spine. Your mission from here to the top is to stick as close to the spine as you can. From this point, I scrambled up toward the first of several false peaks on a rock face littered with loose rock fragments. Upon reaching the base of the false peak, I went around it to the south. I clambered parallel with the Cat's spine on the south side for a few hundred yards until finding a break between the first false peak and the next one. From there, I scrambled straight up through the break, slipping a lot on loose rock. I was back on the spine. This was about the 1/2 way point. From here on up the scramble consists of walking along the spine or skirting false peaks via the north face. As you go higher, occasional cairns from kind souls will pop up. These are especially helpful in areas where scrambling turns into short spurts of very basic climbing. If it's still there, you might also see the sign somebody made that warns of killer bees on the mountain.

Within a total of about an hour, you'll be at the top. You'll see a solar powered police repeater hidden under faux rock, about the size of a desk. A little sign on it claims that it is monitored by the Sheriff's department and that any damage to it will trigger IMMEDIATE investigation by the Sheriff's helicopter... be careful where you sit! What you are really up there to see, though, is 360 degrees of views of Tucson, its mountain ranges and beyond. What a treat to look SW to see Babo and Kitt, SE to see Wrightson, E to see the Rincons, N to see the Catalinas, NW to see the Tortolitas, and W into more of the Tucson Mountains. We each define our own "centers", and for me, this was like being in the "center", looking from the sky at the city that I call home and the majestic nature that surrounds it--a center point from which to reflect upon the memories I have had here and to ponder the adventures yet to come.

Just a choosing the route up would be up to you, the way down is also open to whatever you want to do and are capable of doing. Scrambling up and down Cat takes a total of about 2 hours. You gain about 1,200 feet in about 1.3 miles, so it's short but has a pretty nice rise over run. I used my hands a lot, and I'd recommend gloves. It's not a lush scramble, but you'll see a nice sampling of Sonoran Desert plants along the ascent. In getting there, if you have the time, enjoy the beautiful drive that starts when Speedway west of I-10 turns into West Gates Pass Boulevard. The winding drive from there, through Gates Pass and then back around toward Cat Mountain on Kinney Road offers views of several mountains and close-ups of the Sonoran Desert. (It's quite fun on a motorcycle, too!). Enjoy!

Check out the 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.

2008-01-27 PhilipMueller
  • map
    area 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
Cat Mountain
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
Nice, warm day out for February. Saw 3 deer. Good bit of scrambling, lot of rock is loose.
Did the loop, going up the mountain via the north/east scramble, decently cairned most of the way. Coming down the west side, you basically do your best to figure it out.
Solar-powered radio tower on top, connected to a couple of spikey devices.
Cat Mountain
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Took the approach up the west end of the peak. Very gnarly indeed. What Steph and I thought would be a short 3 hour hike took us a good 4-5 hours. The scramble up was very fun though, and I'm glad we did the approach up the west end. Went down the east side. Super windy, lots of falcons (possibly?) and deer. Girlfriend got a nice piece of cholla in her leg! If you are thinking of the western approach, I would say it's necessary to have at least some scrambling experience.
Cat Mountain
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
My route most closely seems to match Nick Fraley's from December 2012, except that due to wind I went up the north face, more or less. Nice summit, not as nice as Golden Gate Peak, and the trail is not as nice, either. I am not sure why I am so tired after this, as it is a lot shorter than some hikes.
Cat Mountain
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Started at the Sarasota Trailhead and looped around the 'back' of Cat Mountain via the established trail before starting up - I suspect there might be a better way up to the top of the ridge than we found but we eventually hooked up with a great line of cairns that certainly saved us time to the top. Alone at the top we enjoyed the view and especially enjoyed watching a pair of Peregrine Falcons! We were surprised how steep the trail was heading down (west, we looped clockwise) but the cairns helped us and it was quite fun!! We watched the Sunset from the ridge, but probably didn't time things quite right since we had a bit of trouble figuring out where to exit the ridge and get back down to the trail - it was fine, but almost certainly looser/scratchier than it needed to be!

Cat Mountain
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
This was my second attempt to summit Cat Mountain. After reading several other trip logs I decided to also try to head up from the west, which in my opinion is not worth the trouble. I was constantly tasked with scrambling up fairly steep sketchy terrain and then would come to short rock walls that I would have to decide if I wanted to climb or find a way around. The entire time I was up there I couldn't figure out what other people had done to get up. I basically continued along the north mid-ridge until I got to a point on the eastern half of the mountain where I could get up onto the spine. In order to actually get up on the spine you have to climb with hands and feet which I didn't mind as I enjoy climbing. Once on the spine it's fairly straight forward to the actual summit, navigating cholla and rock hopping. You'll see the sheriff repeater, which seems to be the commonly accepted landmark for the summit, with solar panels and white fake rock. Someone had made a small register out of a peanut butter jar with a blue lid. At first I thought it was trash and was going to take it out with me but when I picked it up I noticed there was a small notepad and pencil inside. That was nice to see, also nice to see all the people who've made it up just this year. The view is pretty sweet. It's nice to look all the way around you and see things of interest. There were quite a few tarantula hawks on the spine javascript:void(0);. I'm not big on stinging insects in general but these guys are especially creepy. I took the "hey, you don't mess with me and I won't mess with you" approach and walked by them to the summit. On the way back I wasn't so lucky as one of them decided to come after me. I can't say for certain if it was trying to attack me or if it was doing more of a curious flyby. Either way giant black wasp buzzing by my ear is NOT a welcome sensation, luckily they seem to have a fear of large-brimmed hiking hats that I was waving around furiously. The only other thing of note is that on the way down I came upon some cairns that I followed all the way down to the Cat Mountain trail.

If you want to get up Cat Mountain, and don't want to spend 4 hours doing it or you aren't a mountain goat, do yourself a favor and follow these cairns. I parked as close to the Cat Mountain trailhead as I could get. The Cat Mountain trailhead is slightly southwest of Cat Mountain. From the Cat Mountain trailhead you can follow the Starr Pass trail northeasterly in between Cat Mountain and another peak west of Cat Mountain (as described in the original trip log). You'll pass the red posts and go in between a very small narrow rock canyon. When you pop out on the north side of this there will be a trail intersection. The east trail seems to head up Cat Mountain. Take this trail it's the Cat Mountain trail, it goes along the northern base of Cat Mountain and connects up with the Explorer Trail on the east side of the mountain. The location is hard to describe but as you hike you'll be trending upwards. You'll make your way around the north side of two small peaks. After the second peak you'll begin to trend downwards and head into a canyon. Once this happens be on the look out for a good sized boulder on the south side of the trail with cairns on it. There's no trail here, but there are cairns that will lead you all the way up to the spine. This will make your trip considerably shorter than trying to find your way up the west side. Still, be ready for some pumped legs and sketchy footing. Cheers and good travels.

Marc Montez

Buckhorn Cholla, Desert Prickly Pear were both in bloom throughout the area.
Cat Mountain
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
This hike was a whole lot of up. First, we did a bushwhack/scramble up to the peak, then we bushwhacked our way down the spine and gradually made our way down to the trail. The trail was a gentle uphill back to the cars. Then on to Mexican food at Randy's favorite west side hang-out. All in all, a very enjoyable day.

Permit $$
Pima County-managed trailheads open at dawn and close at dusk, except as otherwise noted (link below). Be aware that trailhead hours may vary according to location and managing agency. The following trailheads allow after hours parking with a permit: Avenida de Suzenu, Bear Canyon, Campbell, El Camino del Cerro, Pima Canyon, Finger Rock, and Ventana Canyon. No after hours parking is allowed at the other Pima County trailheads. Trailhead parking permits are available at no cost.

Permits are required for Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, Empirita Ranch Access, and overnight parking at Pima County trailheads. Please call 520-877-6158 to request a permit or come in to the Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Administration Building at 3500 West River Road Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Permits are not issued on Saturdays, Sundays, or county holidays. Vist for more information.

Map Drive
Info is below 'Directions to trail'

To hike
In Tucson, take Speedway west from I-10. Continue west and the road will turn into W. Gates Pass Blvd. Take Gates Pass Blvd west to Kinney Road. Turn south on Kinney. Take Kinney to Sarasota Blvd. Go north on Sarasota for 1/2 mile and turn right onto an appx. 1/2 mile gravel road to the trailhead. It's about 1/2 hour of driving/riding from the I-10 Exit.
2+ mi range whistle
blow it hard
help comment issue

end of page marker