The Highway's First Treasure
Anyone who's ever gone up the Catalina Highway will be familiar with the first hard right you make as soon as you get to the mountains. There is a beautiful canyon that rumbles down on you from the northwest forcing that characteristic turn. I've always wondered what the heck was up there, and after hiking the Soldier Trail I realized it led to Soldier Canyon. Now I knew there was some sweetness hiding in the canyon...Time to go look at it.
This is a total canyon bushwhack with no trail whatsoever, so be prepared for some climbing and fighting, or this may not be the hike for you.
From the road start right up the canyon in whatever fashion works best. In the spring there may well be flowers and water flowing everywhere. Go for it. The takeoff point is the canyon that comes feeding in from your right. You can actually see it from the road. It is about 0.3 miles to the mouth of this canyon, again, which is on your right. This is Soldier Canyon. Immediately there is a pretty significant sheer wall, which may have a very narrow fall in it. You can scramble up the left side of this wall and gain the top of the fall, only to see a more gorgeous cascade right above it. Take a million pictures if it's flowing and then climb up the left side of this too. There is some exposure here, as there is on much of this route so please be very careful. Once above this two-tiered obstacle you have smooth sailing for a little while. Pick your way up and along the canyon, which occasionally narrows down nicely and towers above you. There may be a little creek flowing at the right time of year with whimsical little falls everywhere. This section is picturebook. You are rock-hopping most of the way.
At about 1 mile a narrow, rough side canyon comes feeding in from the right. You can see a rugged, pile of massive boulders to your left that seem to be blocking your way up the main canyon. You do need to make the left and stay in the main canyon. Though it seems impossible, you can climb up the left side of this mess. It's a rough scramble but there is a way. Eventually the tiniest use path dumps you in underneath the rocks. A very narrow, knifelike rocks leads you up about 8 feet or so and then you are free. It seems this is the only way up and if you just start right and exhaust all your options until you are on the left side of the pile you will find it. Be careful here, a fall would be BAD. Climb up more piles until the canyon levels out a bit. From here it is about 0.7 miles or so of more easy canyon climbing and creek crossing until the canyon ends at a vertical wall. There are two beautiful thin falls here. One in front, that is two-tiered and a second multitiered fall further back to the left. This area is just peaceful and wonderfully secluded. Worth the trip to be sure.
Head back the way you came, as much as you can anywhere and watch that footing. The total climb is a little over 1240 feet and extremely rugged.
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.