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Prison Camp via Soldier Canyon Loop, AZ

Guide 3 Triplogs  0 Topics
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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 7.1 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,998 feet
Elevation Gain 1,868 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,351 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 18.86
Interest Off-Trail Hiking, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All MineFollowing
8  2010-03-29 imike
6  2010-03-27 fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 389
Photos 4,125
Trips 3,356 map ( 21,681 miles )
Age 46 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  5:45am - 7:11pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimetersacres
🔥 2020 Bighorn Fire119.5k
🔥 2003 Aspen Fire87.7 mi*
🔥 View (All) - over Official Route 🔥
*perimeter length in miles

This one's got it all
by fricknaley

This is an exceptional reverse lasso loop taking off from the Catalina Highway's first "hairpin" curve. Go off route up beautiful Soldier Canyon to the falls. From here, scramble up the canyon wall to meet the Soldier Trail and take it out to Prison Camp to see some nice little falls, then come back to the Catalina Highway (taking in spring wildflowers along the way) and walk the highway around 1/2 mile back to your car. Along the way (in season), you'll see creeks, waterfalls, and flowers galore...what are you waiting for?

This hike requires some familiarity with the land or at least studying the appropriate topo maps. The hike up Soldier Canyon is an off-route canyon bushwhack, as is the scramble up to Soldier Trail.

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. 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 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 creek flowing at the right time of year with whimsical little falls everywhere. This section is a 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 seems 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, bloody scramble, but there is a way. Eventually, the tiniest use path dumps you in underneath the rocks. A very narrow, knifelike rock leads you up about 8 feet or so, and then you are free. It seems this is the only way up, and if you 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 is two-tiered, and a second multitiered falls further back to the left. This area is just peaceful and wonderfully secluded.

To complete this as a loop hike, your goal is to now find a suitable spot to your right, along the south wall of Soldier Canyon to climb straight up the canyon wall to get out and onto the shelf above you. There is no correct way, but there are several steep drainages feeding down to choose from. The closer you start your scramble to the falls, the closer you will be to the trail when you top out. Be careful here, you are climbing straight up a wall with loose footing, and a fall could be quite bad. It's gonna be about 350-400 feet straight up the canyon wall. I followed the closest drainage making little zig-zags up the wall, and had no problems. As you top out, you will see some rocky ledges and shelves, the telltale sign you are close. Gain these rocks and look ahead and to your left for the Soldier Trail coming up the opposing ridge to cross over a small saddle to your left. If you plan this correctly, you will be within 5 minutes of the trail. The Soldier trail is going to cross over Soldier Canyon right above the place where it severely narrows down to force you out of the canyon in the first place, so keep this in mind and your sights, and you will find the trail.

From here, I would recommend following the trail out to Prison Camp. The trail breaks to the right, down from the little minor saddle where you join it, and descends a little to cross a relatively flat section of the canyon. Again there may well be water flowing, though crossing is pretty easy. This is a nice riparian area with all sorts of small trees. It's green and lush. If you break off the trail and go left down the canyon a couple hundred yards, you can see where the walls quickly choke in. Follow the right side of the canyon. It immediately closes in and forms a more narrow chute. If you are careful and climb down on the right side, this actually ends up forming a beautiful slot canyon that you can climb a ways down before essentially cliffing out. You can climb down and swing back to your left under a ledge to get a great view of water flowing down the slot. BE CAREFUL; a fall would be BAD.

Back at the crossing, go only a short way before crossing again, then climbing away to the left. Steeply you access a nice ridge and hike along the grassy trail towards a prominent ragged peak. The canyon comes back to your left, and if the season is right, you can see a couple of nice falls again. Soon the trail breaks to your left, descends, and crosses over the canyon. It then descends more to the signed intersection with the Molino Trail and Sycamore Reservoir at the Prison Camp. From here, you can cross over the wash and pick up a little use path on the other side heading down and to your left back into the area where the canyon narrows down. Within this little section lie many little falls and pools, with beautifully secluded areas for a break. This is a popular area with rock climbers too. It's definitely worth the short trip here.

Take the Soldier Trail back to the trailhead off the Catalina Highway and walk the road about 0.5 miles to your car, parked at the hairpin curve to complete the loop.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2010-03-28 fricknaley
    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.

    Permit $$

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From Tucson
    Take the Catalina Highway towards the mountains. As you get to the mountains, the Catalina Highway takes its infamous hard right at a canyon coming in from the northwest. This is the trailhead. There is a pullout on the right just before the road makes it's hard right. Park here and walk across the road to the mouth of the canyon. Don't even make the turn.
    page created by fricknaley on Mar 28 2010 9:30 am
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
    prehydrate & stay hydrated

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