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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.

Palisades Canyon, AZ

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Guide 19 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
4.8 of 5 by 4
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
View 5
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Shuttle 13.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 7,828 feet
Elevation Gain -5,050 feet
Accumulated Gain 200 feet
Avg Time Hiking 10-14 hrs
Kokopelli Seeds 14.27
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
9  2018-09-23 RedwallNHops
22  2018-09-23 GrottoGirl
15  2018-03-04 chumley
31  2015-11-01 GrottoGirl
35  2014-10-14 GrottoGirl
6  2014-06-25 GrottoGirl
13  2013-09-21 sirena
59  2013-09-15 GrottoGirl
Page 1,  2
Author nonot
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 236
Photos 1,969
Trips 476 map ( 4,511 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Aug, Sep → 7 AM
Seasons   Late Summer to Early Autumn
Sun  6:12am - 6:18pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Worth the long haul
by nonot

Likely In-Season!
A technical canyon in the middle of the Santa Catalinas.

Canyoneering involves travelling through slot canyons where flash floods are a definite possibility. Always check the weather before you depart and do not go if there is any chance of rain. For this technical trip you will need to bring appropriate gear, which will include: harness, helmet, rappelling device and several locking biners, 7 rap rings, 80 ft webbing, and 2x200 ft ropes. A wetsuit will be warranted most of the year. Even at 108 highs in Tucson, most will want at least a shorty wetsuit.

This canyon is long, start early and keep up your energy level by snacking. The most time will be spent going 0.4 miles in the technical section which it will take you 5-9 hrs alone. Another mile of canyon hopping, 4 miles of road, and 8 miles of trail complete the day's totals.

Beta for this canyon trip was obtained from Todd Martin's book: "Arizona, Technical Canyoneering". The book also lists several other options to do this canyon, along with other excellent information, which are not listed in this hike description. The book does have a few minor errors, which are noted below.

From the Palisades Trailhead, head down the Palisades Trail. The trail is mostly downhill and you should be able to make fairly good time. Palisades trail follows a ridge line downhill and begins to parallel Pine Canyon on the southeast side of the ridge. It will leave a drainage of Pine Canyon and begin crossing over the ridge to the north side, when it enters a large rock plateau. Descend several switchbacks until the trail begins tracking west. After 4.4 miles and approximately 1.5 hours on the Palisades trail, you will have reached a gully that allows access down into Palisades canyon.

Drop down the gully into the canyon and gear up on the conveniently located ledges. Beware of snakes in the area!

Follow the creek downstream a short distance around the corner and through the pool to the first rappel (R1), approximately 150 ft through a small pool and over a large drop. The rappels are slippery and most will be unable to maintain their footing on this (or any) rappel in Palisades Canyon. The anchor for this first rappel was sketchy, evaluate it carefully as it may be necessary to rebuild or relocate it.

The next 4 rappels do not generally even require you to coil your rope as they come in rapid succession.

(R2): 100 ft down a sculpted shoot under a rooster tail, into a large plunge pool with swimming disconnect.

(R3): Approx 85 ft (100 ft+ rope needed, plus another 100+ft for pull side) from 2 pitons in cracks on the left LDC.

(R4): 100 ft from a boulder in the error of omission in the guidebook

Climb down a small waterfall on left LDC

(R5): Approx 100 ft from 2 pitons on right LDC. The anchor is back from the edge, so you may need slightly more than 200 ft of rope. The boulder in the shallow pothole is another possibility suggested in the book, but may require digging to gain a good lip due to sedimentation based on its condition as found in late summer 2010.

After the bottom of R5 is a nice flat ledge system that you can look back up canyon at the last 4 rappels that descended over 400 ft. Don't miss this view!

Pack up the ropes and continue on down canyon for about 15 minutes of rock hopping.

(R6): A complicated double rappel over a possibly downclimbed drop and down the main waterfall. I recommend you go straight over the lip of the falls as the ropes run better this way from below. The combined drops are approximately 160ft.

A bit of a walk down canyon brings you to the final rappel. Be warned that this final rappel has a reputation for sticking ropes. I recommend selecting several half-inch to inch diameter stones to place in the crack at the pinch point to help prevent this problem.

(R7): 85 ft to the right of the waterfall over two overhung edges. A swimming disconnect may be required. Have the first person down test the pull before the last person rappels.

From here de-gear and hike, boulder, and downclimb Palisade Canyon until you reach the (faint) West Fork Trail. Go east about 0.1 miles on the West Fork Trail to reach the junction of West Fork, East Fork, and Sabino Canyon trails. Take the Sabino Canyon trail up a small hill and follow Sabino Canyon Trail southwest. The trail is easy walking and soon you will reach the tram stop. Hike down the road another 4 miles to your shuttle vehicle at Sabino Canyon TH.

Water Sources
Palisades Canyon will have water, although it disappears in sections between the final rappel and the junction with West Fork Trail.

Popular in the Sabino Canyon Basin area, where you will pick up the trails at the end of the canyon.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2010-09-20 nonot
  • 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
Palisades Canyon
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With the sky islands the recent recipients of 6"+ of winter rains, it seemed like a good time to chase waterfalls in the Catalinas. Palisade (singular) is a technical canyon, but we just hiked up from the bottom to the base of the last rappel.

There was a nice flow in the creek except for a couple hundred yards where it ran underground briefly. Travel in this creek wasn't too bad and featured numerous cascades and picturesque pools. On the way up we did a lot of hiking in the water, and even considered swimming! On the way back, after darkness had set in, we managed to keep our feet dry the whole way.

After cheating by taking the tram on the way up, the road hike on the way back was a peaceful treat in the dark, though oddly void of any signs of wildlife at all. It was a great day and a worthy destination that more than justified the late night.

I even pretended to be a photographer and took a bunch of photos with longer exposures to make that milky water FOTG likes so much! :)
Palisades Canyon
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In 2010, I was looking at pictures on HAZ when I came across a photo of Palisades Canyon by nonot that took my breath away. I have looked at it many times over the years, it’s one of my favorites.

Such an incredible place, and right in my own backyard in the Catalinas. The colors and textures of the canyon walls, the person rappelling in a beautiful waterfall into a large, black pool. It was before I had ever gone canyoneering and when I checked the route description I saw that it was a strenuous route that takes 10-14 hours to complete. The picture is of the second in a series of seven rappels, many 100 feet or more. I have looked longingly at the falls in the canyon visible from the nearby Box Camp Trail.

Since my first canyoneering trip I have been totally taken by the pools, waterfalls, strenuous routes, and exciting rappels that come with it. Early in September I saw trip reports and pictures of Palisades and contacted a friend to see if he was planning on doing it anytime soon. He said he wasn’t going to be able to go, but a friend of his who had been through several times before would probably be interested in doing it again. I got in touch with Russ and we planned a trip for September 21st.

I hadn’t gone canyoneering in a little while, so before the trip I had a practice session hanging from my tree in the backyard. I was more nervous than I’d been in a while. A couple of groups that I knew had gone through the previous weekend and had epic 19 and 15 hour adventures.

Russ Newberg and I were met at the Sabino Canyon parking lot by my dear friend Tom who graciously shuttled us up the mountain to the Palisades Trailhead. Tom is the leader of Tom’s Sawyers, a volunteer group that goes into the wilderness in the Catalinas and Chiricahuas and removes downed trees on the trails with 2-man crosscut saws. He even has a website where you can report downed trees for the Sawyers to work on. We reached the Palisades trailhead and were hiking by 7 am.

We set a good pace down the mountain toward our turnoff point, descending first through pines, then through oaks and junipers. The trail rounded the rocky promontory I’d taken a long break at during my hike of the Palisades Trail to Prison Camp in 2011. Soon after the trail switchbacked down through the grasses, we reached our turnoff and took a gully into the creekbed. There were some ledges for us to get into our wetsuits, I wore a 3/2 full and was glad I did- made the time spent in the water enjoyable rather than merely tolerable. We had a short hike to the first 150 ft. rappel.

Russ went down first so he could provide a fireman’s belay from below. He whistled that he was off rope and it was my turn. I rigged my belay device, double-checked everything, took a deep breath and started lowering myself down the slippery first drop into a pool. Sliding down on my side made the slick rock manageable. The second part of the rappel was down a waterfall black with slippery algae. I made my way down to the pool below and then we were at the top of the second rappel, the one in the picture.

The second rappel has a chute that diverts the flow sideways and you have to pass through after rappelling down it. I stopped a second to take it all in- here I was at last! I continued down the rest of the rappel to an immense circular black pool. My drybag buoyed me up in the water and I took a bit to happily float around in the pool, looking up at the waterfall- It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do! Immediately afterwards, we had another 85 foot rappel followed by yet another 100 footer. There was a small downclimb and my foot slipped and I came down on my knee. It hurt a bit, but was mostly scary.

We were able to look at the cascades above that we had just descended. Incredible. Any one of these falls would be a worthy destination in and of itself.

We checked the time, surprised that it was still so early. If we got done early enough, we just might be able to catch the Sabino Canyon Tram for the last 4 miles instead of a hot, crowded roadwalk at the end of our day. Russ set up the fifth rappel and as I descended, the water splashing off my helmet made rainbows all around me. What a treat!

We packed up the ropes and rock-hopped toward our next rappel, two stages measuring 160 feet. The view from the top of the rappel was fantastic. It took a little maneuvering to get down the first part, then yet another stunning slippery waterfall.

There was one last challenge before the technical section was complete- the last rappel had a notorious reputation for sticking ropes. Russ found a small stick and wedged it in the rope-eating crack. He went first and I followed. There was an overhang, then a free rappel for a moment underneath a chockstone with a hedgehog cactus dangling precariously by its roots. A short stop on a ledge with a tree, then down the rest of the way, rejoining the watercourse into a pool.

And now, the moment of truth- Russ and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and pulled as fast as we could, whooping with joy when we realized it was a clean pull- no stuck ropes today! We high-fived and then took a break to refuel and change out of our gear, our concern now was trying to stay cool instead of warm.

After eating and repacking all our soggy gear and ropes, we scrambled down Palisades Canyon, dunking ourselves to stay cool. The Sabino Basin got ever closer and finally we hit the East Fork Trail. Hello, Arizona Trail!

After a quick break to put away our helmets and grab some calories, we checked the time and realized that we could make the tram if we kept a good pace, so we booked it up the Sabino Canyon trail. Not sure where I got all that energy, but the idea of a long hot roadwalk certainly was a great motivator. At 4:30 we saw the tram below and ran to catch it, thinking it was the last one. It was the second to last one of the day, I was just happy that we were riding the road instead of hiking it. Interestingly, we sat right behind a group of guys who’d just come down Lemmon Canyon for the last two days. We shared canyoneering stories all the way to the parking lot.

I had a post-adventure endorphin-induced giant grin on my face as I drove home. Everything went smoothly in the canyon and the next day I was going to leave on an Arizona Trail business trip up to the North Rim and Flagstaff for a week. I walked in the door, eager to share my day with my husband Brian when I was met with news that my dog Zeus was not doing well. He's a big dog- half German Shepard and half Wolf- and at 15 1/2, this was not a great surprise. But something in Brian's face told me that it wasn't just the ordinary old-dog stuff.

My mood went instantly from elation to despair- it finally hit home that Zeus wasn't going to be around much longer. I stayed home for two days and he seemed to stabilize, but when I left on my trip he went downhill again.

I spent the last week at home, getting in a last bit of quality time with him- massaging his tired old body, thinking about all the adventures we'd had together, and feeding him anything he wanted to eat.

We took Zeus and our other dog, Bailey on one last hike in the desert. As we walked, the dogs turned off toward a labryinth I'd forgotten was there. I thought Zeus would just wander around and get tired and go back to the car. Instead he got a burst of energy and we had a great time hiking into the wash near some petroglyphs. Zeus was a big part of me getting into hiking, I'll have to write about it sometime.

Brian and I made arrangements for a vet to come to the house so that he didn't have to get all riled up on the drive. It was a wonderful decision. We were all on the futon together, hugging Zeus as his heart finally stopped. We buried him out in Picture Rocks on a friend's land- he's got a great resting spot in the desert with a view of the mountains. I don't know when I've ever been so heartbroken.
Palisades Canyon
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My buddy from Tucson has been joining me up on rim for our last few canyoneering adventures, so I figured I'd switch gears and drive south and do one in his backyard. I've done all the moderate/easy published canyoneering routes down there with him, but I figured with a little more experience under our belts that we were ready for one of the Big Boy canyons in the area. :y:

We woke up pretty early, dropped a car off at Sabino Canyon parking lot, and drove up to the Palisades TH. We had 5 miles of downhill trail until our drop-in point and we made pretty good time down the mountain. :sweat: Off trailing it down to the canyon wasn't too crazy though my socks got covered in loads of sticky seeds... ;) I figured it was about 50/50 on whether the canyon would be flowing or not so I was super stoked to find it flowing knowing we'd be doing some sweet waterfall rappeling today! :y: We took a light break when we hit the canyon and gear up into our shorty wetsuits and gear and slowly made our way down creek. It didn't take very long before we hit the super sweet narrows section and the first of many wet rappels with an awseome view down canyon of at least a few more waterfalls . We had to rework the anchor on that first 150ft double drop by putting the webbing under a huge rock and stacking other rocks on top of it so that it wouldn't slip off. What a sweet rappel to start the day with and it had a 30ft slide down into a pool and then another 100ft or so over the next falls! :D Once at the bottom of that, we pulled the rope and re-rigged it for the next 100ft drop down another slide to a small ledge with the water shooting out and down another chute into a swimmer. Rappel #3 was from the slippery lip on the far side of the swimmer and after pulling the rope, I had to swim over to the 2 pitons to rig the next rappel down a mostly vertical 85ft waterfall into a swimmer. :D The next rappel was also right afterwards and we had to rig a new anchor around a huge boulder in the watercourse before making the next 100ft slippery drop into another swimmer. Whew, this has to be one of the best canyons I've done this summer and there's still more to come!!! :y: After climbing to the side of a small waterfall, Steve rigged the rope for rappel #5 from two piton for yet another super sweet 100ft slippery rappel. The view back up canyon was quite amazing and crazy to realize we just rappled down all those falls! :o We had a light break from the falls, so we stuffed the ropes and did some rock hopping downstream a bit before hitting the big 160ft double drop. It's possible to rappel out of the watercourse here, but I highly recommend going right down the slide and over the falls so you can get a refreshing shower in the overhanging section. :D The rope pull on this rappel was a little difficult but we slowly got it down and stuffed the ropes again for a bit more rock hopping. The final 85ft rappel #7 was the tricky one of the day and unfortunately the falls go down a tight chute and would have been too difficult to rappel and retrieve the rope, so we had to do a dry rappel on the right side of that huge overhung chockstone down into some bushes before droppinto a pool. Steve rammed a rock in a crack to make the rope pull easier, but it came out while I was rappeling and almost tagged me in the helmet :lol: so Scott had to put another one in and the rope pull was just fine. Once at the bottom, we were able to stuff the ropes for the final time and strip out gear & wetsuits off for the long scenic rock hop downstream to the confluence with the east fork of Sabino Canyon. It got a little toasty so we'd dunk it some pools along the way to cool off and take a break from all the bushwhacking, rock hopping, and down climbing. :sweat:

We had opted for the slightly longer yet easier downhill 6.5 mile exit down the Sabino Canyon trail & walk the road back to the parking lot. It got a little toasty along that trail, but it was nice to be back on an actual trail and at least it was mostly downhill. I nicely asked the tram driver if we could hop on for free ride since its a warm summer day but he had no simpathy for us. :roll: The scenic road walk went by fairly quickly while enjoying the sunset and it was within 3G range, so my new iPhone kept me from getting too bored while doing the easy stroll back to the car. Though pounding pavement seemed to take an extra toll on our already tired legs. :roll: Still not a bad way to end such an amazing day of canyoneering! :D

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
Paved - Car Okay

To canyon trip
Shuttle Vehicle: In Tucson go to the Sabino Canyon trailhead, which is at the east end of Sunrise drive at the intersection with Sabino Canyon Rd. Trailhead: Head up the Catalina Highway to the Palisades TH. To reach here, turn off the highway onto Organization Ridge Rd, near the Showers Point area. Follow the signs to Palisades TH.
page created by nonot on Sep 20 2010 11:00 pm
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