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Charouleau Gap, AZ

no permit
18 6 1
Guide 6 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Oracle
4.3 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 18.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,664 feet
Elevation Gain 1,957 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,210 feet
Avg Time One Way 9 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 29.2
Interest Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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16  2017-05-08
Charouleau Gap Samaniego Ridge
17  2011-12-29 azdesertfather
1  2000-11-23 Grasshopper
Author azdesertfather
author avatar Guides 12
Routes 59
Photos 1,185
Trips 789 map ( 6,447 miles )
Age 45 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Mar
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:09am - 6:26pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
challenging 4WD trip, or a decent hike!
by azdesertfather

The Charouleau Gap is one of the best 4WD trips in the Catalinas, but it doesn't make too bad of a horseback ride, mountain bike ride or shuttle hike either.

This scenic route is for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. The road up and over Samaniego Ridge is rough, rocky and requires good ground clearance as well as excellent traction.

On the western half of the trip there are broad and expansive views as you climb up and back down Charouleau Gap, and the roads aren't quite as bad since they have been graded in the past.

For the northern half of the trip, much of your time is spent down around the Canada del Oro wash and is especially rough in places. The toughest single spot by vehicle is known as The Step (N32.53085 W110.78176); because of the incline it is preferable to drive down it from Oracle; however, many manage to climb up it from the Catalina side.

The other tough spot is a quarter-mile stretch known as (yep) the Quarter Mile, which if driving from Oracle starts about a mile south of The Step (around N32.51812 W110.78185) and goes down to the bottom of the elbow in the route. One other place of note is a spot known as the Elevator Shaft (N32.56493 W110.78086), a climb that is long and steep, but has a solid surface for vehicles because of past grading.

The route also has interesting rock formations, the remains of an old adobe home at a place marked on topo maps as Coronado Camp, and from what I understand some pretty good deer hunting (or observing, if that's your preference).

A number of primitive roads branch off the Charouleau Gap Road and offer excellent ATV and trail bike riding; according to the Forest Service, vehicles must stay on roads.

The Road provides access to two Coronado National Forest trails for hikers and horseback riders, the Samaniego Ridge Trail #7 and the Canada Del Oro Trail #4. As a one-way 4WD trip, the ride is going to take 5-6 hours (as long as you don't bottom out somewhere!). As a hike, it's going to be more like 9 hours.

Connecting trails:
Along the way, there are two places where trails connect in to continue a journey on foot:

- At the bottom of the elbow (and the southern start to the Quarter Mile) is the northern end of the Canada del Oro Trail #4, which runs south and southwest up and around the west side of Mt. Lemmon for about 7.5 miles. You can also reach from here:
  • Red Ridge Trail #2, 1.5 miles away
  • Samaniego Ridge Trail #7, 6.1 miles away
  • Summerhaven, 6.5 miles away

- At the top of Charouleau Gap is the start of the Samaniego Ridge Trail #7, a 10.5-mile trail which climbs Samaniego Ridge to the peak and ends near the peak of Mt. Lemmon. From the Samaniego you can connect to the:
  • Samaniego Ridge Spur Trail #7A, 6.7 miles away
  • Canada del Oro Trail #4, 7.8 miles away
  • Sutherland Trail #6, 8.4 miles away

History & geology: The Catalina Mountains were formed by a major fault line called Pirate, splitting the range in two and causing the fissure between the Oracle and Samaniego ridges. This split and subsequent erosion created the pronounced alluvial fans seen on the western slopes and the deep chasm that is now home to the flows of the Canada del Oro. Canada del Oro makes its way north around the Samaniego ridge, and then back south to the confluence of the Santa Cruz River.

The ancient history of the western slopes of the Catalina mountains starts with the arrival of the Hohokam people from northern Mexico around AD 300, reaching their peak between AD 700 and 1000. The peak years of occupation in the Canada Del Oro were from AD 500-700 before major population units moved to Rillito and eventually the Rincons. Recorded history detailing western civilizations imprint on the Catalinas starts in the 1540s with the expeditions of Don Francisco de Coronado, the famed Spanish explorer and commander who traveled through much of the southwest in search of gold. Father Kino, who established many of the missions throughout Arizona and California named the mountains Catalina, after St. Catherine in 1697.

Famille Charouleau, French pioneers traveled west to this area in the late 19th century, giving the pronounced "gap" along the Samaniego Ridge its name. The Charouleau Gap is more like a saddle, but the name has stuck nonetheless.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

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

2011-12-29 azdesertfather

    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
    Charouleau Gap
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Still on the trail to recovery. Picked this as a higher mile : lower elevation hike to see how my speed is doing. Not very impressive. Weather was great and I caught a quick glimpse of a fox. Downed a quart of Tart Cherry juice afterward, and feel pretty good. Another week or 2 might see me back in the game, but peak performance is still in the distance.
    Charouleau Gap
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Wanted to take these 2 trails off my list for quite a while now...they didn't disappoint! Rugged and beautiful.

    Had a friend who had a Rhino (and a friend of his with a new CanAm) ride Nick and I up the Gap Road all the way to the CDO Trailhead, a little of 9 miles. We took off from there on foot. As we reached this trailhead, we heard a wild turkey in the bushes but never could get an eye on him.

    The first quarter mile of the CDO was a little sketchy there, had trouble finding it. Eventually we picked up on pretty good trail. A couple of spots that were a little sketchy but by and large much better than I expected the CDO to be in. Only a small part of it showed burn damage. Water in the CDO was still running fairly well.

    The last mile or so of the CDO got a bit more steep, and we were feeling it. We took the CDO Shortcut Trail over to the Samaniego and hiked it all the way to the Sutherland Trail junction, then turned back toward Samaniego Peak. Made it the Samaniego Peak and tried to do the offtrail bushwhack to the peak, but it was covered in really nasty, thorny, knee-high bushes, and we saw the bushwhack time was going to take longer than we had time for, so we gave up on that effort.

    We took the Samaniego Trail all the way to the Charouleau Gap. It was a little rougher trail in spots than I figured, a little hard to follow in a few spots but comparable mostly to the CDO. There was one spot where we were surprised to see cables attached to the side of the rock to hold onto since the trail was eroded and had a steep drop. We then hiked the Charouleau Gap road the 6+ miles out to the trailhead.

    We saw several deer all day, mule deer and whitetails. We also saw a couple of small rattlesnakes on the Charouleau Gap road.
    Charouleau Gap
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    First 4WD trip in a while, in an area I look forward to going back and hiking. Perfect day, had a blast with a couple of friends from Grace (where I pastor), PLUS my wife and son went along too. The CDO was running pretty well in spots. In one place called the "Car Wash" where you have to drive in the CDO a ways, I can tell that it would be impassable by 4WD when it's really running there. We took two vehicles out, a Jeep and a Rhino, both did very well, enjoyed taking a turn at handling them both!

    Had a nice lunch at Coronado Camp, the site of the adobe home. Good halfway point, just by the CDO.

    The guy who owned the Jeep had just installed a wench a month or two ago, and unfortunately had to use it the first time today. At the tail end of our trip, near the power substation close to the Catalina entrance, a 2009 Jeep Wrangler had flipped on its side in the road. Thankfully, none of the 3 in the Jeep were hurt. As you can see from one of the pictures, we were able to get our friend's Jeep in a good spot to be able to pull him back up on his wheels, but unfortunately in addition to some pretty significant body damage, there was also damage done that kept it from driving. We found leaking brake fluid when we flipped it back up, and the car wouldn't start. We tried to jump the car, and smoke started coming out of the vehicle, so something really got messed up. Thankfully he was able to roll his Jeep down the hill and off the road until a tow truck came. Quite a day!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    Oracle (north) entrance: The trail can be accessed by driving east on AZ 77 to W American Avenue. Head south on American, which will turn east. After 2.0 miles take a right on N College Drive, then a left on E Maplewood, then a right on N Estill Drive. After a short distance, bear right onto N Viento Drive. The next right is Callas Drive, which will turn to dirt at a gate. The gate is the start of the trail.

    Catalina (west) entrance: The small parking area and trailhead can be reached by exiting AZ77 at E Golder Ranch Road and heading east. Proceed to N Lago del Oro Parkway and turn north. The parking area is at (N32 31.231 W110 53.110). The trail heads east into the Catalinas via a narrow private land easement. Do not leave the trail, or drive in the washes. Keep speeds low to reduce dust and noise. Respect the private land to ensure future use; there have been threats of closures in the past.
    page created by azdesertfather on Dec 29 2011 9:02 pm
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