register help

Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson, AZ

64 9 1
Guide 9 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson NW
4.3 of 5 by 3
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 5.19 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,711 feet
Elevation Gain 1,869 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,047 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 15.43
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Historic & Peak
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
6  2016-11-24 fricknaley
14  2013-11-20 sirena
19  2013-06-20 Mountain_Rat
15  2013-06-14
Buster Mountain
10  2013-05-27
Buster Mountain
Author Mountain_Rat
author avatar Guides 10
Routes 91
Photos 550
Trips 192 map ( 1,893 miles )
Age 56 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Mar, Feb, Nov, Jan → 5 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:08am - 6:29pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Bust a loop
by Mountain_Rat

This journey expounds on the already amazing Buster Mountain description, as they share the same primary goal in bagging Buster Mountain with all of its views. This version differs though, as it’s not only a scenic tour, but a historic one as well.

Though details are slim, the history of this immediate area seems to revolve around the late Buster Bailey. Buster moved here from Texas in 1927. His father built their home somewhere in the area that is now Catalina State Park. Buster’s family soon moved back to Texas, but Buster returned to his one true love, The Catalina Mountains. He worked for area ranchers, he worked for the Zimmerman family, who developed what is now Summer Haven on Mt. Lemmon, but Buster’s real claim to fame was as a bootlegger, operating his still near the waters of the now dry Buster Spring. Remnants of his still are said to be in place, though in disrepair, somewhere near the current spring. This was Buster’s stomping ground, and you just can’t help but feel connected to him while you’re here. It’s said that he packed his product down alternating routes, so not to leave any obvious trails. It would be safe to say that if you’re on any passable route in or around Buster Canyon, Buster, himself had been there.

From the trailhead at Catalina State Park, cross the Sutherland Wash. As you come out of the wash, turn right (south) to the Birding Trail. At about 1/4 mile in, you'll come to a fork where you can either go straight (south), or turn off to your right (west). Go straight and continue a short ways, crossing the Montrose stream bed where you'll come to another fork. This fork is marked by a 'No Horses' sign. You'll be returning this way on the right trail, but for the approach, veer left, about 15 paces, until you see a faint trail, crossing a tiny wash. You should now be facing east. This is the trail that takes you up the ridge. Break out the camera and cruise. You won't believe the views that develop as you go.

For the next 1.7 miles, this trail is clear and well cairned. Once you top the ridge at Hill 4223, however, the trail vanishes into the grasses. Not to worry, as the remainder of your journey is all within view and holds no surprises. This is truly one of the most simple bushwhacks ever. From here, your path to the peak is clear. Pass south, down through the saddle in front of you. As you start up the other side, there will be a rocky knoll. Look for a vague side trail leading east to Buster Spring, should you care to visit it. From this point, look southwest to the saddle below Buster, climb gradually as you contour the hill in front of you, counter-clockwise to meet the saddle on the other side. It will just make sense, once you're there looking at it. Now make the short climb west to bag the peak, which includes views that can only be captured here. This is the one spot that sums up the magnitude of Pusch Ridge above.

Buster Mountain is a not so well known peak, just inside the northwest boundary of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Its anonymity is largely due to the fact that it seems a dwarf compared the walls of Pusch Ridge, towering above. However, anyone who has visited Buster would have to agree that it’s no dwarf, but something of a beast. Of its many attractive aspects, Buster is best known as the prime vantage point from which to view Pusch Ridge and Alamo Canyon.

For your return, take a short stroll across the small saddle, southwest of the peak, keeping your eyes peeled for a hint of trail or a cairn which will mark the beginning of your decent. The trail is very spotty, but decently cairned as it guides you northwest, down the ridge. At about 1/3 of a mile, you’ll encounter a small down climb. This would be nothing to the average rock climber, but to a trail guy like me, it’s kind of exciting. The further along you go, the more defined the trail becomes until suddenly it mellows into smooth sailing about 1.1 miles from the peak. The remaining 1.2 miles will be rather uneventful, unless you turn around no and then to admire what you’ve accomplished.

Just a note; I’ve written this description as a clockwise loop, as it is much more dramatic scenery-wise than the reverse.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2013-06-20 Mountain_Rat
    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
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    So, I finally got the opportunity to hike with the iconic Doctor Frick on Thanksgiving. He had picked this one out, and I asked if I could tag along. The weather could not have been better for Buster. In fact, I think that this was my first time at the peak without a pounding wind. It was a mellow ascent resulting in itchy feet and ankles, followed by an eventless descent. That's right! I know you all were thinking that this could only end up in a royal bloodbath, but there were no notable injuries between us. It's like a Thanksgiving miracle or something.

    Anywho, it was good to finally meet Frick and get a hike in with him. Hopefully we can hammer out a few more trails in the area.
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Matt was nice enough to show me the way along the buster mountain loop. this hike is outstanding and is the way to do buster in my opinion. we had perfect weather. found the spring after a little poking around. cool to finally see that.

    as always the views up high are some of my favorite in tucson. missed it up here, nice to be back

    on the way up we some a bunch of something really hauling butt up the slopes near the saddle. possibly bighorns? too far away to tell but they were trucking

    great to finally meet and hike with you Matt. let's do it again sometime, on something more brutal perhaps? : rambo :
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Call me suicidal, but I let Roy talk me into another easy scramble. Roy had previously posted a track for this one, so I loaded it into Route Manager, looked at the profile and thought “this aint too bad”, and like that, I was in.

    I met Roy and his gang at Catalina State Park just a bit before 08:00 and we immediately hit the trail. The ascent to Buster Mountain was pretty standard and we took a short break there. Now, in my head, all that was left to do, was drop off the east side of Buster, cruise over the saddle, back up the other side to that little peak over there, then go home. Well, that was not the case. The conversation went something along these lines;

    Me: So, is that the peak we’re going to?
    Roy: No. ya see that one to the right of it?
    Me: Yea.
    Roy: Well, there’s a peak behind it and then that one to its left. That’s where we’re headed… And from there we can see the peak that we’re going to. Okay lets go!
    Me: O.o

    Now, I have never considered Buster to be an easy hike. It has its challenges, but this went way beyond. There were moments when I though “huh, Roy has brought me out here to die”, but then I’d see something shiny and forget about it for awhile. We climbed false peak, after false, until we found ourselves perched tediously between Alamo and Montrose Canyons, looking down on Leviathan. Not only were we out there, but we were up there as well. THIS IS AWSOME!!! … and worth the treacherous march/climb we made to get here. I don’t mean to downplay the remainder of the trip, but it was a cakewalk compared to what we had already been through and certainly less scenic.

    This one I may be back for again. It was very tough and with any small misjudgment, could turn bad. I would not do this one alone or suggest that anyone else should.

    Thanks once again Roy for leading the way.
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I had originally planned on hiking Pusch Peak from Pima Canyon until I came across this description the night before. I really enjoyed my hike up Buster last year and wanted to see more of the area. So glad I hiked this one and covered some new ground instead- the trail up to Peak 4223 was delightful with fantastic views!

    I love autumn days when I can start my hike at noon. The weather was wonderful all day, sometimes overcast, sometimes breezy. Found the trail with no issues- it is very well cairned with good tread and hardly any poky things- almost seemed too easy! Interesting views of the Romero Canyon Trail and Samaniego Ridge. I passed Peak 4223 and made my way across the ridge to the low saddle. I saw a flurry of activity and got really excited for a second- was it one of the new bighorns? Sadly, no. Just some deer.

    After looking at dry Buster Spring I contoured around to meet the saddle to the east of Buster. There was no trail, but occasional cairns popped up from time to time. Thankfully the grass seeds weren't too bad, that can turn a hike into a foot-stabbing nightmare quick. Also, not much shindagger on this route, not like areas in Pima Canyon where you are shindagger-surfing. Speaking of which, I had a great view of Table Mountain's summit where Wendy and I spent a chilly night last year by the fireplace.

    The views into Alamo Canyon are some of my favorite in all the Catalinas, so dramatic with the massive Leviathan and Wilderness Domes. The saddle felt remote, Buster blocked out civilization beyond, the sprawl of Oro Valley pink-tiled roofs.

    One last short steep bit to the summit and I settled in for a long break. It was windy, but not cold. I loved that there was very little chance that I'd see anyone else today, even though the first parking lot was full.

    After an enjoyable time on the summit, reading old logs and listening to music, I started down the east side. The small saddle below the summit really speaks to me and I stopped again. Spent time playing with my camera and investigating a cairned route that I think connects up with the trail in Alamo Canyon.

    I really needed a day like this- just me and the Catalinas. What a great route, I'll have to check out the Alamo Canyon variation sometime.
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I had hiked to Buster Mountain by the usual route the first time, then heard that there was another trail up a ridge on the other side of the canyon. So, I asked some of my cronies what they knew about this area. I got a lot of mixed info from the old timers, I found a bit of information through Google, then I sat down and sorted what I had (which turns out to be surprisingly little). What I did find was that there was an old trail to Buster Spring along a no-named ridge north of Buster Canyon (I'm not sure that the canyon has an official name, but 2 old timers referred to it as such, so...). With little else to go on, I turned to Google Earth and found what looked like pieces of trail as described. My second trip to Buster Mountain would be along that possible route. With a few hiccups, I made the second trip, eventually locating the mystery trail, then recording a full track on my return.

    Today was the day that I would christen the Buster Canyon Loop. I hit the trail at 04:45, with all the details already in my head. The approach was unbelievably beautiful, with the sun rising and setting over the landscape again and again. The lighting is horrible for taking pics, but to the eye, it just doesn't get any better.

    On my last trip, I almost stumbled into Buster Spring, but this time couldn't find it (there's a small spur that leads to it, which I failed to mark), but that wasn't my purpose today. Today was all about traversing Buster Canyon. I did take a break at Buster Mountain before taking the rock slide back to the park, finishing up at 09:00.

    This an excellent hike. I recommend it to all.
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Buster Backwards:

    The plan was to do Pusch Peak this morning, but upon arrival at the TH, I saw that I was not alone. There were already 3 vehicles parked and a 4th pulled in right behind me. As I gathered my stuff, I began to think that 5 people in this canyon is pretty crowded, then when all 4 doors opened on the latest arrival, I packed it up. Now, seeing a human or 2 doesn't bother me, but with a minimum of 8 hikers on trail before 05:00 a.m. It was gonna be close quarters.

    With no plan B, I scoured through the vast emptiness of my mind to find another option :| . It wasn't long before Buster Mountain popped up :) (I happened to look in it's direction). The trailhead being 5 miles north, I hit the highway again. I was on the trail, half-cocked at about 05:20, still trying to decide my approach.

    I had this hike on the books for the near future, when I would have some time to bushwack. The plan was to do a loop, taking an established trail up, with a potential 'Google' trail out the other side (or vice-verse). I had it all plotted out for weeks now. I had been hesitating on the approach though; Bushwack up, where I could bail on the lower end if needed, or Bushwack down, which could turn into a long backtrack?

    As I selected the map page on the 'GeePuS', I found that I had failed to ever load the plotted route at all. Fortunately, I had at least loaded some way points (1/2 mile checkpoints) based on Google Earth imagery. There was no way that I wasn't doing this today, so I headed up the Birding Trail until I saw what should be the ravine I was looking for. I made a decision and turned hard left, charging head long into the unknown :gun: .

    I was about 7/10ths of a mile up the ravine when I realized there was not, nor will there be a trail here :-s . I knew the trail was to the south of me running basically southeast. Having lost my allotment of blood already, I decided to cut a line dead south to intersect the trail. Within the next 1/2 mile, this move payed off as I stepped onto the elusive 'Google' Trail. This trail is Niiice. It seems that someone or something (maybe Google :-k ) has been taking very good care of this trail, complete with carins every 10 - 20 feet, until you top the ridge. After that, it's rolling, but rocky plains of high grass, hiding any sign of carins or trail. The upside is that now the route to Buster Mountain is clear and obvious. I dropped down through a saddle, headed straight for Buster Spring and from there contoured the hill counter-clockwise until hitting the saddle below Buster. The only thing left to do now is hit the peak :y: .

    As I took a break at the peak, I decided that I would return the way that I came, so as to record a full track of the 'Google' Trail. I've now been to the peak from both directions, I have solid data on both, and can do the full loop another day.

    BTW, the full loop comes in at ~5.1 miles. You'll Love This One!
    Buster Canyon Loop - Tucson
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    My buddy Kirstin has been on me to take her hiking for months now. She's busy, I'm busy, but we finally managed a common window of 5 hours. Now to find an adventure that would fit. She wanted water, tall trees, a good workout and a finale. While I wanted those same things, I didn't see it all happening in 5 hours(Kirstin is a "Charge!" kind of a girl, but she is also quite easily distracted). The decision on Buster Mountain was made for several reasons, the most important of which was that it was the shortest hike on my short list.

    My day started at 03:30 as I started packing, while periodically, and very gently poking at the badger to get her on her feet. By 04:45 we were on the road, left the CSP trailhead at 05:30, aannd took our first snack break at about 05:50 (20 minutes and 2,000' from the TH). We were not gonna get to the peak at this rate unless I could motivate the munchkin. Knowing her love for fairytales, I quickly turned this hike into a quest fit only for a princess :STP: . She took the bait and we were on our way. Now my plan was not without flaw. She, being the princess, was ultimately in command, so we still met with many delays. I think the first 1.25 mi or so offered the badger too much confidence. Once the the trail became faint, she suggested that I take the lead. Then once the trail was no more (it seems that people give this trail up just after the first peak), I was in charge. :DANCE:

    The rest of the trip up went as it should, making the peak a bit behind schedule, but within limits. Kirstin found and attached herself to the register, while I checked out the views. Eventually the alarm went off to head back, but as we were replacing the register, what did we find? ANOTHER REGISTER :doh: This was the original one. Try to peel a princess away from that. ](*,)

    Long story, short, we burned another 45 minutes reading the more interesting entries, followed by a race with the devil to get back to the TH. We made it back 3 minutes behind schedule.

    A great day with my best buddy and one more peak in the bag. :y:

    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)

    Catalina State Park State Park

    Map Drive

    To Catalina State Park Trailhead
    From Phoenix take 1-10 south to the 241 exit (Tangerine). Follow east to AZ 77 (Oracle Road). Turn right (South) on AZ77 and signs for Catalina State Park lead the way.

    From anywhere in Tucson, connect to Oracle Rd (Highway 77) and head north past Pusch Ridge. After you have gone about 15-20 miles you will see the sign for Catalina State Park on the right. There is an entrance fee to get into the park. To get to the trails, just drive in and follow the signs to a large parking area marked "trailhead".

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 107 mi - about 1 hour 44 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 14.0 mi - about 23 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 251 mi - about 3 hours 50 mins
    page created by Mountain_Rat on Jun 20 2013 1:35 pm
    $17 3L Hydration Bladder
    help comment issue

    end of page marker