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Mount Lemmon to Sabino Canyon, AZ

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Guide 6 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
4 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Shuttle 15.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9,089 feet
Elevation Gain -5,767 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,615 feet
Avg Time Hiking 1-2 days
Kokopelli Seeds 20.88
Interest Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
Dogs not allowed
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30  2011-10-22 Sarae
20  2011-09-24
Santa Catalina Mountains - AZT #11
10  2011-09-24
Santa Catalina Mountains - AZT #11
25  2011-09-24
Santa Catalina Mountains - AZT #11
21  2009-11-04 sirena
Author sirena
author avatar Guides 2
Routes 4
Photos 3,873
Trips 362 map ( 3,964 miles )
Age 45 Female Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep
Seasons   Spring
Sun  6:11am - 6:20pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
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Lemmon Drop
by sirena

Likely In-Season!
Overview: This tour of the Catalinas starts at the top of Mount Lemmon and winds its way through numerous vegetative zones as you lose 7100ft of elevation, hike a part of the Arizona Trail, pass a popular swimming hole, and end with an enjoyable tram ride back to your car. I hiked this in a very dry year and there was still plenty of water available on the route.

Shuttle: To do this hike you will need to put a car at the Sabino Canyon parking lot (see Fees/Permits below). Then drive up the mountain and enjoy the transition from saguaros to pines, you will be seeing these same transitions on the way down the mountain.

Planning: While this hike is mostly downhill, it is steep at times and tough on the knees, so don't go into this thinking that it will be easy. Also, time of year is important for this hike. Spring and fall are best, but spring snowmelt may make creek crossings more difficult in spots. Make sure to check the temps at the top and the bottom before you go.

Hike: At the uppermost parking lot, above the Ski Valley, is where this hike starts on Mount Lemmon Trail #5. Many of these hikes already have great descriptions on here, so I will mostly be outlining the route.

Take the Mount Lemmon Trail (an old roadbed) 0.4 miles to the junction with the Lemmon Rock Trail #12. Take a trip to the Lemmon Rock Lookout for expansive views of the whole valley, and then head back to the Lemmon Rock Trail which will lose 2000 feet of elevation in just 2 miles. The views of Rappel Rock, the Wilderness of Rock and the front range of the Catalinas are wonderful, as well as farther reaches such as Mount Wrightson and Baboquivari. The descent is steep to the Wilderness of Rock trail, but it is well graded with switchbacks.

At the junction with the Wilderness of Rock trail, go right. (A left would take you to Marshall Saddle, east toward Summerhaven.) Welcome to the Wilderness of Rock. You are now on the Arizona Trail. The trail undulates for 2.3 miles between fantastic rock formations and in and out of creekbeds. There are a lot of great places to camp on this part of the trail. In Nov. 09, which was a very dry time, there were numerous waterholes, some looked tastier than others. In a wet time of year, I have seen this trail with running water in most of the creek crossings. There is a bit of up and down on this trail, but the views make it worth it and besides, this hike is mostly downhill anyway. The junction to the Mount Lemmon Trail #5 is after a climb to a saddle. Another option is to just take the Mount Lemmon Trail 3.5 miles from the trailhead down to this point, but my route adds only 1.2 miles and includes the Wilderness of Rock, one of my favorites. Take a left onto the Mount Lemmon Trail, which climbs for a little and then contours before descending steeply 1.9 miles to Romero Pass. This part was brushy but very well cairned. Great views of Picacho Peak, Cathedral Peak, Mt. Kimball, Table Mountain and even tiny little Sombrero Peak way down in the valley.

At the junction with the Romero Canyon Trail #8 and the West Fork Trail #24, take a left onto the West Fork Trail. (a right here would take you to Catalina State Park) You are now descending into the West Fork of Sabino Canyon, A wide swath of green which cuts between the front and the back range of the Catalinas. Great views to the east down the West Fork, with Rincon Peak and Mica Mountain in the distance. 1.8 miles from the junction with the Romero Trail is a junction with the Cathedral Rock Trail #26, about 8.5 miles away from where you started and 4500 feet lower. This junction is in a beautiful riparian habitat with large oaks for tree cover. Stay on the West Fork Trail. For the next several miles, the trail winds in and out of the creekbed, always marked with large cairns. This is one of the prettiest parts of the whole hike and the remoteness (almost) guarantees that not many people will be encountered. Be aware that there is poison ivy on this part of the trail. In wet times there will be water in the creek, but this hike it was almost all dry, with isolated very mucky-looking ponds. Fortunately, 3.4 miles away from the junction of the Cathedral Rock Trail is Hutch's Pool, a very large swimming hole that is just a short way north of the trail at a prominent cairn. You can see the pool from above and it is about 150 feet long. This is a great shady spot to camp or take a long break. At this point you are about 12 miles from where you started. From here, it is 1.6 miles to the end of the West Fork Trail at its junction with the East Fork Trail #24A and the Sabino Canyon Trail #23. The junction is after a wide creek crossing. Here you part ways with the Arizona Trail, which follows the East Fork Trail toward Prison Camp.

Take the Sabino Canyon Trail up the hill out of the wash and contour around the canyon. You can see back to the top of Mount Lemmon and Rappel Rock, where this hike started. After two miles, you reach the junction with the Phoneline Trail #27. If you wanted, you could walk the Phoneline back to the parking lot and add 4.5 miles onto this hike description. Or you could do what I did; stay on the Sabino Canyon Trail down the switchbacks to the Sabino Canyon Tram stop #9 and ride the tram (see Fees/Permits below) back to the parking lot.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

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2009-11-06 sirena
  • 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
Mount Lemmon to Sabino Canyon
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Lead this trip for the ABC. Had a great group of backpackers to hike with! Saw my first ringtail, survived hiking out with a sprained ankle, and had a generally fabulous time.

Friday night, Tyler shuttled us up to the top of Mt. Lemmon where we camped along the Meadow Trail at the top of the mountain. Saturday morning, we headed back to the Mt. Lemmon Trail and turned onto the Lemmon Rock Trail. We had great views as we switchbacked down to the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. I hadn't ever been on Lemmon Rock Trail and was pleasantly surprised that it was in such good condition. We turned right onto the Wilderness of Rocks trail and followed the cairns through the bouldery goodness, making a side trip to see Lemmon Pools. We got back on the Mt. Lemmon trail and started to make our way south to Romero Pass.

I hadn't been on this part of Mt. Lemmon Trail either. I actually really liked this section. The northern exposure made the vegetation a bit lusher(if that's a word) and we were sheltered momentarily from the sun. We got to the steep switchbacks leading down to the Pass and enjoyed views of Cathedral Rock, West Fork and Romero. That was a pretty brutal decent, but there was virtually no way-finding needed. We hit the Pass and after a quick break, we started down the West Fork trail. This was the one section of trail that was showing a lot of overgrowth. The grasses were also a huge pain. Seeds in everyone's shoes and socks made us want to get to Hutch's as quick as possible. So, we started cruisin' down the trail.

About 1.5 miles from Hutch's I turned my ankle, but managed to walk it off. Okay... kept going. About 1 mile from Hutch's, my trekking pole collapsed as I put pressure on it, and my ankle gave up on me. I haven't had a sprained ankle in forever! I forgot how much it pumpkin hurts. As the rest of the group trouped ahead to set up camp, I hobbled down the trail and finally made it to camp. That cold water never felt so good. How lucky to be near some cold water to soak a quickly swelling ankle! In fact, luck would continue in the form of ICE. Ivanka was checking out the little falls at the top of the pool and she stumbled upon someone's discarded beer-cooling, Iced-tea chilling, lovely, cold and soothing ice. Awesome. :y: So, I spent the rest of the evening supremely happy with a scarf full of ice tied around my ankle, a couple of vitamin I in my tummy, and a cup or two of wine to enjoy while star gazing. There were quite a few shooting stars! The people in my group were soooo nice, helping me set up my hammock and get dinner ready. I will definitely be sure to repay the favor if the tables are ever turned!

The rest of the evening went well, with just a slight setback when a bunch of nearly boiling water meant for hot chocolate ended up all over Mark. Again, the proximity of Hutch's was quite a gift. He ended up just slightly pink, no permanent damage except to the camera that was in his pocket when he launched himself into the pool. After that excitement, we settled in to sleep at around 10pm.

It was a very peaceful night... until the ringtail showed up. He woke me up as he was trying to help himself to Jason and my food. We had hung the bag in a nearby tree, but it was too close to the branch, so he had simply jumped down onto the top of the bags. There, he must have decided that the best approach was to chew through the line holding the bags, and he sure was trying. I, of course, took the time to capture the moment in a couple of photos before yelling(had no effect) and unsuccessfully trying to find a rock to through at him. I was having trouble moving around, so I woke up Jason and he had to get up and scare the little bugger away. He then adjusted the the bag so the ringtail couldn't jump onto the bags as easily. Then we gathered a few smaller rocks that I could use to scare the thief away if he decided to try again. I'm sure I would have been a very accurate shot, half asleep and hobbling around on a sprained ankle. However, I didn't get the chance to try. The rest of the night was undisturbed. Snore.

Sunday morning, my ankle was feeling a tiny bit better, and one of the guys had tape to stabilize it. I checked out the rope that had held up our food bags and couldn't tell where any chewing had occurred... go amsteel! So, after a nice breakfast, we headed out to meet the hot sun in Sabino Canyon. The hike out actually went pretty well for me. The tape really made a huge difference with my ankle. A few of us made it out within 2 hours and we sat at Tram Stop #9 and waited for the rest of the crew. And waited, and waited. Uh oh... we figured that something had gone wrong with one of the other 2 guys we were still waiting for. Yup, the guy who had a couple of hours earlier taped up my ankle, had just sprained his ankle and was a whole lot worse off than me. A few people headed up to take his pack (which was larger than me!), and we finally all made it down just as the tram was pulling up. We loaded onto the tram next to the heavily perfumed tourists and headed to our cars at the Visitor Center. Good times, and no damage we couldn't heal :D Whew!
Mount Lemmon to Sabino Canyon
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Very nice hike. Was surprising to start the segment heading up the Catalinas to discover we actually had to head down in elevation 1000 ft. The climbing after that was a bit challenging, but doable. The fact that I took the Cathedral Rock trail by mistake and climbed a few hundred feet of switchbacks before recognizing the mistake didn't help things much. Fortunately I was ahead of the pack, so not everyone went quite as far as I did.

Hutch's Pool was the highlight of this segment, followed by incredible views from Romero Pass to the top. The climb up to and just beyond Romero Pass in the heat without a stop for lunch until 1:30pm almost did all of us in but Joe, who just seems to be an elevation machine (I guess all those trips up and down Piestewa Peak are paying off!).

The three wild turkeys on the trip were a surprise, as well as the large number of trees struck by lightning up there above 7,000 feet.

After lunch I followed Denny while Joe stuck with Bruce. We made it up top a bit earlier than the rest but certainly didn't mind the wait up top!

Thanks guys for the great company, and another great trip on the AZT. Only 10 segments to go!

Note: 1 hr 50 minutes break total, but I needed 50 minutes of it to recoup at lunch so I'm only counting an hour.
Mount Lemmon to Sabino Canyon
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Left the House at 3am, picked up the Phoenix portion of the AZT Team, and met Dave on the top of Mt Lemmon at about 6:45. We dropped off a car up top and drove the beginning of our journey today at the old Prison Camp / Prisoner of war camp, the Gordon Hirabayashi (aka hibachi) Trailhead.

The temps at out 7:30 start were perfect. Blue skys, rolling hills, gentle breezes, and a dew still on the grasses. The first six miles of this passage of the AZ Trail takes you past the Riparian area by Sycamore Reservoir, down the East Fork of Sabino Canyon and to the lowest elevation you will be at for the day.

At the 7 mile mark, after loosing 1000' in elevation, was the first highlight for the day, Hutch's Pool. We spent a good amount of time cooling off in the water. Denny did a Cannonball and Joe did a Chair, off the ledge into the water.

Back on trail, A couple miles up, was the second highlight. 3 Turkeys..what the heck are Wild Turkeys doing up here. Hopefully somebody in the group got some decent shots, because none of mine turned out. All three of the birds had yellow or orange tags an inch of so wide by 18 inches long on them. So more than likely some sort of reintroduction program... or maybe they've been tagged for Thanksgiving :D .

The rest of this trip was a brutal climb for me. By the time I got to Romero pass I was sucking wind big time. Luckily there was only 6 miles and 3000' in elevation to go. Lack of sleep over the week took it's toll. Denny and Dave pushed forward, while Joe stayed back with me. He must be getting old, he did it last week w/ Denny on the North Rim, and this week with me. I may have to re think my opinion of him. Thanks Joe!

Temps to start the day - low 60's,
Lunch just up from Romero Pass - 80
End of day on top of Mt Lemon - 60

10 passages and under 200 miles to go!

Thanks guys for another memorable trip :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)

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
Upper Trailhead: Take the Catalina Highway off Tanque Verde Road in Tucson. Drive 4.2 miles to the Forest boundary and continue 28 miles, past Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, to the power substation on Radio Ridge. Hike west on the trail to a dirt road. Hike down the road to the trail junction.

The Catalina Highway is paved and suitable for passenger cars. Observatory Road is an all-weather gravelled road. Both roads may be snow-covered in winter, when chains or 4-wheel drive may be required. Observatory Road beyond Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley is not maintained for public use during the winter. It is closed when snow-covered or icy.

Lower Trailhead: Directions to Sabino Canyon Recreation Trailhead: From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Grant/Kolb Rd head northeast on Tanque Verde. Turn left at the second light on Sabino Canyon Rd. Go about 8 miles up Sabino Canyon Rd and you come to a four way stop with Sunrise. Go straight through the intersection and take the next right into the parking lot of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Signs marking the way start on North Kolb road.
page created by sirena on Nov 06 2009 10:30 am
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