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Sabino Canyon to Catalina State Park, AZ

Guide 16 Triplogs  1 Active Topic
  4 of 5 
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 20 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,733 feet
Elevation Gain 3,347 feet
Accumulated Gain 4,945 feet
Avg Time One Way 10 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 36.48
Interest Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
1  2016-04-30 fearnestiv
10  2013-02-10 PrestonSands
9  2011-01-29 GrottoGirl
1  2010-03-28 walkalot
32  2001-01-27
Romero Canyon Pools
Author fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 387
Photos 4,001
Trips 3,134 map ( 20,352 miles )
Age 45 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Mar, Apr, Oct → 7 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  5:34am - 7:25pm
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

Here's one for the trophy case
by fricknaley

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This is one of the signature hikes of the Catalinas and a true winter tradition, hiking from Sabino Canyon to Catalina State Park. This can be accomplished as a challenging, beautiful day hike in the late fall, winter, or early spring. The route takes off from the popular Sabino Canyon Recreational Center. From there, it's up Sabino Canyon via Phone Line Trail #27 to Sabino Canyon proper. This short segment takes you to West Fork Trail #24 where you head northwest to the highpoint, Romero Pass, then descend down the Romero Canyon Trail #8 to the parking lot at Catalina State Park.

These trails have been individually written up here on HAZ by keepmoving and myself, and I refer you to those guides as more quality beta for this hike. This guide will string together the route and highlight the significant points of the trails, as well as serving as a place to log this oh-so-worthy hike here on Hike Arizona.

This hike is best done in winter, but please note that snow at Romero Pass and high water levels in the West Fork can potentially make this hike undoable or leave you with the option of having to turn around and complete a 30-mile hike back out in the dark if you are not prepared to camp...PLEASE research the weather and water conditions before attempting this as a day hike.

The easiest way to start this hike is to blast off (early) right down the Sabino Canyon paved road. Take this short initial leg for about 1.2 miles, past stops 1 & 2. Your goal is to hit one of the connectors to the Phoneline Link Trail. Around tram stop 3, look for a small typical Catalina trail sign showing a route crossing over Sabino Creek (potential for messy water crossing here) and pointing to the link trail 0.1 miles away. Cross the creek, root up the side of the hill, and pop onto the well-established Link Trail. Hang a left and switchback up to the Phoneline Trail. This is again signed and will put you at roughly 2 miles.

Hang a left onto the Phoneline Trail and hike up the reasonably level trail, up Sabino Canyon via its southern wall. The sun will probably rise on you here, affording special views, and you'll hear water running in the Creek far below. This section of trail is about 3.2 miles to the end of the road and the junction with the Sabino Canyon Trail #23, about 5.2 miles in.

Hop on to the Sabino Canyon #23 Trail and continue the beautiful hike up Sabino Canyon. Up here, the canyon closes in a little bit more, the walls become a little steeper, and everything becomes a little grander for a while. Eventually, you venture away from the creek a little and enter Sabino Basin, with large views north into the basin and the canyons draining in. Soon enough, you descend back down to the canyon bottom. This trail is a little over 2 miles. The trail ends in the creek bed at the junction with the West Fork Trail #24 and East Fork Trail #24A.

Take the West Fork #24 trail and head northwest along the wonderful West Fork. There is an immediate creek crossing that is well cairned then the trail heads along the north flank of the creek for about 1 mile before the largest creek crossing of the hike. This can be tricky in moderate water conditions. If the creek is roaring, this may be impossible to do and stay dry...please bear this in mind. Not long thereafter, a large cairned path breaking off to your right will lead to Hutch's Pool and its reliable water. This is about 1.6 miles into the West Fork Trail and is absolutely worthwhile. The next 3.4 miles of the West Fork start with a climb up a ridge and away from the creek for a bit with expansive wide-open views up and down the canyon that are stunning. The trail then comes back to the creek to make several crossings through a riparian wooded and shaded stretch that is extremely pleasant. The trail is a little faint through here and leaf-littered but always there. The crossings are all well cairned. At the time of this write-up, the crossings here were all dry though there was moderate water in the West Fork crossing before Hutch's Pool (as a reference point). With high water conditions, some of these could be problematic. At about 12.2 miles into your hike, you will come to a signed trail intersection in a wooded area with the Cathedral Rock Trail #26. This goes left. Stay straight/right on the West Fork and continue climbing up the last leg of the 6.8 mile West Fork stretch, the 1.8-mile climb up to Romero Pass. This last leg immediately climbs out of the wooded area and begins some long, winding switchbacks up the northeast wall of the canyon. You are exposed again. You can look back down the canyon for some of the best views of the day, over Rattlesnake Peak to Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak, which may well be covered in snow. The trail is a little narrow and overgrown here but still easy enough to follow. You can see the Cathedral Rock trail switchbacking wildly up onto Pusch Ridge on the other side of the canyon. Before long, you reach the highpoint of the hike, Romero Pass, and the end of the West Fork Trail. This is about 14 miles into the hike and sits just under 6100 feet.

At Romero Pass, you can see forever southeast and northwest. It's often windy and cold. There may well be snow and ice, so please research the conditions, so you are not surprised when you get there. This hike's last leg is the nearly 7-mile hike down Romero Canyon trail to Catalina State Park. The initial steep descent down the side gully up to Romero Pass can be tricky in the ice and a little faint, so some familiarity with this trail or a GPS may help. This wooded stretch will then make some creek crossings (all dry as of this time) that are well cairned. After almost 2 miles, you will come to the old Trail Camp site. From here, the trail heads up a little, then onto the exposed northern wall of Romero Canyon, where the views again become commanding. Soon enough, the trail descends sharply back down to the canyon bottom and briefly crosses over the canyon onto the south side before crossing again at Upper Romero Pools. A short jaunt brings you to the classic Romero Pools, where you cross Romero Canyon for the last time before climbing back up to the Montrose Divide, then making your quick descent back down to civilization at the Catalina State Park trailhead, right around 20 miles from where you started.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

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

2009-12-15 fricknaley

    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.

    Permit $$
    Visit this link for full details.
    2021 - FAQ
    $8 per vehicle per day
    $10 per vehicle per week
    $40 per vehicle per year (valid for one year from date of purchase)

    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.

    2021 Catalina State Park
    Per vehicle (1-4 Adults): $7.00
    Individual/bicycle: $3.00

    2021 Sabino Canyon Tram is $12 extra. [ website ]

    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 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.

    This is the universal directions to Sabino Canyon Recreation Center. Hikes take off from all directions and some you might need to hike another trail to get to the start of your hike. Reference the hike summary for details.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 117 mi - about 1 hour 57 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 14.1 mi - about 30 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 261 mi - about 4 hours 1 min
    page created by fricknaley on Dec 15 2009 10:03 pm
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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