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The Soldier Trail is a lovely, tough little climb right off the Catalinas base, at the beginning of the Catalina Highway as it starts to climb into the mountains. It follows an old power line road to the old Prison Camp found at the Gordon Hirabiyashi campground. The power lines no longer exist, but the trail does, and it is pretty fun.
This trail starts climbing immediately from the signed trailhead, away from the highway. Shortly you come to a little saddle, and the trail switchbacks up to your left. Swing around and climb steeply for about a quarter-mile. It levels out a little as a drainage forms to your right. This trail climbs nearly the whole way. As you climb more and cross over the drainage, the hillsides become coated in knee-high grass. Soon Soldier Canyon is on your left. The trail starts to climb more steeply, and the views become progressively appealing.
You keep climbing for about a mile and a half towards a small saddle. Once you crest this saddle, the views open up all over, especially in front of you. Soldier Canyon is hundreds of feet below you, and the hillsides are grass-covered. There are peaks everywhere, and the hike becomes very interesting in general. If you are here at the right time of year, you can hear water flowing in Soldier Canyon and even spy some alluring falls. You are towering way above the canyon floor, but off to your right, you can see where it levels out and where you will cross the canyon.
The trail breaks to the right and descends a little to cross a relatively flat section of the canyon. Again there may well be water flowing, though crossing is pretty straightforward. This is a nice riparian area with all sorts of small trees. It's green and lush. If you break off the trail and go left down the canyon a couple of hundred yards, you can see where the walls quickly choke in. Follow the right side of the canyon. It immediately closes in and forms a more narrow chute. If you are careful and climb down on the right side, this ends up creating a beautiful slot canyon that you can climb a ways down before essentially cliffing out. You can climb down and swing back to your left under a ledge to get a great view of water flowing down the slot. BE CAREFUL here. A fall would be BAD.
Back at the crossing, go only a short way before crossing again, then climbing away to the left. Steeply you access a ducky ridge and hike along the grassy trail towards a prominent ragged peak. The canyon comes back to your left, and if the season is right, you can see a couple of lovely falls again. Soon the trail breaks to your left, descends, and crosses over the canyon. It then descends more to the signed intersection with the Molino Trail and Sycamore Reservoir at the Prison Camp.
You can turn around here. I recommend heading left on the Molino Basin trail and following it along its wide sandy way to a saddle at the Sycamore Reservoir Trail's official beginning. This saddle looks out over the upper Bear Canyon with jaw-dropping views of Cathedral and Mt. Lemmon. WOW! It is between 0.8-1 mile to this saddle and a couple of hundred feet of easy climbing. If you go to the saddle, it makes for a roughly 6.8 to 7-mile roundtrip hike, depending on how much exploring you do along the canyon crossings.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Coronado FS Details
This trail follows the route of an old road and power line from the Catalina Highway to the site of a now-abandoned prison camp (Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site). The camp has been razed and the power line removed, while the road has been closed and is being allowed to return to a natural condition. The trail follows portions of this old route and provides access to an excellent example of Sonoran desert habitat that is conveniently close to Tucson. As the trail winds up the mountain, it visits a few ridge tops that provide good views back toward the city before dropping into Soldier Canyon, where there are some picturesque waterfalls when the stream is running. The boulder-strewn cascades over which those falls tumble are pleasant to spend a few moments by even when they are dry.
The trail's rating is moderate, as is its length, and it is relatively easy to follow from beginning to end. In a few places, however, spur paths that lead to overlooks or other off-trail places of interest have developed through repeated use and could prove a bit confusing. The trail ends at the western limit of the old prison camp, from which it is a short walk on the road to a closed gate that marks the trailhead.
In the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site, you can connect to the Arizona Trail.
Attractions:Desert setting, views of Tucson, a rocky canyon, it's convenient short and moderate.
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.