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Diverse and challenging
The last stretch of the Pima Canyon Trail is far and away the steepest and most brutal of footpaths in the Santa Catalina Mountains' front range. Although the first 3.2 miles are nothing more than a walk for most, the final 4 miles to Mount Kimball are unrelenting and unforgiving.
Beginning in the desert scrub at the base of the Catalinas, the Pima Canyon Trail leaves the parking lot (2,900 feet) and travels gently uphill for a short distance. Saguaros are abundant on the hillside, and in warmer months, may have flowers in bloom. Turning back to the southwest reveals gorgeous views of West Tucson, providing an excellent opportunity for photos. Shortly after that, the trail drops down into Pima Canyon and winds across a drainage numerous times as the vegetation occasionally transitions into a riparian (streamside) habitat. After three miles of hiking, you will arrive at the Pima Canyon Dam (3,700 feet), where two small, bowl-shaped depressions in a large slab of rock signify the imprints of the Hohokam Indians, whose women used the rock to grind mesquite beans over 1,000 years ago.
A steep and rocky climb awaits you after the dam. The trail ascends continually through dry grassland for about two miles before reaching Pima Canyon Spring, which will most likely be a good water source during most of the year. There are several nice camping spots around the spring, and some small pines provide a break in the shade. In the upper parts of this section, the canyon is narrow, and the walls are very close to each other. The remaining 1.9 miles after the spring climb from an elevation of about 5,550 feet at the spring to 7,255 feet at Mount Kimball; therefore, you should be well-conditioned and experienced if you are to continue. The first part of this section traverses an open hillside, yielding Tucson's incredible views and the lower part of Pima Canyon, where you just were a few hours ago. Climbing to Kimball doesn't seem possible at this point, but with plenty of water and numerous rest stops, you should be just fine.
As always, summitting Mount Kimball is well worth it. The tall pines are a welcome sight after a long, exhausting, 7.1-mile hike. Kimball's actual high point is not the most spectacular, though; walk as far as possible on the trail until it reaches a rock outcropping overlooking the "other side" of the Catalinas. The sight of looking down onto Interstate 10 and Biosphere 2, and the views of Mount Lemmon and Cathedral Rock, are sure to be among the most memorable impressions of any trail you've ever hiked in the state of Arizona. To return to the trailhead, just hike back the way you came.
On a personal note, this trail is a favorite of mine for three reasons: 1) It provides a formidable physical challenge; 2) One can cross several different life zones in a relatively short amount of time; and 3) It's another way to get up to Mount Kimball, which is never disappointing in regards to scenery. I would recommend hiking this trail during the spring or autumn months so that one will avoid heatstroke down low and lighting strikes up high during the summertime, and icy or snowy conditions during the wintertime. I have been on top of Mount Kimball in all conditions, and believe you me, it is very subject to harsh conditions given its exposure to the elements of nature.
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This is a difficult hike. It would be insane to attempt this entire hike without prior experience hiking.
Coronado FS Details
Though the stream in Pima Canyon is dry for most of the year, it supports a desert riparian habitat located conveniently close to the Tucson metropolitan area. Unfortunately, that accessibility has resulted in significant overuse of this beautiful and fragile area, especially during the winter, its season of highest use. From the trailhead, located among suburban ranchos, the trail ascends a V-shaped notch carved along the south face of Pusch Ridge. Views down the canyon get better as you climb, encompassing the city of Tucson as well as distant mountains and valleys.
The riparian area on the floor of the canyon provides excellent bird watching for a wide variety of resident and migratory species that make use of this most productive of all desert habitat types. Other desert creatures you may encounter in this area include javelina and jackrabbits, but the real viewing prize of Pima Canyon and the entire Pusch Ridge area are the desert bighorn sheep that maintain a surefooted existence here among rocky crags and rugged canyons.
Beyond Pima Spring, the trail becomes steeper and harder to follow as it continues to climb to the upper slopes of Mt. Kimball. Incentives for persevering here are good views of Window Rock and Cathedral Rock. Trail #62 ends at its junction with the Finger Rock Trail #42.