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Tough trail with views of Tuscon
A challenging trail in the Catalinas (Pusch Ridge Wilderness) with great views, easy access, and a hard workout.
From the parking lot at the end of Alvernon Way, the trailhead is at the end of the road. You hike up and around a few developments to reach the trailhead for Finger Rock Trail #42 and the Pontatoc Canyon Trail #410. Head right following Pontatoc Canyon Trail and you will cross a few small drainages with a gradual climb through typical low range Catalinas... Saguaros, Palo Verde and other desert vegetation typical of the lower elevations. Pontatoc Ridge towers above you, extending in a northeasterly direction. As you hike in, you are treated to great views of Finger Rock and the other rock formations of the Prominent Point. On the day I ventured forth, it was a cloudy day with quite a bit of low-hanging clouds and the whole area of Prominent Point was playing hide & seek... it was magical! You head onto the Pontatoc Canyon Ridge & climb up to the signed intersection of the Pontatoc Canyon Trail and the Pontatoc Ridge Trail at 0.8 miles. Bearing right will take you to the Pontatoc Ridge Trail (Trail # 411). Keep left and follow the Pontatoc Canyon Trail as it heads back down towards the streambed. You have just finished the 1st of the many ups & downs of the Pontatoc Canyon Trail!
The trail climbs out hard on the opposite canyon wall and you being to see views of Tucson, bulldozed earth and expensive homes, and the pristine canyon falling away beneath you... making you realize that you are on the frontier of urban sprawl as it makes its way up the canyon right up to the wilderness boundary. The vegetation starts to change as you make elevation... carpets of lechuguilla, few types of grass & shrubs. Saguaros start to fall away replaced by sotol. Looking back views of Tuscon still dominate with multiple ranges of mountains... the volcanic Tucson mountains and on a clear day you have great visibility of the Baboquivaris & Sierritas on the far horizon. The trail sharply descends to the streambed to beautiful slabs of rocks with a beautiful waterfall (seasonal water). The sheer canyon walls towering over this area with their assortment of desert plants clinging onto the sheer face, babbling waterfalls & great views makes it a great stopping point. The trail comes up out on the south side and heads back up steeply through desert grasses & dense stands of sotol on the north side. You hike past the prominent peaks on the Pontatoc Ridge... the second peak sticks out like a thumb. On the northwestern side, you see the tree-covered slopes that you encounter when you hike up to Mt. Kimball. You cross the streambed one more time & you reach the "End of Pontatoc Trail" sign right by the streambed... a truly anti-climactic experience! You can cross the streambed and follow the cairns northward up to the ridgeline & you will pick up a use-path that heads eastwards taking you to the saddle. Great views into multiple canyons! This is a windswept saddle dominated by grasses & low shrubs and few juniper & evergreen oaks. You will also encounter a few burned out sotol along the trail. You are looking on to the previously mentioned thumb-like peak. The tracks fade quickly from this point on. You can climb up & reach the ridge of Ventana Canyon for views into Ventana Canyon & more views of Tuscon. Return the way you came.
Note: Special hiking restrictions are in effect for the Desert Bighorn Sheep Area. No dogs and maximum group size of 15 people during the day, and 6 at night.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This is a moderately difficult hike.