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The Best Hikes in Pusch Ridge Wilderness

5,797 Triplog Reviews in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness
Most recent of 1,454 deeper Triplog Reviews
2.7 mi • 1,275 ft aeg
Apparently the appearance of a few clouds and the threat of rain are enough to keep people away from one of NW Tucson's busiest trailheads on a Saturday morning. Had the place all to myself at the crack of dawn and ran into a couple people in the parking lot when I finished. Uneventful scurry up to the Flatiron and back, had a few sprinkles here and there.

Since my last trip up, the trail is much more worn and the grass is dying back. Might be the first time in about 6 months I haven't been poked with either a hidden cactus or agave plant.
5.16 mi • 784 ft aeg
Hiked with Sarai down Pima canyon trail to about 2.5 miles in. In the first mile we saw some volunteer trail maintenance people working on the trail. We talked for a few minutes and they said they were with a non-profit called "Friends of the Catalinas". By the way, I must add that the trail was in great shape for the first 2.5 miles or so. Shortly after seeing the maintenance workers we saw a roadrunner walking near us and it wasn't too afraid. After hiking around 2.4 miles, we stopped in a canyon crossing and after a few minutes saw a coatimundi coming up the canyon in our direction. We were able to get a good video of it. There were some nice cottonwood trees in the canyon and some oak trees also. Didn't see any sycamore trees in this part of the canyon. Perhaps higher up there would be some. We turned around and this point and hiked back to the trailhead, getting there just after dark.
9.37 mi • 1,688 ft aeg
Bear Wallow
I got invited to this hike and it was really nice just a bit cold at the start. quite a few people out but then again it was Sunday.
I really enjoyed seeing so many happy dogs out on the trail with no one complaining.
I was hoping to see some wildlife besides the ones we seen in the parking lot. Really no flowers or even brds out today but it was still awesome to be out here.
5.1 mi • 1,179 ft aeg
I haven't done this one in a few years, fire definitely influenced it. Today was nice and cloudy but there was some rain forecasted for 12 pm. Check out the Bighorn Fire board at the trailhead. It has some nice information to learn. This hike was steeper and longer than I remembered. After this hill I go downhill to the pools, right? Nope just up and down. With only about 3/10 of a mile left I could see some low lying clouds moving quickly by Romero Pass. Then there while looking downwards to have good footing I saw a bright flash. One, two, three, four, five, six, then thunder. Just over a mile away. I decided to head back. That was a bit too close for comfort. Decided to check out Montrose Pools instead. There were 5+ people there. I saw a single tadpole and a group of fish swimming. At the trailhead there was a showing of Tucson local reptiles. The diamondback rattlesnakes were very scared.
5.45 mi • 1,349 ft aeg
First time in the canyon. Started at ~7:50am. Hiked up to Maiden Pools. I saw on All Trails that people were saying the trail was super overgrown. If you're okay with checking a gpx track every time you don't know where the trail goes and small branches getting in your face then this should be fine. Immediately from the trailhead there is a section with dense tree cover and some water in the wash. It was nice. There is a new development planned on the west side of the fence and one of the houses being built was causing a ruckus for about half a mile. Immediately the towering canyon walls were pretty cool. All the rock formations were cool. The ground was surprisingly damp in some places and others were dry as a bone. The further I went into the canyon, the harder it was to find the trail on the other side of the wash. The trail had a few plants bleeding onto the trail at this point. At 1.8 miles it was not clear where the trail went. The cairns did not help because it just showed a mass of green scrub. Checked the gpx eventually and got on the right track, for about for 50 feet. I turned right on a short dead-end trail. Got back on the actual trail after turning around. My advice for this part is to look for and follow the cairns and head towards the prominent rock formation at the east side of the canyon. From here the trail is "overgrown". Branches from the scruby trees around the wash bled onto the trail. The lower shrubs also were bleeding on to the trail. After you leave the canyon, there is a brief period of no vegetation quickly followed by knee-waist high grasses. The grassy part of this hike was really pleasant because of the expansive views down the canyon and unique feeling given by hiking through tall grasses in Tucson. At one point I wasn't sure where the trails went to I walked through the grass to where it showed on my phone. Some 5 big red ants got on my left leg and bit me. Hurt a bit for about 20 minutes. Shortly after that I reached the point where the trail starts going down again. Here there is the best view of the hike. A group of 2 was there and they said that after the pools had become super overgrown and the vegetation has changed a lot. Take what they said with a grain of salt but be prepared if you go past the pools. After a short trip downhill I was at Maiden Pools. There was a trickle of water. Some tadpoles in the water was nice to see. After a break, I continued back to the trailhead. It's easier finding the trail on the way down. I didn't see the view as much on the way down which sucked, in hindsight. The hike back was uneventful, until I saw something moving in the bushes. A white stripe moving across the wash from me. I knew it was a skunk. First one I've ever seen in the wild. Afterwards, I went to Beyond Bread and had a BLT. :) This was a successful Tuesday outing.
3.8 mi • 1,270 ft aeg
Not having much luck getting up this canyon in the last week or so. Rains have led to my postponing 3 prior attempts, then today I pulled the plug at about 2 miles for a few reasons, but primarily because the trail is just so overgrown right now that I couldn't have finished the hike in the time I had allotted (and I was absolutely miserable).

The front range has had a ton of rain lately and it shows with the canyon flowing, the suffocating humidity, clouds of no-see-ums, and 6 foot high weeds. I don't usually come here in August, but with temps being so low it seemed like a doable thing. Next month! ...Next month!
21.62 mi • 6,469 ft aeg
Where to start?.. Linda told me that there would be a free buffet on Mt Lemmon for all who would do this very simple loop as part of a charity event, but for a number of reasons I’m starting to think that may not have been completely accurate.

We set off in the dark with the full moon over shoulder. It was a smooth start, over mild terrain, on well groomed trail, with excellent weather. All too quickly, this segment of the trek came to an end as it merged with the Cargodera road. Though Cargodera is a road, it’s much rougher going than most trails with its grapefruit sized rock, piled into a ramp leading to the base of the Sutherland. This 3 mile section was and will always be my least favorite.

With the child’s play behind us, it was now time to get to work, and climbing to the ridge line would be the first and most physical challenge of the day. At 938 FPM, over 3.25 miles, it’s slow going - partly due to elevation gain and partly due to route finding difficulty. If there were one piece of this hike that I thought would be the slowest, this would have been it, but at exactly 1 MPH, turned out to be a high-fiver.

After all the high-fiving was over, we started the upper section of the #6, expecting the super highway that it’s historically been, but found a good chunk of it (up to the Samaniego Jct) to be largely reclaimed by the mountain. I had expected this section go at a much quicker pace, but the combination of grade and navigation issues brought it in well under par.

Eventually our climb was behind us and we took about 20 minutes to get a breath and a few calories down. With 90% of our AEG behind us, we started the descent along the Mt Lemmon 5 at yet another one of CNF’s hallmark, Golden Gates – the gate itself looks worthy of implementation at Ft Knox, but is flanked on each side by a whopping 30 feet of boundary wire and a few fence posts - A gate to nowhere as it were. This section suffered some fire damage from the Bighorn fire, but considering the record rains from last year it’s holding up beautifully, with few exceptions. The upper portion of this trail is a very scenic and a pleasant stroll, but once south of the Wilderness of Rocks begins to deteriorate rapidly while dropping to Romero Pass. The lower section of the #5 won the “Worst Condition” award for the second half of the day.

Pretty soon we dropped over into Romero Canyon where we were finally able to go on cruise control. There are quite a few interesting places and feature throughout Romero, but by this time we were getting into hustle mode to maximize the remaining daylight, so we didn’t dawdle much. We finally ran out of light with the final mile to go, but we made short work of it with our best pace of the day.

If you really want to wring the most out of a day, this is a good option. My only regret looking back is that there was no free buffet as I was promised. In fact I'm starting to think that this whole charity hike thing was a big scam. :(

Thanks Linda for driving down. It was a blast !
21.31 mi • 3,238 ft aeg
This was my first time backpacking in the Catalinas and I will definitely be back. The weather was perfect, the views were vast and the trails were in great shape.

Starting at the main Sabino Canyon parking area, we made our way up to the entrance of Bear Canyon using a combination of the paved road and the actual trail. We passed a few groups along the way to Seven Falls but I would not say that it was busy at all. The falls were running and were well worth the short detour down from the main trail. After the falls the trail began to switchback up the side of the canyon and we really started to gain elevation. There is a great spot to stop for lunch when the trail crosses Bear Creek. From here it is a long climb up and out of the canyon. Once we joined up with the AZT we followed it through East Sabino Canyon, into West Fork and eventually Hutch's Pool. We camped here for the night and my thermodrop recorded a low of 34. I was awoken by rain in the middle of the night, which was puzzling given the totally clear forecast that we had beforehand. When I got up the next morning I discovered that we had actually gotten a little bit of sleet instead of rain.

The hike back down to town was relatively straightforward. We retraced our steps on the AZT before turning right onto the Sabino Canyon trail and eventually the Powerline trail. There was a lot more foot traffic on both of these trails compared to Bear Canyon the day before. I really loved how the Powerline trail stayed very high along the canyon wall. It was a great point of view compared to hiking along the paved road on the canyon floor.

Wildflowers
A few sporadic blooms, but nothing to indicate that wildflower season has really arrived.
5.5 mi • 2,350 ft aeg
Lots of cars at an overflowing trailhead this afternoon when I arrived. A group of buffelgrass removal folks were heading out as I headed in. A bit warm I thought (70s) for a winter’s day, so I soaked my shirt in the creek for the hike up. Not that many people out on the Pontatoc trails, I guess everyone was on Finger Rock Trail. I trudged up the ever-steepening route and finally reached the summit about 4pm. Made a side trip to the old mines at the base of the cliffs of insanity on the way down, and walked to the end of the main tunnel. Made it down at sunset. Weird foot nerve issue seems to be on the mend finally.
2.62 mi • 529 ft aeg
Meadow Tr - Mt Lemmon Tr Loop
Nice little hike for families, people who aren't in peak condition, or anyone who just wants to take it easy and enjoy the scenery. Above 8,700 feet the whole way, it's one of the highest-elevation hikes you can do in the Santa Catalinas and it's big on views. That makes it pretty popular too; I passed a variety of other people at all skill levels, from serious hikers heading out to more distant trails to groups with kids and mobility aids.

I've been up here before for the UofA SkyCenter SkyNights program (which I highly recommend!) but the road is closed in the winter and I have never managed to nose around the trails here much. I started at the Mount Lemmon Trailhead Parking lot, right before the gates for the SkyCenter. It appears to be a popular spot on weekends - come early or take your chances with finding a parking spot. There's a little rest stop and picnic site up here, and an interpretive sign educating you about Sarah Plummer Lemmon if you didn't know who the summit was named after. Just past the trees there's a gorgeous view looking down the Catalinas and Tucson to the south. Last time I looked out here, I encountered a flock of Harris hawks soaring nearby above the drop. No raptors spotted today.

The correct start for the trail would be to hook a left around the fenced in power station right next to the parking lot, which is pretty clearly signed and will take you to the trails. Instead I started out going right from the vista I mentioned above, a rocky trail that leads up to the radio towers. I realized I was off-trail, but it was all good because there is a little path along the fence behind those towers that connect back to the trails.

Once you're on the right trail, you'll get up to a signed junction between Mt Lemmon Trail #5 and the Meadow Trail #5A. I took the fork up the Meadow Trail. There's very gentle elevation gain here. The trail follows the outside of the SkyCenter fence for a while, including more radio towers. I saw plenty of evidence that the Forest Service had been working to repair the damage from the Bighorn Fire (which SkyCenter reported got very near to them). Once-giant dead pines have been sawed down and left behind. It's worth noting in several places along this hike, felled trees actually run across the trail. I'm assuming at some point they'll saw out the parts that block the trail, like I saw on the Aspen Trail, but for now you'll need to scramble over a thigh-high log or cut around a bit.

The woods break into a meadow. Like, it appears to be a proper subalpine meadow with ferns and flowering plants and a few mostly charred trees. With this year's monsoon, the area looks like it grew in nicely. The big plants have dropped their flowers by this point, and the ferns are starting to turn orange with fall. I'd love to come up here in the spring when things are blooming.

There are numerous little spur trails that branch off. Given this is a short loop, I encourage you to indulge your curiosity and explore them. They generally lead out to some amazing viewpoints.

The meadow ends in a t-junction, with the right trail descending back into the woods. Note that this part of the trail looks over the northern side of Mt. Lemmon, an entirely different view than you'll see in nearly every part of the Catalinas accessible from the highway. The tree cover is pretty good here, though, so you're just getting fleeting glimpses of the the distant peaks north of Tucson. You might be able to hike off-trail to find a good vista, but I didn't see one. I passed the charred felled remains of an absolute giant of a tree. I ran into another felled tree that ran across the path, and there was no going around it - just up and over taking care not to snag anything on the broken-off branches. Soon the clouds broke, bringing out the fall meadow colors.

The Meadow Trail eventually joins up with Mt Lemmon Trail #5, an old Jeep trail. The view here for a while is some of the best anywhere in the area, looking down out across the valleys and ridges of the Santa Catalinas, across Tucson and its large airbase, all the way to the Rincon foothills and the Santa Ritas on the horizon. To the right, the trail continues on towards some epic rock formations, but we're heading back to the lot on the right fork.

Along the way, I passed what the maps indicate as Quartzite Spring. There's a locked-up metal shack along the road. Nearby up the hill a little there are small metal housings. Out of these, water was running out and across the road, and I stepped carefully to keep my feet dry. From a small pipe below the road, water cascades out and down into the valley. Had this been a longer hike, this would have been a good water source.

The fire watch station can be spotted jutting out from an outcropping ahead. Eventually, the road gets back into the woods, and there's a signed junction for the lookup trail, also a Jeep road. A trickle of water ran across the road at one spot, and I spotted several small birds darting across the road, hiding out in the abundant ground cover. The afternoon sun cut through the trees along the lookout road just right, and it really felt like autumn up here. Along here, there's a gated trailhead that descends down into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, but this is closed. The maps indicate this connects to the AZT. I assume they haven't repaired that trail yet.

I arrived at the base of the lookout post, only to discover it was closed to the public during fire season. I guess I had hoped to check out the station and chat with a ranger for a bit. There were home improvement buckets sitting around too - looks like they were in the middle of some repairs. Instead, I spotted an old wooden chair set up on a rocky outcropping nearby. Probably, I wouldn't have noticed this spot if someone hadn't set up the odd chair. I didn't dare actually plop my weight onto the poor chair, but did sit out on this outcropping a while, took my snack, and enjoyed one of the best views in town.

I hiked back to the main trail and continued on. It's gradual elevation gain back to 9,000 feet the rest of the way. I'm not used to high elevation so I noticed the extra effort. I ran into a couple weird things here. I passed an older bearded gentleman, decked out in camo, wearing a frame pack with a long rifle attached to it. He tried hard not to make eye contact. This seemed uh... sus - I didn't know there was any hunting up here - but I wasn't going to make it my problem. I also spotted a pickup parked up here. These old roads are closed for driving, but the vehicle did have a UofA permit on the dash, so again, I wasn't making it my problem.

I passed what's marked as Cascade Spring on the map. There's what might be a pumphouse and some nice logs to sit on, but there was already a group set up there having a break so I didn't investigate. Instead, I hiked up a little further and caught my breath in a little clearing where the road forks the the left, and a little trail forks to the right. I decided to explore the trail to the right, and I'm glad I did. It leads up to a little lookout that offers yet another great view, this time overlooking the other side of the fire lookout station, the Sabino Canyon ridges including the Thimble, Mount Bigelow with the little white dome of Steward Observatory Catalina Station peeking out from the trees, and the valleys and mountains to the northeast of the Catalinas.

The rest of the way back is just a trudge up the old road through the woods. Pleasant enough this nice fall day, but there are enough manmade structures from the old radar base scattered around it feels more like a park here and less like NATURE. Elevation levels out once you get back to the Meadow Trail junction.

Foliage
Mostly evergreens up here. A handful of aspens can be spotted turning yellow. However the ground cover, mostly ferns and things, is turning nice orange and red colors.

Wildflowers
Isolated little wildflowers along the trail here and there. Larger flowering plants have lost their blooms.
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