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The Best Hikes of Santa Catalina Trails

4,462 Triplog Reviews in the Santa Catalina Trails
Most recent of 1,062 deeper Triplog Reviews
10.53 mi • 1,073 ft aeg
Catalina Park Petroglyph Trail
 We started this hike in Catalina State Park and took the Sutherland trail then turned north to follow Sutherland Creek to the north east boundary of the park. At this boundary is the Golder Ranch Trail head. This is the trail head I usually use when hiking this area. From this trail head we took the Sutherland trail #6 for a couple hundred yards and headed north leaving the Sutherland trail and took a trail that has no name that I could find. The trail is marked with Forest service fiberglass placard and is in good easy to follow condition. I have called this the Petroglyph trail because it passes by the petroglyphs and connects the Sutherland Trail to the 50 Year Trail and Baby Jesus Trail.

From Catalina State Park we took the Sutherland Trail, This trail crosses Sutherland Creek a couple times before heading north along Sutherland Creek. Good flow in the creek, getting the feet wet was inevitable, I can only walk on water if I know where the rocks are. Very impressive saguaros along this hike. The grasses were just starting to turn green and there were a few wild flowers out, I believe the yellow poppies. Once to the petroglyph area we did a little exploring but didn't see any petroglyphs. We didn't drop down into the wash just to the east where I believe the vast majority of the petroglyphs are. The last time I was here I remember seeing quite a few. It was getting late and we had a 5 mile return trip. When we come back we will use the Golder Ranch Trailhead and have more time to explore the area.

There are many trails in this area and they all appear to get plenty of use. The 50 Year and Baby Jesus are quite popular with mountain bikers. Great views of the north side of the Catalinas and Samaniego Ridge. Great hiking in the winter and spring.
5.8 mi • 1,889 ft aeg
 Went back to one of my favorite little spots in the Catalina's. Started up the Soldier Trail and then went over to see how much water was going over the first couple sets of waterfalls.

Saw fresh bear scat again this year and numerous tracks from bobcats, bear and I think a mountain lion in the sand near one of the big watering holes. But didn't see anything other than a few birds the entire time. Love getting out early and had the entire place to myself. Didn't any other people until I was almost back to my car and then had to wait for a train of hikers from Canyon Ranch.
5.33 mi • 1,070 ft aeg
 Took LE down to the Reservoir for a picnic lunch. Very windy today! I hoped hiking behind the front range would moderate the winds a bit, and other than feeling like we were going to be blown off of Shreve Saddle, I was mostly right.

LE got to try her new water filter, and was quite pleased with the results. We talked about how to set up an emergency blanket as a shelter, which was fun. The wind was helpful to demonstrate how to block it. We didn’t have enough time to get into different shelter setups though as she had an afternoon math class. To be continued!
10.4 mi • 2,254 ft aeg
 Hiked with Patricia and Laura up Pima Canyon. We made it almost to Pima saddle. I was impressed by how good the trail was compared to how it was 6-10 years ago. A few different groups have recently maintained it including Friends of the Catalinas, and the Forest Service. Today's high was supposed to be 78 and it felt a bit hot at times in the sun. The shade in the canyon was very nice!
14.75 mi • 4,800 ft aeg
 Brian, Preston and I were planning on Window Peak. The forecast seemed like a good day for it, and earlier season hiking here means there will be water and it won't be as hot down lower. Unfortunately, Window Peak was not to be. Preston turned back after Bridal Falls due to serious moral and ethical objections with violating the regulations pertaining to the sacred Bighorn Sheep. He simply won't violate any law, regulation, or statute, no matter what. Brian and I found the trail conditions past Cathedral Rock Trail #26 junction to be less than ideal, so we opted to relax and enjoy the saddle.

Few people seem to hike beyond the junction with trail #26, and to my surprise the visible section of #26 looked to be well maintained. Esperero was not, past that junction, though work may be planned. It was marked with flagging and cairns, but some areas were a bit harder to navigate due to down trees. However, as we crested the saddle we could see the snow on the north east face of Window Peak, and neither of us wanted to deal with the combination of snow and thorny New Mexican Locust. After the Bighorn Fire in 2020, it seems a good deal of New Mexican Locust has grown in over the trail where we turned back.

Also, we had no idea of the trail to the top, and there was abundant ice on the rocks above. For all we knew, Window Peak was completely inaccessible due to snow and ice in the canyon leading to the summit, with ice preventing the final 25 feet of climbing. Last, we heard numerous crashes of ice breaking off and falling down. So, we opted to relax and eat lunch in the sun at the saddle and turned back from there. Hiking down was enjoyable, and very pleasant in the desert with mild sweet smelling air and a full moon to finish.

A party did go beyond where we turned back, and as we were starting to leave we could hear them either on Window Peak, or the further Ridgeline section of Esperero where it nears Ventana Canyon. Also, a woman from North Carolina was considering Window Peak, but was unable to due to her time when she reached the junction with #26, and then a group of 3 early 20s hikers was coming up to the saddle when we were descending and they stated that Window Peak was their destination. I don't know if those 3 made it or not, or if the other group we heard did, but I was impressed with the number of people who wanted to summit Window Peak today. My experience has always found it to be something no one does. Maybe due to me mostly hiking it from Ventana Canyon?

I did not find any Esperero Trail Routes that were not HAZbot and went beyond trail #26, so I used Esperero-Ventana GPS routes. I re-used GPS Joe's route from 2008 and also RVCarters route from 2014. I know relatively little about the accuracy of GPS routes, and unfortunately no one has posted a route to that hike since 2014, so they are older and maybe less accurate than a new one. Or, not, I don't know.

I was impressed by my GPS :: Window Peak stats from 2015 when we were heading out for this. I consider that a big hike. That route was produced from GPSJoe's 2008 route. I cut it at the summit of Window Peak, cloned and reverse one, joined the ends, synced it, and viola! A route is born. For today's hike I repeated this process with the Hazbot route, as well as the other two routes. Hazbot had the highest at over 4900' of AEG, and GPS Joe had the lowest. I opted to take a mid-point between Joe's Route and RVCarter's Route. So, that is where I got the stats and I will post the route that I made from RVCarter. I know most don't care one bit about the stats I post, but I don't want to hedge inaccurately, and well, I was impressed we managed to hike as much as we did yesterday.

Basically, maybe we didn't go to Window Peak, but that was still a very big hike.
7.55 mi • 2,056 ft aeg
 I need to get out more, now that I've officially retired from trail running I should get out of my rut of hiking the same trails. Spoiled living in Tucson, the 25 minutes it takes to get to Sabino Canyon is too long for me. First time on Esperero and definitely not the last. Went up to get the lay of the land and got to Cardiac Gap and then poked around a little bit. Made it from the ranger station to the top in 1:23.

Trail is in good shape and little bit of water is still running up near the top. Ran into Jim H & Preston when I was exiting the trail and they were headed up.
6.15 mi • 1,920 ft aeg
Esperero to Cardiac Gap via Overflow
 LE and I followed Keith up Esperero via his “secret” path from the overflow lot, which involved a little bushwhacking. Passed lots of hiking groups both up and down, including a couple on the spur from the parking lot which suggests the way is not so secret.

Some water in the drainages as we made our way up. Tanked up just off the trail a couple miles in; water was clean and clear.

Hung out a while at Cardiac Gap and enjoyed the impressive waterfalls cascading down Esperero Canyon.

Very pleasant day; I’m already plotting my return but next time I’m headed all the way to the window!
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!
3.5 mi • 1,117 ft aeg
 Needed a heat-beater with the dog, so I invited my college roommate to join up around Lemmon for a quick camp/hike. Meia and I got there first so I borrowed this trail idea from Preston. Started at the ski area parking lot and swam to the top by about 4:45. The cool breeze dried me off pretty quickly. Amazingly serene at the lift, which had stopped running for the day. Chatted with a dad and his daughter who walked over from the observatory. Very nice conversation with good people. Love good hiker camaraderie.
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.

A few sporadic blooms, but nothing to indicate that wildflower season has really arrived.

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