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The Best Hikes of Santa Catalina Trails

4,399 Triplog Reviews in the Santa Catalina Trails
Most recent of 1,060 deeper Triplog Reviews
3.8 mi • 400 ft aeg
This was battling the weeds and staring at the barely visible earth watching for rattlers just to get to the Gates of Romero on an after work hike. Honestly, not enjoyable, and I just came home feeling annoyed.

I viciously slash at the trailside pigweed along Sutherland on each trip, but it’s a never ending battle. It just keeps growing, and then leaning into the trail. That and the algae-filled “poop-mud” pit just after the first creek crossing have soured me on this trail until things dry out and get cleaned up. I hesitate to say it, but Catalina State Park may need fire to clear out the pigweed and other invasive plants that lay like a smothering blanket of garbage over the Park.
4.26 mi • 990 ft aeg
Evening hike from summit trailhead down to Sutherland Trail junction. Got to enjoy the sky island summertime wildflower show and a showy golden sunset. A little chilly in the strong wind. Went down a bit of Sutherland before returning the same way. Utility workers might have done some clearing on upper Sutherland (vehicle tracks and smashed weeds). Watched the Tucson lights from Radio Ridge and then headed to my camp site.
9.95 mi • 2,108 ft aeg
Lemmon Pools Aspen Trail
It is that time of year again to check out Lemmon Pool in the Wilderness of Rocks in the Catalina Mountains. I have been coming up here for almost 60 years and I never get tired of it. Ginny and I headed up to Marshall Gulch early took the Marshall Gulch Trail and Wilderness of Rocks Trail to the pool then returned via the Aspen Trail. The weather was a cool 60 degrees when we started with not a cloud in the sky. There were 4 cars in the parking lot when we arrived around 8.

Marshall Gulch Trail

This Trail was in good condition with lots of growth from the monsoons but not obscuring the trail, which I would have expected of these trails since they are heavily used. The old trail use to follow along the creek for some distance up the canyon but now climbs up along the hillside north of the creek. The old trail is still there for those who want to take the scenic route along the creek. Not sure of its condition since I didn’t take it on this trip but last year it looked like it was heavily used. Marshall Creek had a good flow.

Wilderness of Rocks Trail

This trail is timeless, hasn’t changed much at all. The scenery around the trail has changed but the tread remains the same. A few deadfalls along the trail but nothing major. Every stream crossing had water that increased in flow as more and more side canyons emptied into Lemmon Creek. No issues crossing the streams, rock hopping keeps you dry. We left the trail just before the final crossing of Lemmon Creek and headed toward what I call flying saucer rock, just west of that is the small side canyon that takes you down to the pool. Good flow in the creek. We ate lunch at the pool, took a short dip and headed back. Before hitting the trail though we stopped at a rock formation overlooking the city then climbed up flying saucer rock to take in the views of the Wilderness of Rock area.

Aspen Trail

“The old Aspen Trail she ain’t what she use to be”. To change things up a bit we took the lower Aspen Trail back to Marshall Gulch. Very nice trail in good condition but then it is quite heavily used. The trail is not as scenic as it use to be but it is still worth taking. The views are better now that all the trees have been cleared out. Portions of the trail were untouched by the fire so there were sections of old pine. The recovery vegetation is thick and green from the monsoons, Common Mullein was plentiful, some of it 8 feet tall. The lower part of the trail is truly a jungle but the trail is clear of brush.
Very few people on the trail probably saw 5 groups of hikers all day. The usual mountain Flowers were plentiful. One person we met was interested in mushrooms and there were quite a few.
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.
4.78 mi • 1,142 ft aeg
Thought a short hike to Box Camp would be nice. Bring a hammock, take a nap, have lunch, be on the way back down the mountain by 1 before it rains. Yeah, it was a nice thought.

Got held up at home, made it to the trailhead around 10. Weather app suggested a 50% chance of rain around noon, maybe a couple tenths. No problem, I brought a jacket! Made great time.

Some showers started forming over Summerhaven and appeared to be moving northwest, away. As I got close to the drainage headed to Box Camp, there was thunder and angry clouds forming over my car. A lightning bolt struck very close between me and the car. 😳 Decided the ridge on the way back was too exposed so headed for the tree cover around the Camp.

Once I got to Box Camp it started raining. Thunder all around. Flashes of lightning, but still a couple miles away near the parking lot. Figured I’d wait it out. Then it started hailing. Sat on a log for half an hour, huddled under my rain jacket to keep my core dry. It was clear further down so I tried to move there. The rain followed.

The trail below Box Camp was more exposed and generally followed a ridge, which was bad. A lightning bolt struck so close I could smell it. 😬 I took cover in a copse of oak trees in the drainage. The rain picked up and I got a weather service alert for flash flooding, telling me not to travel unless escaping a flood. No kidding!

By this point all the drainages were raging and the rain had saturated my rain jacket. I was already wet and there was no good shelter, and the lightning was getting closer. I decided it made no difference to stay or go, and there was good tree cover until the burn area on the way in. So I scrambled up the drainage and picked my way along to avoid the more exposed parts of the trail. When I got back to Box Camp, the creek was an epic torrent.

Since the trail followed the creek, I had to scramble along the steep, slick, muddy hillside. One more close and aromatic lightning strike kept things exciting. 😳

The storm settled into a light rain as I emerged from tree cover, and a little birdie told me the it was safe to climb up to the ridge between the creek and the car. There was still rain and thunder but no flashes and the storm was moving off.

As I gained a little elevation I saw patches of what looked like snow, but turned out to be accumulations of hailstones, 3” deep in places. The rest of the way back was like traversing a giant sno-cone.

All the drainages were gushing on the drive down the back range, and there were large rocks on the highway blocking uphill lanes in a couple spots. Stopped at Seven Cataracts and joined a gaggle of gawkers as massive torrents of black floodwater poured down.

When I got home I unpacked my hammock to let it dry, and found a tarp in the stuff sack. 🤦🏻 Overall a solid experience of Type 2 fun that cultivated a healthy skepticism of weather apps. 😁
13.28 mi • 4,333 ft aeg
Hike #1 Memorial weekend 2022 and staying far away from northern traffic, so headed south to Tucson. The hike Saturday was Ventana to the Window. The temps were slated to be in the 70s to 90s. I considered that it might be warm for the hike, but I usually can handle it. I was lucky to have the Gelinator (and Slick) as partners for the day. We left the TH at 6:00 on for the Pusch Ridge adventure. My goal was to try to keep up. I didn’t, lol.

Ventana means “window” in Spanish so it is a fitting name for the canyon. There was absolutely no water anywhere along the canyon floor. The Bighorn fire summer 2020 (2 years ago) fried this area and recovery is ongoing. The damage is depressingly clear in the burnt big trees like Alligator Juniper and Sycamore. Wildflowers are still in moderate bloom, especially as elevation increases. The overall canyon was generally brown with dried grasses. There were some shaded areas where the trees provided a nice canopy.

I choked a bit on the 4300 AEG, but sometimes you just suck wind. The mind says “go” and the body says “no”. It’s good to be humbled now and then, so your head doesn’t get too big. The highlight at the top is always worth the climb up. We hung out a while, took pictures and had a snack. It was time to go before I knew it, and down we went. Was considering Kimball too, but not on this day. Had a pretty nice breeze most of the way back, which took some (but not all) of the bite out of the temperature. The freeways were clear the entire way back. This was a nice finish to another great day in the Catalinas, spent with an awesome strong hiker.
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.

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.
Sedona Loop Hike
Sedona Loop Hike

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