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The Best Hikes of Santa Catalina Hikes

1,392 Triplog Reviews in the Santa Catalina Hikes
Most recent of 599 deeper Triplog Reviews
11 mi • 3,595 ft aeg
 Overall this was one of the hardest hikes I've done and, in terms of difficulty, is right up there with Table mountain, Finger rock, Cathedral rock, and Valentine peak. I hiked with Patrica G. and we started at 8:20 am. See our timeline below. The Pima canyon trail and canyon is beautiful and not difficult to hike. The steep climb to the saddle on either side of Table Tooth mountain is quite difficult and tedious in my opinion. Once at the saddle, the climb to the top of Table Tooth was pretty straight-forward except for ONE exposed rocky climb section that is probably 30 feet high. There are some rock ledges that are relatively flat that can be used, except near the top, I found it necessary to use my arms to pull myself up. Once beyond that section, getting to the top was pretty straight-forward. If you are not comfortable with rock climbing or if you are afraid of heights, this is not the hike for you. On the last 300 feet hike to the high point, I saw some very steep drop offs to the North and South. There were amazing views from this high point. Looking Southwest, I could see Table mountain. Looking to the South, I could see Valentine peak and parts of Pima canyon. The hardest part of this hike, and most time consuming, was getting from any part of the canyon to the saddle. Route finding was difficult and it would have been faster if we had gone directly to the correct saddle Northeast of Table Tooth, rather than the saddle between Table mountain and Table Tooth mountain, but the views from that saddle were amazing!

8:20 am - started hiking
10:00 am (3.2 miles) - reached first dam, stopped for roughly 30 minutes to have breakfast
11:00 am (4.1 miles) - reached junction with canyon, and switched from the trail to the canyon
11:16 am (4.25 miles) - reached junction with another canyon branching left
11:26 am (4.43 miles) - reached junction with yet another canyon branching left
12:05 pm (4.78 miles) - exited the canyon on the right side and climbed to the ridge
1:17 pm (5.3 miles) - after climbing the steep ridge, finally reached the wrong saddle (between Table mountain and Table Tooth). Looking at the topo map, it appeared that there may have been a safe way to climb to the summit from here, but based on my exploration, it was not possible from here without ropes.
2:11 pm (5.6 miles) - after bushwhacking East around the front side of Table Tooth mountain, we finally reached the correct saddle
2:48 pm (5.8 miles) - finally reached the summit after climbing some steep sections, including an exposed short rock climb
3:38 pm (6.14 miles) - got back to the saddle on the Northeast side of Table Tooth, then started to bushwhack down from here. We ate a late lunch, taking at least 30 minutes, which used some extra time and we knew we would be hiking out on the trail in darkness. This bushwhack down was very steep and there was a lot of grass, which could have been dangerous because it would have been easy to slip. We just had to take this section really slow.
5:58 pm (7.17 miles) - reached a canyon where the hiking was easier, didn't have as much grass and were able to use the rocks more.
6:38 pm (7.78 miles) - reached the junction with Pima canyon and it was just starting to get dark at this point.
6:46 pm (7.94 miles) - reached the Pima canyon trail and it was already dark by this time.
10:08 pm (11.14 miles) - finally reached the Pima canyon trailhead and parking area. Obviously it took a long time to get back because it was dark and we only had 1 headlamp to share between the both of us.

My GPS measured a max elevation of 6,032 feet, rather than 6,000.

Total AEG = 3,595 feet

Note: The Pima canyon trail is much nicer today than it was 5 years ago, thanks to the people who have worked on this trail. I met an older couple 2 or 3 times before who were part of the "Friends of the Catalinas" group who were doing maintenance work on the trail. They mentioned that there are a few volunteer groups and also the Forest Service does some work at times.
7.1 mi • 1,626 ft aeg
Milagrosa Caliente Loop
 Ginny and I did a hike that at least I have done many times, the La Milagrosa - Agua Caliente Loop. This time I would head upstream to check out the upper creek. the end of last year I hiked down the creek from Bellota Ranch and turned around when the interesting to difficulty factor got to low. This time I would head up from the crossover trail . Didn't take long before it was more work than it was worth. This is a tough canyon to walk up. especially when it is flowing. Not sure it would be easier when it isn't flowing.

The loop portion of the hike is along a good trail with spectacular views of Milagrosa and Caliente Canyons. I am interested in checking out La Milagrosa Canyon from where the trail crosses over the creek up to where it meets with the Arizona Trail, looks like a interesting canyon. Maybe do a loop with the creek and Milagrosa Trail. Good flow in both canyons but not enough to hinder crossing.
10.5 mi • 2,375 ft aeg
 Based on the route descriptions on HAZ and elsewhere indicating that the true summit of Thimble requires class 5 climbing, I would have been content with the false summit. I'm not a rock climber. But I hiked this with a serious peakbagger type from the PNW who was intent on reaching the true summit, and he sniffed out a fairly easy class 3 route so I wanted to share it. From the false summit, a ~8-10 ft gully is visible on the left (east) side of the summit block - that is the route. To approach, bypass the false summit on the NW and climb the gully between the two summit blocks as described in the guide (the first move in this gully is the crux of the whole route IMO.) Bypass the orange wall and the various runners and climbing junk and go around to the east side of the summit block to locate the cl 3 gully. It zigs and zags a bit but is easy to climb up and down. There is basically no exposure. Fun to reach an unexpected summit! Photos courtesy of my hiking buddy.
9.5 mi • 4,400 ft aeg
 See all that green up in the mountains? Yeah, you've got to walk through all that. Trail is badly overgrown between linda vista and the green slabs. Recommend long pants or gaiters. Clouds of swarming gnats between the pima canyon trail junction and mt. Kimball. I've been hiking this trail since i was a teenager in the 80s, and i have never seen the trail in as bad shape as it is now.
5.25 mi • 1,224 ft aeg
 My original intention was to hike the top of Aspen Trail into Wilderness of Rocks, but, not seeing any closed signs or indications of it being so, I started following Meadow Trail. Was Meadow closed further in? Did the Forest Service re-open it? I don’t know, but lots of hikers, some climbers, and no closed signs to be seen along my entire hike.

Meadow Trail looked largely unscathed to me. Except for a few torches trees here and there, the top of the mountain looked to be mostly ground fire. Very little evidence of fire on the western-end switchbacks.

I kept going on Mount Lemmon Trail, which had mosaic burn between Meadow and Sutherland Trail junction. Sporadic torching observed in places. The post-Aspen Fire aspens burned, but already have 3 foot tall replacements coming up in their ruin. The bracken ferns are coming in strong and carpet the open areas. Most of the pines at Sutherland junction are wiped out, which is where I turned around. More mosaic burn along upper Sutherland and upper Canada del Oro from what I could see, with quite a few surviving pines.

I took the same route back, except for an off-trail side trip to the west side of Lemmon itself. More mosaic burn here, and nice to see one of my favorite spots still has living tree cover. Did one quick lap to the top of Radio Ridge at the end, and then headed home.

Not as bad as I feared as far as fire damage goes along the route I took. Still rough to see, but it looks like recovery is already under way in many places.
10.79 mi • 2,347 ft aeg
 This updates the information for Thimble Peak, a well known and distinctive peak north of Tucson. The 18-year old guide for the hike written by Hans Schenk is accurate and holds up remarkably well for 2021. Earlier triplogs and pictures show an evolving set of conditions at the southwest tower (the taller of the two towers, and more difficult to summit), ranging from “no bolts”, “bolts”, “metal chain ladder”, and now, to “no metal ladder”. However, there are two bolts: one is about 6 - 7 feet above the base for climbing, the other (this one with a screw-oval quicklink) just above the wall for lowering off. In my pictures, I show their location. I also show the crack 3 – 4 feet above the lower bolt where one can place additional protection to reach the top, where several boulders perched there seem ready to dislodge with the slightest tug. Mitch, my climbing buddy and leader on this climb, gave the short climb a 5.5X rating. He also recommended bringing a tricam #2 and/or Metolius #8 for the crack. Forty feet of rope is sufficient for the climb but 100 feet is needed for an easy and safe descent of the chute, which is laden with numerous huge chock stones. Despite the short climb, this is not one to be taken lightly. Highly recommend a 100-foot rope, the pieces listed above, helmet, and climbing shoes. A 10-foot length of ribbon and bale ring would be helpful for setting a new anchor to get safely down the approach chute. There is a strap anchor of unknown age already in place at the top of the chute, but it’s safer to use your own, new ribbon. Add ½ mile to the distance since you now have to park outside the camping area at Prison Camp.
15 mi • 4,700 ft aeg
 I hiked Blacketts a few weeks ago and North Saddleback Peak caught my eye. I got it in my head that I should try for a link up of Blacketts to Thimble, with North Saddleback in between. I found some victims... (ahem), friends willing to make the bush whack with me, unsure of if the route even went. Smooth sailing up Blacketts (there's a trail, after all). Then an hour of bush whacking to North Saddleback. The crux there was descending off Blacketts. Then another 2.5 hours of contouring "fun" to get up to Thimble. There's no ladder on Thimble these days; but one of my friends and I were able to free solo the south summit. Not recommended without previous climbing experience as the exposure and consequences of falling are both great. We returned to the Sabino parking lot via Bear Canyon. GPS route should be linked. Definite class 3 moves required (and class 5 moves if summitting the Thimble).
11 mi • 4,200 ft aeg
 Visiting from the Northwest and not used to hiking in the heat! Started late at 8:45am after getting lucky with parking - the lot was full and we grabbed the last spot. Lots of people at lower elevation, but we were on our own after the Vista, and only met one person near the summit. Trail finding was difficult at times because of the burns, we lost the trail twice, and it does not look like it’s been used much after reopening. Hiking through the burns is a bit spooky, the ground is bare and the trees are leafless and charcoal black. There are several downed trees across the trails, but they did not present a big challenge. Also, there is no shade where the fire went through and a lot more of the hike was in direct sunlight. I was glad the little grove along the spring before the final accent to the junction with the Pima canyon trail is still there. There was no water in the spring, but the ground looked wet. The view from the ledge at the top is just as I remembered it from many years ago. We took our time on the way back carefully navigating rocks and loose dirt. We reached our cars just when it got dark enough that I considered turning my headlamp on. The hike was more challenging than I expected, probably because of the heat and the fact that the trail traversed many burned down areas.
10 mi • 3,400 ft aeg
 This was my third visit and surprised to find the proliferation of waist high grass. It was there on prior hikes but not to this extent. It does make for a handy hand hold but otherwise, does a great job of hiding all that it surrounds. Not too troublesome on the ascent but for the descent, our group of 3 fell 6-7 times when our foot caught the grass on a sloped boulder. Kind of dangerous and was grateful for the brief respite given traversing the boulder field about half way down the canyon. Note the canyon climb to the ridge is .80 miles having an average grade of 30% so steep. Fire pit and camp site in good shape at the rim and the views, magnificent. If you rely on cairns, I found very few. Never more than 2 in a row.
8.7 mi • 2,053 ft aeg
Apache Peak Abort
 With high hopes to beat the heat just enough to check Apache Peak off my to-do list, we were on-the-road early and on the trail before 7 am @75°, albeit a bit more humid than expected so we'd have plenty of sweating right from the start.

Unfortunately our hopes were dashed early on... with so many 4x4 timber steps (the step height on some was 8-10") to step over it wasn't long before my hips were bellowing in agony. Not willing to waste a 4-hour round-trip drive by giving up a mile into the hike, it was time to shut up and keep on truckin'. Eventually I got used to the pain enough to ignore it for the most part.

By time we hit the Oracle Ridge Trail #1 it was up to 88°, but thanks to a left turn to head south we had a nice cross-wind and with the humidity dropping noticeably it felt cool... for a while. Although we were faced with the next significant climb we could see our goal, which prompted a bit of optimism.

When we reached where Forest Road 639 ended, neither of us felt ready for the last 1.25 mile 1300' climb. If that was all, after taking a quick snack break I'm sure we would have persevered. But the impetus to abort the hike was provided by two issues related to my recent back surgery:
1. An intense burning in the upper back, which was just more pain added to the existing hip pain.
2. But a bit more worrying was the lack of feeling from my right foot so I wasn't able to feel the terrain and had to watch every step I took.

As a result, it was time to call it quits and head back. I even had the idea of Tracey hiking back to the 4Runner then driving to the end of FR 639, where I would be waiting, but with no information of the route from the TH to that point we both deemed it unfeasible. So again, it was just down to slogging it out.

We did take one short side-trip to visit the High Jinks Ranch, which is on-the-market for $555,000... if we had a cool half-million-$ laying around, we just may have been interested. A realtor was showing the property so we just took a few quick photos and left.

One positive... by heading home early we were cooling off at home before the dust storms kicked up.

Now the day after... the burning from the back is down to an ache but the the forward half of my right foot is still numb. Not sure if I can wait til the end of July for my 6-month surgery follow-up with the surgeon... will probably talk to PA anyway.

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