Catalina State Park

We first visited Tucson in April, 2018.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Oro Valley, which is located just a couple of miles away from Catalina State Park.    After a long flight from New England, we wanted to hike someplace close to our hotel.  Catalina State Park was a five minute drive down Oracle Road.  It wasn’t just convenient.  It was breath-taking.  

Spring in Catalina State Park

We fell in love with the magnificent Catalina Mountains that day. Tucson is surrounded by five beautiful mountain ranges. The Catalina’s, our favorite, are the most rugged. We never tire of looking at them, photographing them and hiking them.

There is something for everyone here. The Nature Trail is perfect for families with children. It’s just a short loop and contains plaques explaining the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

The Birding Trail is an easy loop trail that takes you a short distance into the park. It’s perfect for birdwatchers, photographers, families with children, and anyone looking for a leisurely stroll with beautiful views. There are a couple of shade trees too.

Romero Ruins Trail is an easy walk, with plenty of park benches to rest on. It’s also one of the most important Native American archaeological sites in the Southwest. There are plaques explaining how the ancient ones lived and farmed. There are even the remains of a ball field upon which the ancients played. The biggest saguaro we’ve ever seen is inside that loop trail.

Our favorite trail is the Canyon Loop Trail. It is a two-mile-long loop with magnificent mountain views. The trail itself is wide and sandy. You won’t need to worry about where to put your feet on this trail. Except for a short, but steep, hill at the beginning, the trail is relatively flat. There are a couple of park benches upon which to sit, rest and admire the beauty of the Catalina’s. Look for the rock formation locals call the “Green Elephant.” Hint: it’s right in front of you as you sit on the park bench, just before you loop down and around the stairs leading to the water. Use your imagination.

The Canyon Loop Trail runs parallel to the mountains for about one mile, then loops around to follow a stream. In the winter months, this stream is full and swift with cold snowmelt from Mt. Lemmon. If you don’t wish to get your feet wet, you may have to remove your shoes and socks five times to cross. Or, as I prefer, wear an old pair of sneakers and walk right through it. At its highest, the stream was only mid-calf deep and the cold water felt good on my feet. Your sneakers will be dry again in ten minutes or less. This is Arizona afterall.

Montrose Pools is another great trail. It is also wide and flat and sandy like the Canyon Loop. In fact you have to traverse Canyon Loop a short distance to get to Montrose Pools Trail which bears right off Canyon Loop and heads straight into the mountains.

The views on the trail to Montrose Pools are just as magnificent as the ones on the Canyon Loop. At the end of the trail which goes about a mile after you veer off Canyon Loop, there is a park bench to sit on and admire the Canyon.

After you sit for a few minutes, you can walk down a trail into the Montrose Pools itself. Be careful because the trail is a little narrow and slippery. It is so worth it though. In the winter the pools are full of water. People climb on the rocks in both directions to admire the Pools. Just be careful where you put your hands and feet. I find a hiking pole helps with balance and keeps us safe from creepy-crawlies.

If you are in excellent physical shape and want to try a very challenging hike, Romero Pools is for you. It is long, steep, extremely rocky, and even a little scary in places. You need to get an early start to reach the Pools. Bring plenty of water and food. It’s a very strenuous trail. I am short which I think made it even tougher. Long-legged folks definitely have the advantage on this trail. A hiking pole helps.

The views along the trail, however, are truly magnificent. Hikers are very encouraging. Their kind words will keep you going. “You’re almost there,” etc. even when you still have a long, challenging hike ahead. It took us about two hours to make it to the Pools. It was a little faster hiking back because some of it was downhill.

The Romero Pools themselves consist of long, flat rocks, surrounded by knee-deep water, where you can rest, eat, nap, if necessary, and converse with fellow hikers. We enjoyed the sense of camaraderie, although we prefer the beauty of the Montrose Pools.

Romero Pools is in Bighorn Sheep Country so no dogs are allowed on the trail. There is a sign posted in case you forget. It isn’t a comfortable place for a dog anyway …… too many big rocks to scramble over and some narrow paths along sheer cliffs.

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