One of southern Arizona's numerous "sky islands", the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson's northern skyline.
These sky islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool, relatively moist climate
at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert
canyons and foothills, well watered by the mountain runoff, offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months
of the year. Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas.
(Photo, Right, The heavily wooded mountaintops are only a few miles away.)
Catalina State Park offers excellent scenery with its lush washes, dense cactus forests, and a mountain backdrop.
The park is actually located within the Coronado National Forest. It is managed by the state of Arizona in cooperation with
the U. S. Forest Service, with the park offering nice recreational amenities including a developed campground with hookups,
picnic areas, and an equestrian center. The adjacent national forest area is within the Pusch Ridge Wilderness where nature
is left undisturbed and there are no amenities.
The park also offers an excellent system of trails with a variety of scenery and recreation. The Bridle Trail and Fifty-Year
Trail are excellent for horseback riding. The Birding Trail loops in and out of a lush riparian area in lower Montrose Canyon,
giving hikers a chance to observe numerous species of birds in several habitats. The Nature Trail offers an easy hike with
beautiful vistas, as well as numerous information signs describing the environment. The Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail passes
through a site with remnants of a prehistoric village once occupied by the Hohokam people. These ancient Native Americans engaged
principally in agriculture. They mysteriously disappeared from the area around 1450 A.D.
(Photo, Left, Stately saguaro forests dominate the landscape. Photo, Right, Lush well-watered washes attract birds and
The park's trail system also connects to the Sutherland and Romero Canyon Trails in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area.
These trails steadily climb high into the Santa Catalinas, first through scenic desert canyons, then semi-desert areas with
scrub oak and chaparral, and then progressively more forested areas as the elevation increases. The sturdy backpacker can reach
the highest point in the range, Mt. Lemmon, at 9,157 feet elevation, in about fourteen miles.
The Romero Canyon Trail
Our last hike on the Romero Canyon Trail came during a moist spring, with the landscape accentuated by beautiful wildflower displays.
We went as far as the lush Romero Pools. Here there are numerous small waterfalls and pools where the trail reaches the streambed.
The pools are 2.8 miles from the parking lot with an elevation gain of one thousand feet. This is a moderately challenging trek for
(Photo, Left, A delightful waterfall at the Romero Pools. Photo, Right, Gorgeous poppies dominate the spring landscape.)
The Romero Canyon Trail veers off of the scenic and popular Canyon Loop Trail about 0.6 miles from the trailhead. The trail becomes
rather rocky and steep as it ascends Montrose Canyon. The canyon walls, often dense with saguaro and other cacti, rise sharply
hundreds of feet above the riparian streambed. The stream usually flows during the winter and spring, creating a very lush streamside
environment. You can access and observe the stream at the Montrose Pools located one half mile up the trail.
The Montrose Pools are a good turnaround point for those who are less fit or less ambitious. From here, the rocky trail steadily
climbs the north wall of Montrose Canyon. We observed the best wildflower displays near the top of the canyon, primarily large stands
of orange poppies. As we reach the top of the wall and exit Montrose Canyon, the Sonoran Desert environment abruptly ends.
The stands of cacti disappear, and are replaced by scrub oak, agaves, and chaparral. This is the progression of natural environments
that occurs as the elevation increases.
(Photo, Right, At the Romero Pools.)
We now cross the ridge separating Montrose and Romero Canyons. This beautiful area features unusual rock formations and offers
excellent vistas of both mountain and desert. Beyond the ridge the trail drops into Romero Canyon and reaches the stream at the
Romero Pools. This miniature water park offers a refreshing break after the vigorous uphill hike. Also, the toughest part is over
as this is our turnaround point, and it will be mostly downhill on our return.
(Photo, Left, Climbing out of Montrose Canyon on the Romero Canyon Trail.)
About the Park
Catalina State Park is located on the Oracle Road, Arizona-77, six miles north of Ina Road, and about ten miles north of metro Tucson.
There is a fee to enter the park and an additional fee for camping. Hookups are available, as are restrooms with showers.
A project is under way to expand and upgrade the campground.
For more information, visit the Arizona State Parks'
Catalina State Park web site
or call (520) 628-5798.
For more details on hiking further up the Romero Canyon Trail, visit the
Sierra Club's Tucson Trail Guide - Romero Pools web page.