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Esperero Trail to Bridal Veil Falls

Santa Catalina Mountains

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Total Length12.4 miles
Highest Elevation:5300 feet
Lowest Elevation:2600 feet
Elevation Change:2700 feet
Difficulty Rating:B
Best Seasons:Spring Fall Winter
Hiking Time:6 hours
Dogs:Dogs not allowed

This is one of the first hikes I did when I moved to Tucson, and I still remember my amazement at being able to hike from Saguaro studded desert to cool oak forest in a matter of hours. This hike is very scenic, and not that heavily traveled, so I highly recommend it. If you don't feel like doing the whole 12 miles, at least go up to Geronimo Meadows, which is only about an hour in.

Directions to Trailhead

•From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Grant/Kolb Rd head northeast on Tanque Verde. Turn left at the second light on Sabino Canyon Rd. Go about 6 miles up Sabino Canyon Rd. Go straight at the intersection with Sunrise and take the next right into the parking lot of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

•The Sabino Canyon parking lot can fill up on nice weekends, so get there early. Do not try to park on the side of the road near the entrance; several people have reported getting $100+ tickets for parking by the side of the road near Sabino Canyon.

•Dogs are not allowed in the main canyon area, or on the Bear Canyon or Sabino Canyon trails.

Trail Description

Esperero Trail, FS #25
(Sabino Canyon to Esperero Creek)

Looking down at the mouth of Esperero Canyon from the Geronimo Meadows area.

The trail down from Geronimo Meadows.

Looking towards the route of the Esperero Trail from down near Sabino Canyon.

Length: 4.8 milesHiking Time: 2.25 hours
Highest point: 4720 feetLowest point: 2600 feet
Trail goes uphill

This segment of the Esperero Trail starts out among the saguaros on the desert floor, but ends up in an juniper/oak forest in a canyon bottom about 2,000 feet higher.

From the Sabino Canyon visitor's center head up the road about half a mile, passing an island in the center of the road and the Cactus Picnic Area. About 50 to 100 yards past the turn off for the Cactus Picnic Area are small signs on the left and right for the Esperero Trail. Take the Esperero Trail to the left. If you get to the top of the first rise in the road then you have missed the Esperero Trail.

The trail first heads out flat across the desert, passing a number of side trails which take off to the left to the picnic area. In this very first section always bear right if there is a choice about which way to go. After a few minutes the trail climbs up to the top of a little ridge, and then runs north along the top of the ridge for a few hundred yards before dropping back down to the desert floor on the far side of the ridge.

About 20 minutes from when you started, and a short distance after coming down off the ridge, you will come to the signed trail junction with the Rattlesnake Trail. Take the Esperero Trail to the left, or north.

A short while after the signed trail junction the trail forks at an unsigned junction. The correct way to go is to the right. There is usually a string of rocks set across the incorrect path to the left.

After the unsigned junction the trail climbs up to a ridge, goes across the top of the ridge for a few minutes, drops down into a small canyon (Bird Canyon), crosses the canyon, and then starts climbing out of the other side of the small canyon. As you climb out of this small canyon you will see a road and some houses off to your left.

Shortly after climbing up out of Bird Canyon, the trail crosses the nose of the ridge, and turns right to head up the medium sized canyon just north of Bird Canyon. The trail makes its way to the bottom of the canyon without losing elevation by contouring upcanyon until the canyon bottom rises to the level of the trail. Then the trail goes up the canyon along its bottom for about 25 minutes, going back and forth across the dry streambed a number of times. At the upper end of the canyon is a number of switchbacks that climb up a steep slope that ends at a ridgetop. This last section of switchbacks is what Betty Leavengood calls "Cardiac Gap," though it is not nearly as fearsome as the name suggests.

After you climb Cardiac Gap you are looking a long way down into a large and deep bowl, which is Esperero Canyon. The grassy area around the upper edge of this bowl is called Geronimo Meadows, and it is a beautiful grassland area with ocotillos, shindaggers, and scattered oak trees.

After climbing gently up through Geronimo Meadows for some minutes the trail passes through a small gap which has manzanita and some oak and juniper trees. After this gap, you looking down into a narrower and not so deep part of Esperero Canyon, and you can see the wooded area at the bottom of the canyon. The trail then drops down to this wooded area where you hit Esperero Creek.

This part of Esperero Creek is intermittant at best. When I was there in October of 97 there was no water.

Continue up the trail after you cross the streambed.

Esperero Trail, FS #25
(Esperero Creek to Bridal Veil Falls)

Bridal Veil Falls.

Looking back towards Cathedral Rock.

Length: 1.4 milesHiking Time: 0.6 hours
Highest point: 5300 feetLowest point: 4720 feet
Trail goes uphill

This trail segment follows along the wooded bottom of Esperero Canyon, ending up at Bridal Veil Falls. This part of the trail is not very steep, and the trail is easy.

From the stream crossing, the trail stays in the wooded bottom of Esperero Canyon. The forest here is relatively dense, and is made up of a oaks, sycamores, junipers, and pines. The trail is pretty well shaded, and very cool and pleasant after the hard climb up to this point. After a while you come to the junction of two canyons, which is very pretty, and the trail goes with the canyon on the left.

Not too far after the canyon junction, the trail reaches Bridal Veil Falls, which is a small waterfall (usually just a spray of water) with a sandy area at its base. There is a nice camping spot with a fire ring right next to the trail. There has been water at the falls every time I visited it in the early spring, but in October of 97 it was completely dry.

To return, just go back the way you came.



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