Home Page - Map of Trailheads and Trails - Trail Guide Blog - Hikes by Region - Hikes by Difficulty -
Winter Hikes - Spring Hikes - Summer Hikes - Fall Hikes Notes -
Hiking Tips - Recommended Books and Maps - Tucson Hiking Clubs

Cathedral Rock and Hutch's Pool

Santa Catalina Mountains

Printer friendly version
Total Length23.1 miles
Highest Elevation:7952 feet
Lowest Elevation:2600 feet
Elevation Change:5352 feet
Difficulty Rating:A
Best Seasons:Spring Fall
Hiking Time:13 hours
Dogs:Dogs not allowed

Although this hike is a bit long, it really is worth it! Cathedral Rock is an absolutely magical place, and a stop by Hutch's Pool for a swim on the way back is an excellent treat after completing much of the hike. The hike starts out going up Esperero Canyon past Bridal Veil Falls, and then up to Cathedral Rock. From there you drop down into the west fork of Sabino Creek and walk down to Hutch's Pool. The return is via Sabino Basin and the road in Sabino Canyon.

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.

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.

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

The overgrown trail.

Length: 0.9 milesHiking Time: 0.5 hours
Highest point: 6080 feetLowest point: 5300 feet
Trail goes uphill

After leaving Bridal Veil Falls the trail stays in the canyon bottom for a short while, before beginning a steep ascent up the back of the canyon through thin oak/juniper forest mixed with grassy areas. The trail here is faint.

As it climbs through sparse oak and juniper, the trail doubles back and heads towards the mouth of the canyon for a short stretch. On this part you can see the twin Esperero Spires about a mile back down the canyon.

The trail then heads upcanyon again, and gets on top of the ridge, where it climbs up along the ridge for a while before reaching a nice wooded level spot. The trail climbs steeply again for five minutes before you hit the signed junction with the Cathedral Rock Trail, #26.

Turn right on the Cathedral Rock Trail.

Cathedral Rock Trail, FS #26
(Esperero Trail to Cathedral Rock Route)

Length: 1.1 milesHiking Time: 0.5 hours
Highest point: 6900 feetLowest point: 6080 feet
Trail goes uphill

From the junction the trail contours steeply across the back of Esperero Canyon through juniper/oak forest heading up towards Cathedral Rock Saddle. Though the trail is mostly a steep climb, there are a few level spots thrown in for variety. As the trail gets higher you can see all of Esperero Canyon and Tucson spread out below you, which makes for some spectacular views.

Towards the end of this section the trail levels out a bit, and then comes to a small clearing on top of the Cathedral Rock Saddle. There is no sign here, but you will know where you are because the trail starts to descend steeply after this.

Turn left at the saddle, and head up towards Cathedral Rock.

Cathedral Rock Route
(Cathedral Rock Trail to Cathedral Rock)

About 10 minutes from the top of Cathedral Rock.

Climbing through the notch with the rope.

Two hikers on top of the highest point of Cathedral Rock.

Sabino Basin from Cathedral Rock.

Length: 0.9 milesHiking Time: 0.75 hours
Highest point: 7952 feetLowest point: 6900 feet
Trail goes uphill

The route up to Cathedral Rock is poorly defined, but possible to follow. Keep your eyes open for cairns, although there are sometimes divergent routes that are both marked by cairns.

From the saddle the route goes steeply uphill as it travels up along the ridge top. The ridge then levels out for a short distance as you move through pine forest.

After the level section you come to a steep rocky slope which has a couple possible routes up it. One route involves bearing downhill and to the right from the end of the level section for a short distance, and then following cairns up through the rocks to the right. After climbing up through the rocks for a while the route bears left and then straight up the hill very steeply as it gets into some ponderosas.

After going straight up the slope, the route bears left across an open rocky area that is almost level, and then bears right again through the trees and underbrush. This part brings you to a small rock shelter under a large boulder which is resting on some smaller boulders.

From the rock shelter the route heads straight uphill through ponderosas and chapperal towards the big rock formation above you. When you get to the base of the rock face bear left towards a notch, and then climb up the rock to the notch. There is a rope at the top of the notch to help you make it over the last short pitch.

Once you are through the notch, turn hard right and follow along the rock face for a short distance, and then turn left and cross on open area of bare rock. This spot is very beautiful, with rock formations rising up on three sides, and great views of Tucson on the one open side.

From the open area the route heads up a small forested drainage until you get to a place where there are three rock towers. These are the highest points of Cathedral Rock. It is possible to climb all of these pinnacles, but you shouldn't try it unless you are pretty confident about your climbing skills. Sitting on top of one of these, however, is an amazing experience. You can see almost all of the Catalinas from here; Mt. Lemmon, the Wilderness of Rocks, Sabino Basin, Thimble Peak, the Window, Mt. Kimball, Table Mountain, etc. You can also see Biosphere 2, Mt. Wrightson, the Tucson Mountains, Rincon Peak and Mica Mountain.

When you are ready to leave, head back down to the saddle the way you came. At the saddle you can either turn left and go back by way of Hutch's pool, which is how this hike is written, or just go back to Sabino the way you came up, which is about 4 or 5 miles shorter.

Cathedral Rock Trail, FS #26
(Cathedral Rock Route to West Fork Trail)

Romero Pass seen from the Cathedral Rock Trail.

Length: 1.8 milesHiking Time: 0.9 hours
Highest point: 6900 feetLowest point: 5280 feet
Trail goes downhill

Although this trail is not maintained, it is still passable.

From the saddle below Cathedral Rock the trail drops down to the east through thick chapparel under ponderosas. This first part of the trail involves fighting a fair amount of underbrush, but after about 15 minutes or so it gets down to the level of juniper/oak forest and the going is a little easier.

After the first relatively gentle descent from the saddle, the trail starts switchbacking very steeply down the canyon wall towards the West Fork of Sabino Creek. This part is wearing on your knees, but it is not too long before you drop down into the canyon bottom where the trail comes to the signed intersection with the West Fork Trail, FS #24.

From here the West Fork Trail goes downcanyon towards Hutch's Pool and Sabino Basin, and also upcanyon towards Romero Pass.

Turn right here (downcanyon) on the West Fork Trail.

West Fork Trail, FS #24
(Cathedral Rock Trail to Hutch's Pool)

Length: 3.4 milesHiking Time: 1.6 hours
Highest point: 5280 feetLowest point: 3900 feet
Trail goes downhill

This is a nice easy going trail that doesn't have a mean bone in its body. From the trail junction it follows the creek downcanyon through shady oak forest. The trail is a bit hard to follow sometimes because of the fallen oak leaves covering it, but since it just follows the creek bottom you can't really get lost.

This upper part of the creek often doesn't have any water in it. I suspect that you will only find water along the upper part of the trail during the wettest seasons.

After about 40 minutes of hiking through the oak/juniper forest, the trail moves a bit above the creek on the right hand (west) side and gets into grassland with widely scattered oaks. This part of the trail has quite a few long zig-zags in it as it travels in and out of numerous side drainages in an effort to avoid having to go up and down to cross them.

About an hour after the trail junction the trail crosses a saddle between the canyon wall and a small hill that sits in the middle of the canyon. At this point the trail is well up the west wall of the canyon. About ten minutes after this saddle, the trail passes where Lemmon Canyon comes in on the left and then starts descending down a series of switchbacks towards Hutch's Pool. If you look down from some of these switchbacks you can see almost straight down into Hutch's Pool.

Shortly after the end of the switchbacks keep your eyes open for an unsigned trail which takes off to the left. This is the route to Hutch's Pool. This route goes down to a sandy camping area where you turn left and head upstream about 40 yards to get to the pool.

West Fork Trail, FS #24
(Hutch's Pool to Sabino Basin)

The view up towards Cathedral Rock from down near Sabino Basin.

Hutch's Pool, looking toward the deep end.

Another view of Hutch's Pool.

Length: 1.6 milesHiking Time: 0.66 hours
Highest point: 3900 feetLowest point: 3700 feet
Trail goes downhill

This trail goes from Sabino Basin to Hutch's Pool, and then on up to Romero Pass. It is heavily used in its lower stretches, but very lightly used up near Romero Pass.

From Hutch's Pool the trail gently descends downcanyon towards Sabino Basin through oak/juniper forest and grasslands. There is one stream crossing near the beginning, but for the rest of the way the trail sticks to the left (east) side of the creek.

About 30 minutes from Hutch's Pool the trail passes a large flat camping area on the right.

A few minutes after the camping spot the trail winds through some low hills, and then drops down into the oak/juniper forest of Sabino Basin. There is a stream crossing here, and then you reach the signed trail junction with the Sabino Canyon Trail and the East Fork Trail.

Turn right on the Sabino Canyon Trail at the signed trail junction.

Sabino Canyon Trail, FS #23
(Sabino Basin to Phoneline Trail)

A view up the west fork of Sabino Creek, from near Sabino Basin.

A nice resting spot in Sabino Basin.

Looking down Sabino Canyon from near Sabino Basin.

The view up Sabino Canyon towards Sabino Basin from the midpoint of the trail.

Blackett's Ridge, as seen from near where the Sabino Canyon Trail and Phoneline Trail meet.

Length: 2.0 milesHiking Time: 0.75 hours
Highest point: 3700 feetLowest point: 3550 feet
Trail goes downhill

This easy and almost level trail segment runs up high along the south wall of Sabino Canyon, connecting the Phoneline Trail to the East Fork and West Fork trails.

From the junction with the East Fork and West Fork Trails the trail climbs up the slope, while heading downcanyon, for about 5 or 10 minutes. It then levels out and begins a long gently descending contour about halfway up the southern wall of Sabino Canyon.

At this point Sabino Canyon is steep and deep, and you can see the wooded stream down below you. The canyon then gets less steep and you can no longer see down to the stream. The view downcanyon is spectacular, with sheer rock faces on the opposite side, and a large rock promontory next to a narrow gap about a mile ahead.

About 45 minutes after leaving the trail junction the trail passes through a small saddle to the left of the large rock promontory which sits in the middle of the canyon. I believe this promontory is where there had been plans to build a dam many years ago.

After you pass through the saddle the canyon is very narrow and deep, and there are amazing views down to the bottom from the trail. The trail then curves to the left and drops down to the signed junction with the Phoneline Trail #27. Turn left to go on the Phoneline trail back to the Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center. Turn right to continue on the Sabino Canyon Trail down to the end of the paved road in Sabino Canyon.

Turn right at the signed junction with the Phoneline Trail to stay on the Sabino Canyon Trail.

Sabino Canyon Trail, FS #23
(Phoneline Trail to end of road)

Length: 0.5 milesHiking Time: 0.3 hours
Highest point: 3550 feetLowest point: 3300 feet
Trail goes downhill

This short trail segment goes from the end of the road in Sabino Canyon up to the junction with the Phoneline Trail.

This half mile segment is one of the most frustrating in the Tucson area, since is takes a half mile of almost level switchbacks to cover about 300 feet in elevation change and about 200 yards in horizontal distance. You will feel like you are walking on a treadmill and never getting anywhere.

If you see the tram pull up while you are descending this part don't even bother to rush to get to it unless you have already gone about 10 minutes down. The tram will come and go well before you get down.

Sabino Canyon Road
(End of the road to Phoneline link trail)

Thimble Peak, seen from the road.

Length: 2.6 milesHiking Time: 0.9 hours
Highest point: 3300 feetLowest point: 2800 feet
Trail goes downhill

This is the upper part of the road through Sabino Canyon.

From the tram stop just follow the road downhill. After passing over a number of bridges you will come to a sign for the Phoneline Link Trail on the left just after you pass a restroom and about 50 yards before the road crosses a small bridge and curves to the left.

Sabino Canyon Road
(Phoneline link trail to Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center)

Sabino Canyon from the road near the visitor's center. Blackett's Ridge is on the right.

Length: 1.2 milesHiking Time: 0.3 hours
Highest point: 2800 feetLowest point: 2600 feet
Trail goes downhill

This all pavement route is the first section of the road up Sabino Canyon

There is a restroom on the left, and about 15 yards beyond the restroom there is a sign on the left for the Phoneline Link Trail, #27A. This sign says that it is 0.7 miles to the Phoneline Trail, #27.

A short distance beyond the Phoneline Link Trail the road crosses a bridge, and there is a sign on the near side of the bridge on the right for the Rattlesnake Trail, #50. The road curves left at this point and begins gently climbing as it passes the 1 mile marker on the left. The road then curves to the right and climbs up a short but relatively steep stretch to a small saddle. After you pass through the saddle the road descends gently straight down to the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center, passing the sign for the Esperero Trail on the right about 50 yards before the drive leading off to the Cactus Picnic Area.

Home Page - Map of Trailheads and Trails - Trail Guide Blog - Hikes by Region - Hikes by Difficulty -
Winter Hikes - Spring Hikes - Summer Hikes - Fall Hikes - Notes
Hiking Tips - Recommended Books and Maps - Tucson Hiking Clubs