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Window Loop (Ventana and Esperero)

Santa Catalina Mountains

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Total Length15.5 miles
Highest Elevation:7300 feet
Lowest Elevation:2850 feet
Elevation Change:4450 feet
Difficulty Rating:A
Best Seasons:Spring Fall
Hiking Time:9 hours
Dogs:Dogs not allowed

This is a classic hike to the unique Window, a large opening through a rock face on the crest of the front range ridge. The trail is a very long loop, and takes you from saguaros to ponderosas and back again.

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 3 miles up Sabino Canyon Rd. and turn left on Kolb Rd, which forks off Sabino Canyon Rd. to the left. Go up Kolb Rd. for a couple of miles and go straight through the first light, which is the intersection with Sunrise.

•After passing Sunrise you continue on Kolb about another mile or so until you see a sign for Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. Turn right into the resort. Be sure not to turn into one of the earlier entrances to residential developments with the word Ventana in the name; hold out for the resort.

•Take the first left off the entrance drive to the resort, which should be signed as the way to the Ventana Canyon trailhead. Go all the way to the back of the lot, behind the gates, to park. The front part of the lot is for resort employee parking, and you may get in trouble if you park there.

Trail Description

Diagram of the hike

Ventana Canyon Trail, FS #98
(Ventana Canyon Resort to Maiden Pools)

The view downcanyon from on top of the ridge in the middle of the canyon.

Mariposa Lily

Waterfall at the lower end of Maiden Pools.

Sierra Club hikers at the waterfalls.

Length: 2.4 milesHiking Time: 1.5 hours
Highest point: 4240 feetLowest point: 2950 feet
Trail goes uphill

The Ventana Canyon Trail starts at Ventana Canyon Resort, and climbs up to Maiden Pools. The first stretch can be pretty busy on the weekends. On one hike no less than 3 or 4 groups asked me where the trail went! I didn't know exactly what to say since you can get anywhere in the Catalinas from Ventana Canyon with enough walking, so I said it went farther than they could go before nightfall.

The first mile or so of the trail is through a narrow corridor that Pima County obtained from the surrounding Flying V Ranch and is what one friend calls "junk hiking," i.e. hiking through unsightly areas on your way to something better.

At first you pass along a chain link fence separating you from a neighboring apartment complex. At a couple points there are lots of signs and warning tape to keep you from getting off the trail and trespassing on the Flying V Ranch. The trail then turns to the right, away from the fence, and towards the canyon mouth.

About 15 minutes from the trailhead the trail enters the mouth of Ventana Canyon, and another 5 minutes brings you to a barbed wire fence with a walk-thru gate, and signs informing you that you are entering the wilderness area. There is a sign here saying you are entering a Bighorn Sheep management area, and dogs must be kept on a leash, with no dogs allowed past maiden pools.

The canyon here is narrow, with steep rocky walls, and is very beautiful. The vegetation is your standard bajada mix, with saguaros, ocotillo, prickly pear, mesquite trees, etc.

From here the trail moves upcanyon, crossing the streambed a few times. Watch for where the trail continues when you enter the streambed since it is possible to inadvertently continue up the streambed if you miss the trail. After the third streambed crossing (since the gate), the trail climbs up above the streambed on the right hand bank (facing upcanyon) and then descends back down to the streambed.

The canyon at this point is still very narrow with interesting rock formations. About 25 minutes in from the gate the canyon forks, with the major drainage in the right hand fork (facing upcanyon). The trail climbs up the left hand fork a ways, and then steeply switchbacks up around to the front of the ridge that divides the two forks. The trail then switchbacks up the nose of the ridge between the two forks. There are great views downcanyon from this area, and the vegetation has started to change, now predominantly grasses with ocotillo and some agaves.

The trail levels out when you reach the top of the ridge that you have been climbing, about 30 minutes after the trail left the streambed. Now the main streambed is a bit below you to the right (facing upcanyon). After about 6 minutes of level trail there is a beautiful waterfall and pools area with large flat rocks for sitting and sunbathing. This spot would make a good destination for a short dayhike.

The trail continues upcanyon through oak trees and some pools and is pretty level. About 6 minutes above the waterfall area there is a sign which says dogs are prohibited above this point. I think this point is Maiden Pools.

Ventana Canyon Trail, FS #98
(Maiden Pools to Esperero Trail)

A glimpse of the Window from the trail.

A crevice with a pool just to the left of the trail.

Length: 2.8 milesHiking Time: 1.7 hours
Highest point: 6080 feetLowest point: 4240 feet
Trail goes uphill

This trail segment goes from Maiden Pools up to the ridge at the top of Ventana Canyon.

After the "dogs prohibited" sign the trail winds upcanyon, crossing the streambed a number of times under oaks, and there is a fair amount of shade. There are still a few saguaros around, but it is clear that you are coming to the end of their range.

About 30 minutes above Maiden Pools the trail gets steeper, with some short stretches which are very steep and rocky. Around here you see the first small pine trees, some manzanita and the first alligator junipers. The trail alternates between crossing the streambed, which is often dry, and traveling high above the streambed.

About 60 minutes above Maiden Pools you pass a rock right on the trail with an indian grinding hole in it. The trail continues to get steeper, and you pass some large alligator junipers. About an hour and 5 minutes above Maiden Pools you reach a point where you can see the Window, an opening through a rock face, high above the trail to the east.

About an hour and 20 minutes above Maiden Pools you pass the first ponderosa pine on the left. The trail is now passing through mixed forest of small pines, oaks, and alligator junipers. You are still near the streambed, but the trail will soon leave it to climb to the ridgetop.

An hour and 40 minutes above Maiden Pools you reach a signed trail junction with the Finger Rock Trail (#42) to the left, and the Esperero Trail (#25) to the right.

Turn right on the Esperero Trail.

Esperero Trail, FS #25
(Ventana Canyon Trail to the Window)

Looking through the Window.

Tucson from the Window.

A view from on top of the ridge.

Length: 1.2 milesHiking Time: 0.75 hours
Highest point: 7000 feetLowest point: 6080 feet
Trail goes uphill

The last stretch before the Window! This trail segment goes along the top ridge of the front range of the Catalinas from the junction with the Mt. Kimball Trail to the Window. The Window is amazing, and worth the trip.

From the junction with the Ventana Canyon Trail and the Finger Rock Trail the Esperero Trail climbs steeply up towards the ridge top for about 20 minutes. When you finally get to the ridge there are great views in both directions, and the trail turns right and heads off along the ridgetop to the southeast. This part of the trail is mostly level for the next 15 minutes, and passes through thin pine/juniper forest. When the trail starts to climb up, there are some ponderosa pines.

After about 10 minutes of going uphill you reach the base of a rock formation. The trail hugs the left side of the rock formation, and continues climbing. Another 5 minutes, you will see the Window through the pines to your right, about 50 feet from the trail. There is a little path going over to the Window.

The Window is a large opening through a fin of rock on the top ridge of the front range. Below the Window it is a sheer drop of a couple hundred feet, so when you are sitting there looking out you really feel like you are floating in the air over the Catalinas. There are lots of great places to sit, or lay down, and relax after the long climb up.

From the Window you can either go back the way you came down Ventana Canyon, or continue on the Esperero Trail to Sabino Canyon Visitor's center.

Continue on the Esperero Trail for this hike.

Esperero Trail, FS #25
(The Window to Cathedral Rock Trail)

Along the ridgeline.

Another view from the ridgeline.

Length: 2.0 milesHiking Time: 1.25 hours
Highest point: 7000 feetLowest point: 6080 feet
Trail goes downhill

This rough and overgrown portion of the Esperero Trail climbs up from the junction with the Cathedral Rock Trail to Window Peak, and then drops down to the Window. It passes through some very remote and beautiful areas along the top ridge of the front range.

From the Window the trail heads southeast along the back side of the Window's rock formation, climbing steeply. After a few minutes you are climbing along the ridgeline among rock formations and pine trees. About 10 to 15 minutes after the Window the trail passes over a small saddle, and starts descending along upper reaches of Ventana Canyon. The trail levels out for a bit, and then curves around and crosses over another small saddle, which puts you on the upper slopes of Esperero Canyon. Window Peak is just above you at this point. From here the trail descends steeply down switchbacks.

After descending for about 10 minutes you reach a flat rocky area at the top of the saddle between Montrose Canyon to the northwest and Esperero Canyon to the southeast. This is a spectacular spot, with views to distant mountain ranges to the north and south, and Cathedral Rock looming over you to the northeast.

The trail descend along the crest of the saddle between Montrose and Esperero for about 15 minutes. This section of the trail is very overgrown, and is in poor condition. The trail then starts descending down into Esperero Canyon while contouring across the head of the canyon towards the east wall of the canyon. This part of the trail is in even worse condition, and in places barely qualifies as a route. After about 30 minutes of this you come to the signed junction with the Cathedral Rock Trail, #26, which takes off to the left.

Continue on the Esperero Trail at the junction.

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

The overgrown trail.

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

A short distance past the trail junction you come to a relatively flat open area shaded by oaks. People have camped here, but there is no sign of water. The trail continues down along the top of a small ridge that projects into the upper end of Esperero Canyon. This trail segment is in much better shape than the segment between the Window and the Cathedral Rock Trail.

After about 20 minutes of descending from the trail junction you reach the wooded canyon bottom. Another 3 or 4 minutes and Bridal Veil Falls is off the trail to the right, just past a nice wooded camping area that abuts the trail. The falls themselves are just a trickle of water splashing into a small pool in a sandy area. One person I know characterized Bridal Veil Falls as a disappointment, but it is a pleasant little spot if you don't have expectations of a roaring cataract. There has been water here every time I have been here, but I have only been here in the late Spring (April).

Continue down the Esperero Trail from the falls.

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

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 downhill

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.

After Bridal Veil Falls the trail descends gradually through the wooded canyon bottom. There are occasional ponderosas, but generally you are back in the oak/juniper zone.

About 10 minutes below the falls a side canyon comes in on the left, and the canyon bottom gets wider. This is a scenic spot, with some nice rock formations rising over you. The trail continues along the canyon bottom, descending gently through oak/juniper forest, with some yuccas and prickly pear cactus starting to show up.

About 40 minutes below Bridal Veil Falls the trail crosses the streambed for the last time and heads up the east wall of the canyon, marking the end of this segment.

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

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: 2.0 hours
Highest point: 4720 feetLowest point: 2600 feet
Trail goes downhill

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.

After the trail leaves Esperero Creek it climbs up the east wall of the canyon, still heading downcanyon, and then passes through a small gap between two rock formations at the ridgeline after about 15 minutes. The vegetation here is grasses mixed with oaks, junipers, and manzanita. There is a small camping spot at the gap, but no sign of water.

After passing through the gap the trail contours around the upper edge of a large bowl, with Esperero Creek at its bottom perhaps 500 feet below. The map calls this area Geronimo Meadow. This bowl is one of the most beautiful places in the front range, at least at sunset when you can see all the saguaros on the opposite slope descending down to the heavily forested bottom. The trail is now in the saguaro/grassland/ocotillo zone, with shindaggers.

It takes about 20 minutes to move around the edge of the bowl to another gap/saddle where the trail leaves the bowl and drops into the next canyon over. Below the saddle the trail switchbacks steeply down the head of the canyon, eventually reaching the bottom.

After about 10 minutes the trail hits the bottom of the canyon and continues downcanyon along the bottom for another 20 minutes or so. From there the trail climbs up the east (left) wall of the canyon and you can see a road crossing the canyon further down. The trail crosses a ridge, drops down into Bird Canyon, crosses the canyon, and climbs up the opposite wall in the space of about 10 to 15 minutes.

After you climb out of Bird Canyon you are looking down across Rattlesnake Canyon towards Sabino Canyon. Another 15 minutes brings you to a signed trail junction with the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail. Keep to the right here and stay on the Esperero Trail. The trail climbs up the small hill to your right and ahead, and then drops down towards the picnic shelters at the Cactus Picnic Area. When you get near the picnic area the trail becomes hard to follow since there are so many footpaths running around in this area. Just keep going until you hit pavement, which will either be the Cactus Picnic Area or the main road in Sabino Canyon. Head away from the mountains down the main road another 5 minutes and you are at the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center.

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