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Mt. Lemmon from Catalina State Park

Santa Catalina Mountains

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Total Length13.8 miles
Highest Elevation:9080 feet
Lowest Elevation:2720 feet
Elevation Change:6360 feet
Difficulty Rating:A
Best Seasons:Spring Fall
Hiking Time:7.5 hours
Dogs:Dogs not allowed

The description and pictures are from before the Aspen Fire. Please email me a report and/or pictures if you do this hike.

This is a "saguaro to ponderosa" hike that takes you through all of the life zones of southern Arizona. Obviously this is a long and hard hike, but you will have a deeper appreciation of the Santa Catalinas if you have gone from their base to their top. To do this hike you will need to leave a car at the top of Mt. Lemmon, or have someone pick you up. See the directions to the top of Mt. Lemmon under Wilderness of Rocks from the summit of Mt. Lemmon

Update 2007-12-10: I got the following email about this hike:

I just wanted to drop you a line with some updates about the hike named in the subject. I used your directions from the Sierra Club website last Friday and found it a long but rewarding trip.

Some notes: There are many trees down in the middle of the trail throughout the upper portions of the Romero Trail (especially just before the pass). The same goes for the Lemmon and Wilderness of Rocks trails. Many of the trees down on Wilderness of Rocks and Lemmon are quite large and it was necessary to skirt around them, though reconnecting with the trail was only a challenge at one particular spot on the Lemmon trail. The Lemmon trail is also deeply rutted in many places and water was flowing down it at one point, necessitating a scramble up some loose rock to get around dry. There's also a large Ponderosa down on the switchbacks below Lemmon lookout, making the final push a little more interesting.

Those minor annoyances aside - it was a great trip. The pools were full and the autumn colors had set in. There was plentiful water throughout. The route is marked with large cairns, now, all the way through to the Lemmon lookout junction. Route finding was a breeze the entire way. I have a few pictures if you're interested.

Thanks for the great resource in the trail guide!

Jeff

Directions to Trailhead

•From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Grant/Kolb go west on Grant all the way down to Oracle Rd. Turn right on Oracle Rd (Highway 77) and head north past Pusch Ridge. After you have gone about 15-20 miles you will see the sign for Catalina State Park on the right.

•There is an entrance fee to get into the park. To get to the trails, just drive in and follow the signs, or ask a ranger.

Trail Description

Romero Canyon Trail, FS #8
(Catalina State Park to Romero Pools)

The view up Romero Canyon from just before you descend down to Romero Pools.

Part of Romero Pools.

Length: 2.8 milesHiking Time: 1.2 hours
Highest point: 3700 feetLowest point: 2720 feet
Trail goes uphill

This section of trail is very popular since it is very scenic, not too hard, and leads to the natural waterpark of Romero Pools.

There is a parking lot and large signs at the trailhead, so there should be no problem finding that. The trail starts across the street from the parking lot. There is a trail junction right at the trailhead; follow the sign straight ahead on the Romero Canyon Trail. A sign here says that no dogs are allowed one mile beyond this point.

A short distance in you cross the streambed (wet in winter, dry in summer). At the trail junction on a sign says that Romero Canyon is to the left. Take this trail.

About 10 minutes in there is another signed trail junction. Follow the arrow pointing to the Romero Canyon Trail. A few minutes farther there is another signed junction; once again you take the Romero Canyon Trail, which is to the left.

Up to this point the trail has been over the desert floor, but now it gets very rocky and starts to climb steeply up the north side of Montrose Canyon. About 45 minutes in from the trailhead you get to the top of the ridge between Romero and Montrose canyons, and then head upcanyon at or near the top of the ridge. This area on the top of the ridge is very beautiful, since it has rock formations, great views, and it took some work to get up here.

The trail winds its way through the rocks at the top of the ridge for about 20 minutes, generally climbing, but with some short descents, until you drop down to the stream crossing at Romero Pools. There are pools and waterfalls up and down stream from this point. To continue on the Romero Canyon Trail turn left and cross the stream at the first opportunity; do not stay on the trail as it parallels the stream without crossing it. On the opposite side of the stream follow the trail that climbs up and away from the stream.

Romero Canyon Trail, FS #8
(Romero Pools to old trail camp)

Pools about a half mile above Romero Pools.

View down into the canyon from where the trail is high up the northern wall.

Length: 2.3 milesHiking Time: 1.1 hours
Highest point: 4700 feetLowest point: 3700 feet
Trail goes uphill

This trail segment is not nearly as popular as the lower one to Romero Pools, so you can find some solitude by continuing on beyond Romero Pools.

Just above Romero Pools the canyon bottom is wide and mostly level, and there are a lot of faint trails in addition to the main trail. Just keep heading up canyon and you will eventually be on the right trail again if you get sidetracked. About 6 or 7 minutes above the Romero Pools crossing you will come to another stream crossing in a beautiful rocky area with pools and waterfalls. After another 10 minutes you cross the stream again and the trail starts climbing up the north canyon wall in preparation for getting high enough to get around a narrow and deep gorge which is up ahead.

After about 20 minutes or so of ascending you have climbed a ways up and can see the narrow gorge up ahead down below you to the right. After another 20 minutes of climbing the trail starts to level out and there is a flat grassy spot to the right of the trail with a fire ring. From here the trail levels out and contours along the canyon wall for a little bit before descending down a short distance to the old trail camp, which is a clearing among large pine trees down in the canyon bottom. There are two trails out of the clearing; the one to the left is the real trail; the one to the right just goes to the stream.

Romero Canyon Trail, FS #8
(old trail camp to Romero Pass)

Length: 2.1 milesHiking Time: 1.2 hours
Highest point: 6080 feetLowest point: 4700 feet
Trail goes uphill

This trail segment continues up Romero Canyon, and then turns to the right to climb up to Romero Pass.

The section of the trail is mostly forested, going through large evergreens, including lots of large alligator junipers. There should be water here as late as May in normal years.

The trail stays near the stream for a bit with some stream crossings before climbing up the north side of the canyon again. The trail then drops back down to the stream and crosses it, followed by a half mile stretch that stays near the stream. At a stream crossing about 40 minutes after leaving the old trail camp the trail leaves the stream and climbs south up a wooded side canyon. About 20 minutes after leaving the stream, the trail gets very steep, with lots of short switchbacks, for the last 10 minutes up to Romero Pass.

At the pass, you can see down behind the front range towards Sabino Basin, and there is a trail junction at little beyond the point where you crest the saddle. The trail going downhill and to the right (the West Fork Trail) drops down to the intersection of the West Fork and Cathedral Rock trails. The trail going uphill and to the right (the Mt. Lemmon Trail) heads to Mt. Lemmon.

Take the Mt. Lemmon Trail uphill.

Mt. Lemmon Trail, FS #5
(Romero Pass to Wilderness of Rocks Trail)

View to the north from the flat rock overlook.

View to the southeast from the trail.

One of the easier stretches of trail. Notice how far back the underbrush is cut.

A more typical section of trail...steep and rocky.

Looking to the west or northwest as the trail gets higher.

The view of the Wilderness of Rocks after the trail levels out near the junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail.

Length: 1.9 milesHiking Time: 1.1 hours
Highest point: 7280 feetLowest point: 6080 feet
Trail goes uphill

This remote trail segment connects the higher elevations characterized by ponderosa pines with the lower oak/manzanita/juniper zone.

Right after the trail junction the trail scrambles up along the ridge top, and at times it is a little hard to follow. If you lose the trail, just keep heading up the ridgeline, and you will pick it up again.

The first mile or so of this segment is very rough, but as of May 1997 it had recently been trimmed very thoroughly, so at least you don't have to fight the underbrush. It climbs up toward Mt. Lemmon along the ridge line for about 45 minutes through lots of rock formations until you get to the beginning of a series of steep switchbacks which takes you up the slope below the Wilderness of Rocks. After these switchbacks the trail gets less steep and heads to the north through large pines, contouring along the slope near its top. This part of the trail is a nice contrast to the preceding portions since it is partly shaded, almost level, and passes through large pines, including some ponderosas. After a bit of this you get to a very large low rock formation to the left of the trail where you can sit and look at the great views to the north. Right after this spot the trail curves to the right and you can see Mt. Lemmon directly ahead of you, and the Wilderness of Rocks spread out below you. From there it is a short ways downhill to the signed junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. At this intersection the Wilderness of Rocks Trail is to the right, and the Mt. Lemmon Trail continues to the left.

Go right on the Wilderness of Rocks Trail.

Wilderness of Rocks Trail, FS #44
(Mt. Lemmon Trail to Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail)

Wilderness of Rocks, looking towards Mt. Lemmon

Campsite next to Lemmon Creek

Wilderness of Rocks

Lemmon Creek at junction with trail

More interesting rock formations.

Length: 2.3 milesHiking Time: 1.2 hours
Highest point: 7280 feetLowest point: 6980 feet
Trail goes uphill

This segment connects the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail to the Mt. Lemmon Trail, traveling without much elevation change through the heart of the Wilderness of Rocks. The area is almost all open pine forest (little shade) with large rock formations. Because the Wilderness of Rocks is relatively flat (for the Catalinas) and open, it is easy to wander off the trail and explore.

From the trail junction with the Mt. Lemmon Trail, the trail descends relatively gently into the Wilderness of Rocks, and then winds its way through the rock formations with some incidental elevation gain and loss. The first landmark is where the trail crosses Lemmon Creek in thick pine forest, about 50 minutes in. There are pools downstream from the stream crossing, and a great camping spot about 200 feet upstream. You can find water here even in the driest years, but if it has been too dry the water may be salty.

About 8 minutes after the stream crossing the next landmark is a park with large ponderosa pines. A little bit further there is another park, which is not as nice as the first, and then a short distance beyond that is the signed trail junction with the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail, which comes in from the left. The Wilderness of Rocks Trail continues towards Marshall Gulch straight ahead.

Turn left on the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail

Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail, FS #12
(Wilderness of Rocks to Lemmon Rock Lookout)

Rappel Rock from the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail

The view from Lemmon Rock Lookout

Length: 2.0 milesHiking Time: 1.3 hours
Highest point: 8890 feetLowest point: 7280 feet
Trail goes uphill

This trail leaves the Mt. Lemmon Trail just below the top of Mt. Lemmon, and descends past Lemmon Rock Lookout to the junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail in the Wilderness of Rocks.

After the trail junction the trail begins to climb, still in the rock formations and open pine forest of the Wilderness of Rocks. As you go higher, there are fewer rock formations, the trail gets steeper and starts to use switchbacks, and the forest gets thicker. You can see Rappel Rock up ahead, and you will pass to the right of it.

The trail comes to a point where it is about even with the base of Rappel Rock, and there are great views of it from about a half mile away (see picture). From here the trail climbs steeply using switchbacks. Keep your eye out for Lemmon Rock Lookout, with its little cabin. When you see it you know that you are getting near the end. At the end of the switchbacks the trail comes to a dirt road, about an hour and 10 minutes up from the trail junction. Lemmon Rock Lookout is a short distance to the right, and is worth a visit, but to reach the end of the Lemmon Rock Lookout trail you turn left on the dirt road and head uphill. The real end of the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail is a signed junction where the dirt road you are on hits another dirt road, which is the Mt. Lemmon Trail.

Turning right on the Mt. Lemmon Trail takes you to the top of Mt. Lemmon. To the left goes down to the junction with the Sutherland Trail, and then the end of the Wilderness of Rocks Trail.

Turn right (uphill) on the Mt. Lemmon Trail

Mt. Lemmon Trail, FS #5
(Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail to Mt. Lemmon)

Mt. Lemmon Trail trailhead

Length: 0.4 milesHiking Time: 0.25 hours
Highest point: 9080 feetLowest point: 8890 feet
Trail goes uphill

This short segment goes between the dirt parking lot near the summit of Mt. Lemmon and the junction with the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail.

Head up the dirt road from the junction with the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail until you reach a metal gate across the road near the top. From here follow the dirt road until it hits pavement after about 100 yards, then turn right on the pavement and go a short distance to the parking lot just after a metal gate. The parking lot is unpaved, and is next to a fenced-in electric substation.



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