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Butterfly Trail #16, Santa Catalina Mountains

Summary: An out and back hike in the Santa Catalina Mountains through an area heavily damaged by forest fire. Along the way you'll pass several springs and a nice waterfall.
Directions: From Phoenix drive south on I-10 to Tucson.  Take the Grant Rd exit and drive east (left) on Grant for 8.7 miles. Turn left onto Tanque Verde and drive 3.4 miles to the Catalina Highway. Turn left onto the Catalina Highway. Follow the highway 4.2 miles to the forest boundary, then another 19 miles to the Bigelow Trailhead on the right (note: based on a law suit filed against the Forest Service, fees are no longer required at some trailheads, check the Coronado Forest web page for current info). The Palisade Ranger Station is 0.1 miles past the trailhead and makes for a good turn around point in case you drive by it.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Moderate
Length: 5.7 miles if you spot a car at the end, otherwise 11.4 miles for an out and back hike
Date Hiked: April 2007
Weather Conditions: Sunny & warm
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From Bigelow Trailhead follow the path 0.5 miles up to a saddle and signed junction with the Butterfly Trail #16. Stay straight at the junction heading towards the Davis Spring Trail #31. The path descends steeply on broad switchbacks, then more gently as it contours along the side of the steep hill in a northerly direction through an area heavily damaged by fires that swept through the forest in 2003. Soon it drops down to a prominent arm which protrudes from the mountain. The trail follows the arm out to the end, then continues descending and contouring. Two miles of hiking along the Butterfly Trail will bring you to a signed junction with the right branching Davis Spring Trail #31 (2.5 miles). Note: The Davis Spring Trail is in poor condition and consists of little more than a few cairns and pieces of flagging tape. Continue straight, along the Butterfly Trail as it drops down a few switchbacks to reach a creek which is fed by Novio Spring. The path makes a sharp right hand turn just prior to reaching the stream (looking for flagging tape), but those wishing to visit the wreckage of an old airplane can leave the trail at this point and follow the stream up canyon a short distance. The crash site has the remains of an F-86 which fell from the sky after a mid-air collision with another F-86 on July 8, 1957 as the planes were flying back to Davis Monthan Air Force Base from New Mexico. Both pilots safely ejected and were rescued the next day. The other F-86 involved in the crash actually stabilized after the pilot bailed out and flew unmanned all the way to New Mexico. After checking out the wreckage, return to the trail and follow it as it heads down stream next to the creek. Soon you'll see Novio Falls below the trail to the right. You can get to the base of the falls by following a minor drainage down from the trail. After passing the falls, the trail continues traveling to the north, and soon begins climbing steeply to eventually level out as it contours in and out of a large drainage below Butterfly Peak. After a bit of hiking, you'll reach the signed junction with the right branching Crystal Spring Trail #17 (4.3 miles). Continue straight on the Butterfly Trail as it climbs steadily for the next 1.4 miles (the evidence of fire damage decreases as you ascend) to eventually top out at a wide path, which leads a short distance to the Butterfly Trailhead (5.7 miles). This is the turnaround point. Follow the trail back the way you came (11.4 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed this hike in 6 hours.
Maps: None
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Typical view along the trail. F-86 wreckage.
Heavily burned area. Novio Falls.