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Romero Canyon Loop, Santa Catalina Mountains

Summary: A long steep and sometimes remote loop hike around the western section of Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Directions: From Phoenix drive south on I-10 to Tucson. Take the exit for Ina Rd. Drive east until you reach North Oracle Rd (U.S. 89). Turn north (left) on North Oracle and drive approximately 6 miles to the Catalina State Park entrance on your right. There is a $5/carload charge to enter the park. Follow the Park road to the trailhead parking lot at the end.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - paved all the way
Navigation: Difficult - about 5 miles of faint path
Length: 22 miles, 5800' elevation gain
Date Hiked: February, 2000
Weather Conditions: Daytime highs in the upper 70's made it warm in the sun and nice in the shade
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking lot walk east across the road to the trailhead (0 miles, 2720 ft) and begin walking on this wide sandy track towards Romero Canyon (signs point the way). This first part of the hike lies within Catalina State Park, the Park allows dogs on it's trails as evidenced by the poop you will be dodging. After 0.6 miles you will reach a signed junction with the Canyon Loop, continue east on the Romero Canyon Trail. You then begin climbing moderately through an area covered with saguaro, paloverde, fish hook barrel cactus, staghorn cholla and ocotillo. The trail climbs through a rocky, pretty area to a ridge, then drops a short distance to Romero Creek (2.8 miles, 3600 ft) which had a small amount of not too clean looking water when the author performed this hike. The trail crosses the stream (look for cairns) and begins ascending once more. There are a couple stream crossings that are a little confusing in this area, keep your eyes peeled for cairns. As you continue to ascend the sunny slope sotol, manzanita, hopbush and silver leaf oak become more prevalent. Eventually the canyon becomes mostly forested with pinyon pine and alligator juniper entering the mix and the trail begins a steep climb up to Romero Pass (7.2 miles, 5320 ft) with views back down canyon and south up at the Cathedral Rocks. Walking to the left a short distance brings you to a signed junction with the West Fork of Sabino Canyon Trail which continues east, and the Mt Lemmon Trail which heads to the northeast (left). Continue the relentless ascent on the Mt Lemmon Trail. When you finally reach the top of this climb there will be a large rock outcrop just off the trail to the left which provides excellent views down into the canyon from which you have come and makes a nice lunch spot. The trail then drops a short distance to a signed junction with the right branching Wilderness of Rocks Trail (9.1 miles, 7260 ft). Stay to the left and continue on the Mt Lemmon Trail. From this point you begin a moderate ascent, winding through some nice rock formations, then climbing more steeply entering a burned area and finally to a signed junction (11.5 miles, 8560 ft) at the highest point in this hike. Turn left onto the Samaniego/Sutherland trail and follow this rocky path down through more burned area.  After 0.8 miles (12.3 miles, 8000 ft) the Sutherland Trail branches off to the left. Turn left onto this faint path. The next 4.3 miles follow a rather faint trail which is quite overgrown in places. Make sure you have enough daylight to make it through this section, since the path will be hard enough to follow in full day light let alone after dark. For the first part of the trail you can follow the brown signs with red labels indicating underground power lines. Where the lines come above ground follow the wires to the last pole on the ridge before the lines drop off the ridge to the right. Look for cairns on the left hand side at this point and continue on the faint trail that roughly follows the line of the ridge. There are clues along the way which tell you that you are on the right track. At some points there is a faint to good trail, at others there may be cairns or a few pieces of flagging tape tied to tree branches.  After a long steep decent in which the trail gradually becomes more distinct, the trail crosses a grassy dry stream bed before meeting up with a rocky jeep road (17.1 miles, 4640 ft). Follow the rocky road as it parallels some power lines (actually the same ones you followed earlier at the top of the ridge) for 2.3 miles to a tall pole on the left hand side with arrows pointing the way back to the park entrance (19.4 miles, 3440 ft). The trail becomes flat and smooth at this point (a welcome relief for your tired feet and legs) and winds through the brush as it parallels the Pusch front range which you can see off to the left. After 1.8 miles (21.2 miles, 2800 ft) you will reach a signed junction. Stay right following the arrow pointing to the trailhead and the completion of your journey which you will reach after 0.8 miles (22 miles, 2720 ft).
Rating (1-5 stars):
This hike is for the strong, fast, experienced and psychotic. Good trail following skills are required and an early start. The reward is that you are unlikely to see any other humans for the majority of the trek. The author and his wife completed this hike in just under 12 hours, spending the last hour hiking by headlamp.
Maps: Santa Catalina Mountains - Rainbow Expeditions Inc.
Books: Portions of this hike are covered in: 'Arizona Trails - 100 Hikes in Canyon and Sierra' by David Mazel
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Romero Pass Sunset with 4 miles left to go.