III: Catalina State Park, Romero Pools


Shortly after arriving back in Arizona from Hawaii, Patrick and I hiked to Romero Pools in Catalina State Park. The park is located just north of Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains, and serious backpackers have the option to continue from Romero Pools all the way into Sabino Canyon in Coronado National Forest.

The hike to Romero Pools is 5.6 miles roundtrip and offers beautiful views of Tucson and the surrounding land. It also leads to running water, which is a rare treat in southern Arizona. The elevation gain is 1000 feet, but it occurs within a short portion of the hike before descending into the canyon.

If hiking isn’t your thing, there are short walks throughout the park that give a nice look into the geology, cultural history and plant life of the area. It seems to have been inhabited as early as 1000 B.C., and ruins show that it later served as a home to the Hohokam.

(See map of the hike.) The hike begins by crossing Sutherland Wash, which will occasionally have running water. (It was completely dry when we crossed in January.) After a short but steep climb, the first mile of the hike is relatively flat and takes you to Montrose Pools. Beyond Montrose Pools, the real climbing begins.

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Looking back on Tucson as the trail continues through Montrose Canyon.

During the main climb, we had plenty of grand vistas to distract ourselves with. We picked a perfect day in January to do this hike and weren’t in any particular rush. Even in the middle of the day, the temperature only peaked at 75 degrees. However, for nice photo-ops, it would be good to start earlier in the morning; Montrose Canyon runs East/West, and pictures of the city would look nicer if the Sun had been further East.

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Most of the elevation gain occurs during this mile of the hike.

Although the desert scenery can get monotonous after awhile, keep your eyes peeled for interesting wildlife and nature. Saguaro cactus are native to the Sonoran Desert, and are commonly used as symbols of the Southwest. Even in a field of thousands, no two will look alike!

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A fallen cactus perseveres and continues growing.

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Although the climb can feel strenuous at points, the elevation gain isn’t drastic enough to change the desert scenery.

After about a mile (my estimate) of climbing, we reached the ridge that adjoins Romero Canyon and Montrose Canyon. The hike evened out for a bit and we were treated to some shade before descending into Romero Canyon.

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Looking out of Romero Canyon before descending to the pools.

After crossing the ridge between the two canyons, the hike into Romero Canyon was pretty easy. The pools were a welcome sight after the 2.8 mile hike in, but a bit anti-climactic compared to Seven Falls in Bear Canyon. On the plus side, they were large enough that visitors could spread out, and ice cold if you were up for a refreshing splash. Since it wasn’t that hot out, we cooled off just by sitting down in the shade. Unfortunately I had some awful blisters by this point (new hiking boots) and wasn’t up to exploring. However it seems that you can climb along the canyon to find other, more secluded pools. The trail also continues across the stream for another 4.4 miles until it reaches Romero Pass, where it connects with the Mt. Lemmon Trail and West Fork Sabino Trail.

My pictures weren't that nice, but here's a glimpse of some of the pools. Credit - http://arizona.sierraclub.org/trail_guide/Hike23.htm

My pictures weren’t that nice, but here’s a glimpse of some of the pools. Credit – http://arizona.sierraclub.org/trail_guide/Hike23.htm

The hike out was slow-going with my unbroken boots, but that just allowed us to notice some more details along the trail.

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Ample quartz seen throughout the hike.

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Back in Montrose Canyon and headed back toward the trailhead.

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First sign of wildlife throughout the whole hike, a roadrunner!

Getting back to the car felt great, and so did the huge dinner we ate later that night. The hike to Romero Pools seems to be one of the favorite hikes in the Tucson area, and I can see why. Like most hiking in Tucson, this trail would be best done during a warm winter day, spring or late fall. We’ll have to find somewhere else to hike when summer arrives!

3 thoughts on “III: Catalina State Park, Romero Pools

  1. The fowl in the last picture is a Gambel’s Quail. I don’t think you can hunt them, they were federally protected last I recall reading, but that’s been a few years now.

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