Sutherland Wash flows intermittently along the Canyon Loop Trail near Tucson.
© Kerrick James
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Canyon Loop TrailThere are plenty of reasons to visit Catalina State Park near Tucson. One of the best is this scenic loop, which offers a healthy dose of Mother Nature.
By Lauren Proper
nature lovers, take note: Whether you're into bird-watching, horseback riding or just checking out the scenery, the Canyon Loop Trail is right up your alley. Like so many trails in the Santa Catalina Mountains, this one highlights the varying habitats and vegetation of the region. Unlike so many of the others, the Canyon Loop is an option for just about anyone — it's rated "easy," and it lives up to its billing. It's an ideal desert hike, especially if you can work in either a sunrise or sunset.
The trail is located in Catalina State Park, which is on the outskirts of Tucson, just off of Oracle Road (State Route 77). There are eight other trails in the area, so pay attention to the marked posts.
Hiking counterclockwise on the Canyon Loop, begin on the Romero Canyon Trail. After crossing a dry creek, the trail forces you up a short but steep incline. Don't get discouraged, though. Everything beyond this point is easy. If you're feeling a little winded, there's a bench at the top where you can rest your lungs and take in the spectacular views, which include some of the more than 5,000 saguaros in the state park.
From the bench, the trail turns flat and continues straight for about a half-mile. At first, there's not much to look at. Then you see the intermingling of species — barrel cactuses seeking shelter under paloverdes, and ocotillos sprouting up among the shrubs — before reaching the next post. This is where the path bears left to make the loop, and passes the Sutherland Trail.
Moving on, you'll pass another bench before coming to steps lined on both sides by desert spoons, which look more like century plants than utensils. The trail descends to where a cool breeze will welcome you to another dry creek bed. Although water is rarely visible, you'll feel as though it's running right in front of you. And shortly thereafter, it is.
First, a shallow stream trickles slowly by, and then gradually turns into a more legitimate body of water, although it still looks more like Mother Nature accidentally left the faucet on. Keep in mind, these creeks are very different during monsoon season, and there's a good chance you'll get your feet wet.
Everything changes as soon as the moisture recedes. Morning glory vines wrap their benign-looking tentacles around anything they can find, literally strangling the life out of trees and creating canopy-like coverings over their bare brown branches. It looks like Arizona's version of Sleepy Hollow, and you'll forget that the hike started in the desert.
Enjoy it while you can. The air heats up as you cross the last empty creek bed, and the parking lot snaps you back into reality as the trail abruptly comes to an end. This is where the sunset comes in. If you time it just right, you'll catch the sun casting shades of blue and orange and yellow behind the saguaro-covered mountains ahead. It's the perfect ending.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 2.3 miles round-trip
Elevation: 2,650 to 2,700 feet
Directions: In Tucson, drive north on Oracle Road (State Route 77) to the entrance of Catalina State Park. Turn right and continue to the ranger station, where you'll need to pay the day-use fee. The trailhead parking lot is .25 miles ahead.
Special Consideration: A $5 day pass is required.
USGS Map: Mount Bigelow
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