Santa Catalina Mountains, Coronado National Forest
By Robert Stieve
Vermont has the Green Mountains. It's a beautiful range that includes a premier ski resort and a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail. In New England, green is everywhere. In Arizona, despite the stereotype, there's plenty of green, and there's even a Green Mountain. It's not as well-known as the one in Vermont, but it's scenic, and you won't need snowshoes to hike it in the spring.
The Green Mountain Trail is one of many great options in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Like other nearby trails, this one can be done as a one-way hike using a car-shuttle system, or as a round-tripper. The upper trailhead is located at the San Pedro Vista and the lower trailhead is at the General Hitchcock Campground. For this listing, the route begins up top at San Pedro, where there's a good-sized parking lot.
The trail kicks off on the east side of the lot, and within a few minutes, it intersects a side trail that leads to the top of Green Mountain. Stay left and gear up for a series of steep switchbacks that pass by another side trail (Brush Corral) and wind around the mountain for which the trail is named. Up to this point, the surrounding forest is primarily ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. It's lush and green. Moving on, the evergreens are replaced by oaks, manzanitas, yuccas and beargrass. The change is noticeable, and so are the spectacular views to the northeast. This is a good place to use the "panoramic" setting on your camera.
After about 30 minutes, you'll come to another spur of the Brush Corral Trail. Stay right and keep your ears tuned for the sounds of mountain-bikers. Although Bob Marley used to sing, "my feet is my only carriage," not everyone travels that way, mon. Hard-core bikers love the downhill run of the Green Mountain Trail, and it's a good idea to step aside when you hear them coming.
From that intersection, the trail switchbacks uphill over some rocks and boulders, including two massive cornerstones that serve as trail sentries. Just beyond them is yet another trail intersection (Maverick Springs) and a formation known as Bear Saddle, which sits at an elevation of 6,950 feet and serves as the head of Bear Canyon. At the saddle, the route can be a little confusing. Your instincts will tell you to veer slightly left; however, that's the wrong way — that route is a secondary trail that leads to Guthrie Mountain. Instead, you'll want to make an almost 90-degree turn to the right. This is the continuation of the Green Mountain Trail, which follows Bear Canyon for just under 2 miles to the General Hitchcock Campground. This homestretch is probably the most beautiful part of the trail. The scenic vistas will have disappeared, but you'll be surrounded, once again, by ponderosas and Douglas firs, as well as Arizona cypress. You'll also cross over a series of large flat rocks reminiscent of something you might see on the Paria Plateau in Northern Arizona.
Eventually, after several crossings of Bear Creek and passing some mammoth ponderosas, the trail bottoms out and parallels the wash to the campground. As you approach on the pine-needle-cushioned footpath, veer toward the 20-foot-tall concrete water tank and look for the notches on the trees and the nearby trailhead sign. The campground will be obvious, but you'll need this bearing for the return trip. Before you take off, park yourself at one of the picnic tables, refuel, and enjoy the lush green forest around you. It's not Vermont, but it sure could be.
PHOTO: Yellow columbines in bloom amid ferns and Douglas firs. | Jack Dykinga
Length: 7.8 miles round-trip
Elevation: 6,000 to 7,300 feet
Directions: From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson, drive 4.2 miles on Catalina Highway to the Forest Service boundary and continue 17.5 miles to the San Pedro Vista.
Special Consideration: A $5 day pass (per vehicle) is required.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)
USGS Map: Mount Bigelow
Information: Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado