Trailheadin’: Catalina State Park Canyon Loop

When most people think of hiking, they imagine something resembling the mountain ridges of the Pacific Northwest, or Canada’s looming forests riddled with emerald ferns and meandering trails. It’s very rare for someone to immediately picture anything near the Southwest region of the United States. However, many don’t realize just how many amazing hiking opportunities there are in that part of the country. One such Trailhead lies just 25 miles north of Tucson, Arizona: the Canyon Loop of Catalina State Park.

The Canyon Loop in Catalina State Park loops around 2 ½ miles (around 1 ½ hours) of desert landscape, where hikers are blessed with views of mountains and open fields of desert life. Some may read “2 ½ miles” and scoff, but with 200 feet of total elevation gain, plus the rugged terrain that the American Southwest is known for, this trail will challenge you.

The Canyon Loop’s trailhead is found at the main parking lot, which is about a mile and half into the park once you get through the entrance ($6 daily fee). The well-maintained trail runs alongside the Sutherland Wash, flowing water source that attracts an abundance of bird species that draws many bird watchers to the park. For the first mile, the trail actually crosses the Wash twice, and then crosses a smaller stream right before it turns into the Sutherland Trail. From here, the trail climbs a significant height by way of a staircase built from old railroad parts. After the staircase, you’ll find benches where you can rest for a moment after the climb. Here, you can also take amazing pictures of the scenic landscape. From the top of the stairs, the trail remains relatively level until it connects with the Romero Canyon trail. From here, it descends until it crosses the wash and returns to the parking lot.

Fans of wildlife or photographers will love the trail for its many bird watching opportunities and views of the rugged Southwestern landscape. Runners and hikers will enjoy the brisk, but challenging terrain. It’s important, though, whether you’re just out for a morning walk or running the trail, to remember to carry enough water to counter the sometimes excruciating Arizona heat. Also, the Southwest is also home to potentially harmful creatures, such as rattlesnakes and scorpions, so be mindful of where you place your feet.

Catalina State Park is home to around eight quality trails, and the Canyon Loop is a good one to start with when visiting the park. Perfect for quick day hikes to get out of the house and grab some fresh air and exercise, this 2 ½-mile loop is great challenge and a good way to get your blood pumping. Though some may consider it a short trail, it offers great views of the landscape and a challenge for all levels of experience—the two main ingredients of a great trail.