Agua Caliente and Milagrosa canyons are beautiful destinations at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains on the east side of Tucson. Interesting sections of both canyons can be enjoyed as loop hikes starting from the end of Suzenu Road – this weekend we decided to visit Agua Caliente Canyon. Map.
To get to the trail follow Snyder east – after Synder divides look for a left turn onto Suzenu Road. Park on the right side of the road before the T intersection. Start the hike by taking a right – thru the gate – and to the end of the road. At the end of the road continue past a gate (several ‘No Parking’ signs) and across a wash via an old road – after a few minutes (and heading downhill) look for the trail on your left (if you start to cross the wash you have gone too far).
The trail has great views of the Santa Catalinas and the Agua Caliente Hill area – the trail also has very little shade and can be quite hot (be prepared!). It is fairly easy to follow the trail into the bottom of Agua Caliente canyon. The canyon bottom is unremarkable for the first minutes, but keep hiking and you will arrive at a rocky section with falls/drops/pools. There are several obstacles to bypass down canyon – these will likely require bushwhacking, scrambling and/or following faint trails on the loose/sandy/exposed/bushy side of the canyon (be very careful!). The canyon gradually mellows as you head towards the junction with Milagrosa canyon – we spotted an impressive beehive high on the cliffs during our hike. When you reach the junction work your way back up onto the trail and head back to the parking area.
Update! 2007-10-28 – For another description of Agua Caliente Canyon (and Milagrosa) see Arizona Technical Canyoneering.
The Romero Canyon Trail in Santa Catalina State park can be a busy location – on a hot day you will undoubtedly pass groups of hikers focused on getting to the Romero Pools and enjoying the cool water. For much of the hike to the Romero Pools you can look down into Montrose Canyon. On Sunday we hiked up the Romero Canyon Trail until the last prominent saddle before the pools and bushwhacked/boulder hopped down the steep hillside into Montrose Canyon. Getting off the trail quickly separated us from the crowds and we took advantage of the quiet to have a nice nap in the shade beside the water. From where we entered the canyon traveling down is mostly easy hiking and scrambling – but we did come to several places where we had to exit the canyon to bypass obstacles. Eventually we ended up back at the Overlook to the Montrose Pools and returned to the car via the Romero Canyon Trail.
Adam and Amy joined us for one last adventure before heading to Zion – down Palisade Canyon to the intersection with Spencer Canyon and back up to the Spencer Campground. I did this hike (in the other direction) in August of 2004 (pictures here), both canyons are drier than they were then (summer rains?).
The start and end of this hike are far enough apart that a shuttle between the two trailheads is prudent – a car shuttle would work, but for this adventure we left a bike at the Spencer campground and the car at the Palisade trailhead.
We started on the Palisade Trail and took it to an obvious side trail on the right that leads into the bottom of the canyon. The canyon is beautiful and fairly mellow for a few miles – there is water in the canyon and plenty of wildlife (my favorites were the Painted Redstart and Caddisfly Larvae). Palisade Canyon has only one serious obstacle – just before the junction with Spencer Canyon there is a set of falls. The first falls present the biggest obstacle – with very careful scrambling you can work around the exposed left side (this scramble recieves very little traffic so there is plenty of loose mossy rock and unstable dirt – be careful!). The first falls could be rappelled easily with natural anchors. After the first falls the remaining obstacles can be bypassed by looking for solutions in and around bottom of the canyon.
The junction with the rockier and narrower Spencer Canyon would be hard to miss. Not too far up canyon from the junction there is a beautiful spillover with a pool above – the water is cool and this is a great spot to stop and relax. Above the pools the scrambling continues – most obstacles can be bypassed on the sides of the canyon if needed. After bypassing a section of canyon on the right we decided to exit the canyon and head up a steep ridge to the Spencer Campground to end our adventure. Map.
Update! 2007-10-28 – This hike explores the upper section of Palisades Canyon – for good information and great pictures of the lower section of Palisades canyon take a look in Arizona Technical Canyoneering.