At the base of the splendid Santa Catalina Mountains rests the Catalina State Park. The park is an oasis for Arizona wildlife and desert plants. With over 5,000 acres of land and streams, this is an incredible place for horseback riding, camping, hiking, and bird watching.
This magical park is located just minutes outside of Tucson and offers a variety of amenities, including campgrounds, picnic tables, grills, and an equestrian center for Southern Arizona horse enthusiasts.
Nature Found in Catalina State Park
A large variety of desert wildlife and plants inhabit Catalina State Park. Cottontail and Jackrabbits, ground squirrels, Javelina, Coyotes, Mule Deer, and countless snakes and lizards make the park home. On rare occasions, visitors may catch a glimpse of a Mountain Lion, Black Bear, or a Bighorn Sheep. The majority of desert animals are nocturnal, making early morning or late evening the greatest opportunity to catch the animals in their natural habitat.
In addition to the close to 5,000 Saguaros standing tall at Catalina State Park, guests will come across a diverse group of plants. Visitors will stumble upon Mesquite, Palo Verde, and Acacia trees along with crucifixion thorns, and Ocotillo, Cholla, and Prickly Pear cacti. Near the washes of Catalina State Park grow Desert Willow, Arizona Ash, Arizona Sycamore, and native walnut trees.
If you love studying or taking photos of desert fauna, this park has plenty to offer!
Camping in Catalina State Park
Each of the 120 camping sites found at the park comes with a picnic table and barbeque grill. Only 95 of the sites offer electric and water hookups necessary for RVs, but all camping areas have flush toilets and hot showers. The roads and parking are paved and there is no limit on RV lengths. Unlike many overnight camping spots similar to Catalina State Park, guests are allowed to stay up to 14 nights while they enjoy the park.
The Catalina State Park Equestrian Center is a popular place for hiking, biking, bird watching, and horseback riding. The center consists of 17 large pipe horse corrals. There is a large barn that partially covers 4 of the corrals. There is water available as well as a hose that is long enough to reach all 17 corrals. During the week, visitors have the best chance of claiming a prime horse corral.
During the weekends, the corrals fill up quickly, and there are no reservations available; it is strictly a first-come first-served policy. There are miles of horse trails available to guests and most of them are loops. The washes throughout the park can also be used for horseback riding.
Catalina State Park Trails
Surrounded by the massive Santa Catalina Mountains, visitors can hike, bike, or ride horses through the park. There are eight trails in all, with varying degrees of difficulty and length. However, be aware that certain trails do not allow horseback riding or biking.
Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail
This simple loop trail starts south of the park’s main road from the second pull-out. Because the trail crosses a wash that can fill up with water during Arizona’s rainy season, feet may get wet. After crossing the wash, visitors will climb to a small hilltop.
The ruins include remains of a Hohokam village dating back to around 500 A.D. This trail is .75 miles and takes approximately 30 minutes to walk. Bikes and horses are prohibited on the Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail.
This 1-mile trail is one of the easier loop trails at the park. The Nature Trail starts at the trailhead parking lot, takes the visitor up a hill, and descends into the low foothills offering local plants and animals. Information concerning the climate and geology of the park is posted throughout the hike. This trail takes about 45 minutes to walk.
The 1-mile Birding Trail does not allow horses. This simple loop trail begins at the trailhead parking lot and crosses a wash that has a seasonal flow of water and then takes hikers and bicyclists looping up and down the foothills. Desert vegetation and mesquite bosque stand next to trail signs that highlight relationships between bird species and their habitats. With the name alone it’s easy to figure out this is a great trail for bird watchers. This trail takes about 45 minutes to walk.
The 1.4-mile Bridle Trail is a one-way trail that is a simple trail connecting the trailhead parking with the equestrian center. This trail is a popular place for horseback riding as it leads directly to the corrals. This trail takes about 45 minutes to walk.
Canyon Loop Trail
This 2.3-mile easy hike takes park visitors through the foothills, beginning and ending at the trailhead parking lot. The trail is fairly flat, but in the middle of the trail there is an incline with about 90 stairs. There is a bypass for visitors riding horses. The Canyon Loop Trail is a loop that is created by connecting the Romero Canyon and Sutherland trails. This trail takes about 90 minutes to walk.
No dogs are allowed in the Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Area, and no bikes are allowed in the Wilderness Area located along the Sutherland Trail. The first couple of miles on this 9.1-mile one-way trek are a breeze. This trail begins at the trailhead parking lot and slowly climbs 700 feet.
After the first mile, the trail takes visitors in and out of the Coronado National Forest which is where the Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Area and the Wilderness Area are located. As the trail continues it becomes more difficult as hikers climb through Cargodera Canyon which includes a steep ascent to Mount Lemmon. This trail is not for beginning hikers; plan on this hike being an all-day event.
The 50-Year Trail is popular with mountain bikers and horseback riders. The 8.6-mile trail begins at the equestrian center and follows the ridgetop for about two-and-a-half miles.
There is a 2.2-mile link that connects Sutherland Trail with the 50-Year Trail. The terrain of the 50-Year Trail winds up and down throughout the foothills. This trail takes about 4 hours each way, plan on being on the trail all day.
Romero Canyon Trail
The Romero Canyon Trail is a 7.2 one-way trail. This trail winds through Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Area where no dogs are allowed and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness where no bikes are allowed and is not recommended for horses past Montrose Pools.
This trail becomes progressively more challenging as the trail continues. Both Montrose and Romero Pools are shallow catchment areas that have a seasonal flow of water.
The Romero Canyon Trail begins at the trailhead parking lot and crosses the Sutherland Wash which also has a seasonal flow. The first mile of this trail is flat and is a simple walk to Montrose Pools. However, the following 2-miles are a steep and rocky ascend to Romero Pools.
The terrain is very rocky and not maintained creating poor wilderness trail conditions. Plan on two hours from the trailhead parking lot to the pools.
Events in Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park offers a variety of events for outdoorsmen including bird walks, family campouts, and stargazing parties.
Guided Bird Walks
Birders love Catalina State Park’s large list of migratory and resident birds. Each Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 8 a.m. the park offers guided bird walks through the park. Participants meet at the last parking lot by the main trailhead. Experienced bird guides help visitors spot and identify the 188 reported species such as the Rufous-winged Sparrows, Rufous-backed Robin, and Crissal Thrashers year-round. Birders will want to remember to bring binoculars. The walk typically ends early afternoon.
Star Party at Catalina State Park
From late April to early October, Catalina State Park hosts star parties that allow guests to look into the night sky using 10 large telescopes provided by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association. Expect to witness planets, star systems, other galaxies, and gas clouds like Orion’s Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy which is 2.5 million light-years away, our moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and many other elements found in our mysterious solar system.
Catalina State Park Family Campout weekends are tailored for inexperienced camping families. Campers are introduced to many awesome experiences that can be shared as a family like setting up tents, cooking outdoors, building a campfire and engaging in fun activities like fishing and archery.
The cost is $90 for a family of four plus $5 for each additional family member. Sleeping mats, flashlights, chairs, tents, and all activity equipment is provided. Families are required to bring enough food for two breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, sleeping bags, hiking boots, towels, soap and any necessary toiletries. Children must be at least 6 years old and no pets are allowed.
Share With Us
Catalina State Park holds an adventure for all outdoorsmen. It’s a fantastic place to have quiet time for yourself, bond with a friend, and create family memories.
What have your experiences been when visiting Catalina State Park? When you visit again, what do you plan on doing next? Connect with us on social media or let us know in the comments below!
Did you know that Catalina State Park is near Oro Valley and Casas Adobes? These are two popular residential communities, and if you have any questions about buying real estate in these areas, we would love to answer them!