Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike.

One of southern Arizona’s numerous Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These Sky Islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat.

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great campinghiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and ample trailer parking is also available.

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village.

Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillocholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

One of the special features at Catalina State Park is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Hiking the high country at Catalina State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking the high country at Catalina State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

Catalina State Park provides 120 campsites, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park provides 120 campsites, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…
The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains
sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

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