- 7 days, 6 nights of self-guided hiking
- Please note – this trip includes one unsupported, backpacking overnight.
- This tour is appropriate for high intermediate to advanced hikers with good fitness
- Includes daily gear transport, Ready Camp Kitchen gear and setup, water and firewood
- Trip starts and ends in Tucson, AZ
- Total group size limited to (12) per trip
- Cost: $675 per person
- This trip is available for private/custom groups of (5) or more people upon request. Contact us for details.
TOUR DESCRIPTION (Passage Map)
Crossing the Santa Catalina Mountains is no easy endeavor, and this 7-day itinerary features some incredible high-quality miles as the AZT traverses the entire range from south to north and then into the Black Hills. You’ll climb through dense forests and sculpted granite boulders to the summit of Mt. Lemmon, then down the remote north side of the range toward the vast expanse of central Arizona. Refreshing water sources, abundant wildlife, and the views from within the Pusch Ridge Wilderness are unforgettable. This trek is almost exclusively singletrack, with a short segment of paved road through the community of Summerhaven. Anyone who walks over the Santa Catalina Mountains will never look at this sky island mountain range the same way again. From there you’ll tackle the rolling Black Hills on your way to your final destination of reddish Antelope Peak.
We created this trip for those who don’t want a guide, don’t want to be supported during the week and generally just want their own self-serve adventure with a bit of logistical assistance. Each day we relocate a very deluxe camp setup (provided by Ready Camp) of (2) 10×10 canopies, full kitchen, dry firewood, camp chairs, fresh water, coolers of food and beverages (you purchase prior to trip) and all your personal gear like tents, bags and clothing. You can go as cheap or deluxe as you want on food, beverages and amenities!!
Our meeting point for this trip is Hotel Tucson in Tucson, AZ. The day before the trip starts you can pick up a cooler (if needed) from us to do your shopping for the week.
The adventure begins at 4,845 ft., at the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground, named for the sociologist, educator and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient best known for his resistance to Japanese-American internment camps during WWII. This campground and trailhead was once the site of an internment camp, and cement foundations and stone walls can be seen near the trail. You’ll need to be self-sufficient for the next two days, as there is no vehicle support available until tomorrow night. With backpacks filled with gear, food and water, you’ll begin the gradual descent into Sabino Basin before climbing the West Fork of Sabino Creek (often dry). You’ll walk by Hutch’s Pool, the most famous swimming hole in this mountain range. After filtering some water for the days ahead, ascend the trail toward Romero Pass (6,053 ft.). You’ll enjoy primitive camping near this pass, which was once used by natives to haul pine trees down from Mt. Lemmon to build villages within present-day Catalina State Park in the distant desert valley below. And you thought hiking was tough. Distance for the day is 11 miles.
Sling your pack over your shoulder and walk uphill into the Wilderness of Rock toward the summit of Mt. Lemmon. As you walk through the dense forest of pine, juniper, manzanita and madrone trees you’ll catch glimpses of the granite formations that give this area its name. After three miles you’ll encounter Lemmon Creek, and giant swimming pools can be found a short distance from the trail. The climb continues for another 3.5 miles to Marshall Gulch Trailhead, where a bathroom and parking lot can be found. Walk uphill on the paved road through the town of Summerhaven, and stop for cookies, fudge, honey or pizza at a variety of the shops within this quaint mountain town. Follow Mt. Lemmon Highway out of town, then turn left and head down the “Control Road” toward the town of Oracle. After a short distance you’ll see the Oracle Ridge Trailhead on the left, where vehicle support awaits. Hiking distance is 9.6 miles.
Today’s arduous descent down the north side of the Santa Catalinas will feel much better with a day pack, so enjoy traveling light as you descend this impressive ridge, but be prepared for occasional climbs along the way. Enjoy the sweeping views to the north, east and west, but watch your footing on this steep, loose trail. Black bears are frequently seen here, as well as red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and American kestrels. After 9.5 miles, turn right/east and follow the AZT toward High Jinks Ranch. This historic ranch is open to visitors and was once owned by Buffalo Bill Cody. It features impressive stone work and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Continue down the trail through oak woodlands and granite boulders to American Flag Ranch, the oldest standing territorial post office in Arizona. Camp nearby, and stare back up the intimidating mountain range you traversed over the past three days. Total distance for the day is 13.6 miles.
Enjoy a pleasant day of walking along the AZT through Oracle State Park’s grasslands, oaks and granite boulders. This route features rolling terrain with impressive views in all directions. The segment of the trail beyond Kannally Wash windmill is recently re-built, and instead of following a powerline road is now sweet, sustainable singletrack. The miles will pass quickly under your boots until you enter Cherry Valley Wash. Trudge through the sand for a short distance, cross under Highway 77 through a cement culvert, then follow Old Tiger Road to the Tiger Mine Trailhead. Staring north, you’ll be inspired to explore what might be found out there in the great wide open. Today’s distance is 8.6 miles.
It’s time to explore that great wide open you’ve seen from camp. With Antelope Peak always looming in the distance you’ll start the many ups and downs involved in trekking the Black Hills.Early in your day you’ll notice evidence of previous burns, but the desert has slowly grown back with cholla, mesquite and catclaw. Tonight’s camp is near Mountain View Tank just off trail. Today’s distance is 13 miles.
Your views of the trail ahead open up in grand style as you cross a significant ridge toward Antelope Peak. The burn area is less apparent now and saguaro cactus and older growth cholla begin to re-enter the landscape. As a result watch your footing as “jumping” cholla LOVE to jump onto your shoes and socks at any chance. The trail gives way to a meandering dirt road for a short time before abruptly descending into a wash which houses Beehive Well and its iconic windmill. Today’s distance is 7 miles.
Your final day is one long chase of Antelope Peak. It now dominates the horizon, but doesn’t give way easily. Your final destination is just on the other side of the peak, but the trail does a bit of zig-zagging along the way. That’s OK – the trail is quite beautiful through this section, and incidentally, AZT Expeditions is the Steward for this entire leg of your hike! We know intimately having dug into the earth and clipped back brush many times. The trail finally winds through what we call the “Cholla Forest”, a dense pocket of cholla, and spills you out onto a dirt road for the short hike to the finish at Freeman Rd Trailhead. Today’s distance is 8 miles.
- Shuttle Van and driver
- Luggage, gear and cooler/food relocation
- Ready Camp kitchen and general gear
- Alcoholic Beverages – we can haul and keep them cold though!
- Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner
- Weather Control – Mother Nature has a mind of her own
Tucson International Airport has plenty of flights each day.Phoenix, AZ is also only 90 minutes away