My visit: April 1-14, 2017 – When I started telling RVing friends about visiting Tucson, so many said the best place to camp was Catalina State Park. I heard great things about the campground and the hiking trails, as well as nearby attractions to explore, including Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon, and Mount Lemmon, to name only a few.
From the minute I got on the road leading into the park, I was entranced by the scenery. Since mountains are some of my favorite beings, I was in heaven at the thought of living among them for a couple of weeks.
A great way to get to the basics about the park is to walk the Nature Trail, an easy 1 mile loop. There is a large parking area for the trailheads, with vault toilets and a trail shop with maps, snacks, drinks, gifts, walking sticks, hats and sunscreen if you forgot your own. There is also a shaded picnic area with tables.
There was some incline involved, but nothing too daunting. I always recommend taking a walking stick, though. I’m never sorry when I do, no matter how easy or level the trail looks at the beginning. And of course, always carry a good amount of water in the desert!
The Santa Catalina Mountains are incredibly beautiful and the sign tells how millions of years ago they were formed by molten magma squeezing up to the surface and formed the granite mass that forms the mountains’ foundation. The primary minerals found here are quartz, feldspar, mica and hornblende. None of these facts properly convey the sheer majesty of them when you stand and gaze at them.
I’ve always been fascinated by rocks and the ones here are wonderful. These must have a lot of quartz in them since they shimmered gloriously in the sun. Little flecks shine all along path, making me feel like I was walking on stardust. Unfortunately, stardust doesn’t show up in the pictures. But you can kinda see them here in the little white specks toward the top, even though you miss the magic shine, so use your imagination. 😉
There are benches to sit and contemplate the riparian areas that make up this desert oasis and where Native Americans typically built their villages along these stream beds. Signs tell you about the plant and animal species who live in these areas, including little exhibits showing what the tracks look like left by these inhabitants.
You can also learn about the saguaro which serves as home for many animals, so be on the lookout for Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers who excavate holes for their homes. This park is very popular with birding enthusiasts and there are also guided birding walks (see Events for more info). The saguaro were useful for early human inhabitants, also, as the early Native Americans revered them and were used for ceremony, food and building material. I’ve heard different theories on how long it takes for saguaro to start putting out arms like these – anywhere from 50-75 years, but in any case, this guy is an elder beauty!
I was really happy to be accompanied by the happy yellow blooms of the brittlebush alongside the trail. This trail is a lovely way to get to know this beautiful state park, so don’t miss it.
When I met Steve Haas, the Park Manager, he told me what he most loves about the park is it being adjacent to such a large designated wilderness area within the Coronado National Forest at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Steve’s been manager here for 7 years and his love of the wilderness easily found here despite its proximity to the city of Tucson is what gives him the most pleasure, not only for himself but for visitors. He told me how happy it makes him when they say how much they appreciate the opportunity to get off work and drive a short distance for a little solitude and quiet place for spiritual reflection. They may be surrounded by a half million people in their work and home life in busy Tucson, but here surrounded by Sky Island, they can leave that behind and commune with the Sonoran Desert.
What he is most proud of are the environmental education opportunities they provide and how the majority of these programs are run by volunteers who love and appreciate this park as much as he does. So much of the geology, birding, guided hikes, nature programs and Park Events would not be possible without the 135 volunteers who share their time and energy, along with the relatively new Friends of Catalina State Park. Some of those folks made this 3D topographical map possible which makes it easier for visitors to get an overview of this massive 5,500 acre park and provides visual clues about how far or difficult a hike or scenic drive is and how long it takes.
Like I said in the Campgrounds Overview, when I told him the most frequent compliment I heard from every single camper I talked to here is how clean and well maintained the park is, he said that’s the most frequent compliment he hears also. But the natural beauty and chances to experience nature at its finest is the biggest attraction, and when you combine that with still being close to all the conveniences of the city, it’s a combination that can’t be beat.
Location/Contact: 11570 N. Oracle Rd. – Tucson, AZ 85737
520-628-5798 (Park Office)
All Malia’s Miles Catalina State Park Pages:
Nearby Attractions I Explored:
Transparency/Disclaimer: I do barter whenever possible for review space on my website. It’s one of the ways that help support my travel habit and keeps this site free to readers. But I always make it clear that my reviews are my honest opinion, can never be bought at any price and if I wasn’t satisfied, I would also state that (just like I do Pros and Cons on every campground I review, whether it’s bartered or not).