Catalina State Park

11570 N. Oracle Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85737
520-628-5798 (Park Office)

State Park Website

Park Overview & Trail Map

 (Click pics for full-sized)

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. Besides complete coverage of the campgrounds, I’ll be including several pages on these places soon, with more links provided here.

Catalina entry road

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.

Catalina - trail signs

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.

Catalina Nature Trail view

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!

Catalina Mountains

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.

Catalina quartz rocks

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. 😉

Catalina bench on trail

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.

Catalina mt looks like waterfall

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!

Catalina flowers along Nature Trail

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.

Catalina - Steve Haas

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.

Catalina - Steve 3D Map

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.

Transparency/Disclaimer: As stated openly on my Home page, 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).

All Malia’s Miles Catalina State Park Pages:

Park Overview  (including Nature Trail) ♦  Romero Ruin Trail
Campgrounds OverviewLoop ALoop B

Nearby Attractions I Explored:

(more coming soon)

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum ♦ Saguaro National Park
Sabino Canyon
♦ Mount Lemmon

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  • Lesleyanne Weiss

    I’ve been waiting anxiously for your review of this State park! Your unique point of view and beautiful wording draws me in and engages my mind. This is one of my favorite parks and i can already see that, through your eyes, I’ll be loving it all over again. Keep traveling my friend and I can’t wait for your upcoming additions to this review.

    • What an awesome comment – I really, really appreciate it! I tend to “wax poetic” about parks and attractions I really like and as you can tell, this is definitely one of them! 🙂 I’m working on campgrounds info now.

      • Lesleyanne Weiss

        Commercial RV parks are always nice and i appreciate having sewer hookups for laundry now and then but nothing, absolutely nothing beats finding a state, county or COE park that immerses one in the natural, beautiful environment of a location. Your words paint such a beautiful picture for us and we always check here first when traveling to a new state! Thanks.

        • That is EXACTLY how I feel! Sometimes I need full hookups for that reason, but usually the benefits of the natural beauty of a state park more than makes up for having to be careful of tanks filling up.

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