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Wilderness of Rock Loop, Santa Catalina Mountains

Summary: A nice loop hike which passes through the pretty Wilderness of Rock section of the Catalinas. Not a terribly long hike, but some good climbs at altitudes of 7-9000ft adds some challenge. 
Directions: From Phoenix drive south on I-10 to Tucson.  Take the Grant Rd exit and drive east (left) on Grant for 8.7 miles. Turn left onto Tanque Verde and drive 3.4 miles to the Catalina Highway. Turn left onto the Catalina Highway (note: there is now a fee station located at the 5 mile point, $5 per car if you plan on stopping at any of the trailheads, view points or to use a public toilet along the highway) and drive ~30 miles to the town of Summerhaven. Continue through town on the main road until it dead ends in a small parking lot with rest room at the Marshall Gulch Trailhead. 
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - paved all the way
Navigation: Easy - well defined trail with sign posts at all trail intersections.
Length: 13.4 miles
Date Hiked: July, 2001
Weather Conditions: Overcast & humid with occasional sprinkles. Cool temps near the summit.
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the Marshall Gulch parking lot (0 miles) begin climbing on the Aspen Trail (#93) which is located on the west side of the parking lot to the left of the restrooms. The trail begins climbing moderately and passes a few nice camp sites on the left after 5 minutes or so. The trail continues upwards through a forest consisting mainly of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine. As you gain some elevation, oak becomes part of the mix. After 2.7 miles (2.7 miles), the trail descends to a signed multi-trail junction: Marshall Gulch Trail (#3) heads back to the right, Mint Spring Trail (#20) heads directly right, Aspen Trail (#93) continues straight, and the Wilderness of Rock Trail (#44) heads left. Turn left onto the Wilderness of Rock Trail and descend gradually through more pine forest, crossing a stream bed (flowing from recent rains when the author was there) a few time along the way. After 1.7 miles (4.4 miles) you will reach the right branching Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail - if you want to shorten this hike by 3.8 miles you can take this trail 2 miles to the summit of Mt. Lemmon, however, you'll be missing the best part of the hike (the author has never taken this route). Continue straight on the Wilderness of Rock Trail which, after a short walk, brings you to (can you guess?) the Wilderness of Rock - a very pretty area of interesting pale rock formations surrounded by the greens and browns of manzanita and pine. The trail through this section generally continues it's gradual descent, with a few low hills mixed in. An hour or so of hiking, and 2.3 miles from the Lemmon Lookout turn off, the trail will ascend to a 'T' junction with the Mt. Lemmon Trail (#5) which heads left and right (6.7 miles). Turn right and walk through some more interesting rock formations as the trail begins to ascend gradually (at first), then more steeply to the ridgeline of Mt. Lemmon. Once on the ridge the trail bends right and continues climbing moderately to steeply upwards for 2.4 miles, passing into a more forested area, then into an area badly damaged by fire. Shortly after passing back into an unburned section of forest you will reach the junction with the left branching Sunderland Trail (#6) (9.1 miles). Continue straight on the Mt. Lemmon Trail which becomes an old jeep road at this point. The jeep trail continues it's ascent of Mt. Lemmon (with a few nice level sections to catch your breath) for 0.7 miles (9.8 miles) to a signed junction with the left branching Meadow Trail (#5A). You can continue up the uninteresting jeep road to the summit, but a better route is to turn left onto the Meadow Trail. The meadow trail heads back into the forest for the final 0.8 mile climb to the summit of Mt. Lemmon (10.6 miles). Near the end of the trail you will pass through a nice forested meadow (covered with lady bugs when the author was last here), then past what appears to be a fenced in military communications station, followed by an observatory run by the University of Arizona. The trail then rejoins the Mt. Lemmon road and passes through an old brown gate. Stay to the right and walk down a path that parallels the road (that's right, you could have driven up here and saved yourself a walk ). The path heads around a large electrical transformer, passes through a parking lot then meets up with the road. Stay right and walk down the road for about a minute to the large dirt pull off on the right hand side (10.9 miles) with a gate which blocks access to a dirt road and a radio tower which looms above the trees. Pass through the gate and walk down the dirt road past a few more radio towers, buildings and propane tanks and eventually the ski lift (which provides yet another effort free means to the spot you are now standing). Stay to the right at the end of the road (following the brown & white 'Trail' signs), walk past a puke green building with a "High Voltage" sign on the door to the signed junction with the Aspen Trail (11.3 miles). The Aspen Trail switchbacks steeply down the mountain for 0.9 miles to the multi-trail junction you had passed earlier (12.2). Turn left onto the Marshall Gulch Trail which descends 1.2 miles through the forest, eventually paralleling the contour of a stream back to the parking lot (13.4 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife have hiked this loop on three separate occasions. On the last trip we drove down from Phoenix the night before and camped at the spot mentioned above just inside the Aspen Trail. We then woke and got an early start the next morning, completing the loop in 7 hours. There were a dreadful number of gnats on this hike along the Wilderness of Rock Trail to about halfway up the Mt. Lemmon Trail.  
Maps: Santa Catalina Mountains - Rainbow Expeditions Inc.
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Pine forest on the
Aspen Trail.
The Wilderness of Rock. Another view.