We had a great stay at Kartchner Caverns State Park, but the time had come to explore a new destination. It was a short hour and a half drive up I-10 to our next campsite at Catalina State Park. Catalina is a popular state park located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson. Despite being so close to a major city, it served as a peaceful basecamp for the next 10 days of our winter 2021-2022 travels.
Park Logistics & Facilities
Catalina State Park is located off highway 77 in Oro Valley, a suburb six miles north of Tucson. To the west side of highway 77, you’ll find a bustling city with all the major conveniences and stores that you could possibly want. To the east of the highway, you’ll find a peaceful park with beautiful views of a saguaro-filled desert and the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is open year-round. Day use hours are from 5 a.m. – 10 p.m. The visitor center is open daily from 8-5 (see park website for holiday hours). The park entrance fee is $7.00 per vehicle (1-4 adults).
Catalina State Park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife, especially birds with over 150 species. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and riverbeds offer exceptional outdoor opportunities from miles of equestrian, hiking, and biking trails to bird watching, picnicking and desert explorations. Facilities at the park include a visitor center, campground, and picnic areas (click here for park brochure & map). Flush restrooms are available in the visitor center, picnic areas, group areas, and campgrounds. Waterless restrooms are available at the trailhead and equestrian center. All restroom facilities are handicap accessible.
120 reservable campsites are available in campgrounds A and B with electric and water hookups for $30 per night. Sites are located in the shadows of the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains making for a remote and peaceful setting despite the close proximity to a major city. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and two RV dump stations are available. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights. 22 overflow sites are available in the Ringtail Loop from January 1 – March 31.
We stayed in Campground A and absolutely loved it. Our site had great views up to the Catalinas and was plenty big enough for our 55 feet of total length. We were well-spaced from our neighbors and the hosts were very friendly. We felt like we were miles from civilization, yet we were just a few minutes from restaurants and stores. We would have liked to have stayed the 14 night maximum, but 10 consecutive nights was the most I could get despite making reservations in July.
Our stay at Catalina State Park coincided with the winter solstice, shortest day of the year and generally some of the worst weather back home in Washington. Thanks to its southern location, we enjoyed almost an hour and a half more daylight compared to back home. And the daytime highs during our stay ranged from 55-78 degrees with an average in the low 70s. We did have stormy conditions our first day and the day we departed, but in between we were treated to abundant sun. Overnight lows were 5-10 degrees colder than nearby Tucson with most nights dipping into 30s.
The park offers miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Some of the longer trails continue up into adjoining Coronado National Forest. All pass through lovely desert terrain with impressive views up into the Catalinas and where you will see more saguaros than people. In addition to the official trails on the park map (see below), we found some unofficial trails in the southern portion of the park. These were especially nice on weekends when the official trails had more traffic.
Our stay at Catalina wasn’t long enough and we only hiked one official trail in the park, Romero Canyon. We hiked Romero on our first full day in the park, a cold (by Tucson standards) and stormy day that made for a quiet day on the trail. We only saw a handful of people on this normally popular trail. The park’s website describes the trail as a progressively difficult trail. Montrose Pools and Romero Pools are shallow catchments on canyon streams that flow seasonally. The first mile is a relatively flat and easy walk to Montrose Pools (usually dry) and the park boundary. The next 1.7 miles is a steep and rocky climb to Romero Pools. Poor trail conditions might be encountered as this is an unmaintained wilderness trail. From the Trailhead to Romero Pools is 2.8 miles with an elevation gain of 900 feet. No dogs in Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Area, beyond Montrose Pools — no bikes in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness — not recommended for horses beyond Montrose Pools.
We lucked out and found water in both Montrose and Romero Pools. As described, the hike from Montrose to Romero was over extremely rocky trail with a steep and steady climb. Hiking was not technical, just a good workout with uneven footing. At Romero Pools, we found lingering fall colors and a lovely desert stream.
Catalina as a Basecamp
In addition to hiking at Catalina State Park, we used the park as a basecamp to visit nearby Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Park (blog post to follow). We also took advantage of our location on the edge of a major city to restock groceries and pet supplies, receive some Amazon packages, and catch up on our laundry. And, we scored the best Mexican food at La Hacienda Family Mexican which was less than three miles from our camp. Their beef Molcajete was so good we went back a second time!
We also enjoyed some nice bike rides during our stay at Catalina State Park. Tucson is one of the greatest road biking destinations in the country and is home to the impressive Chuck Huckelberry Loop. The Loop is a system of paved, shared-use paths connecting the Cañada del Oro, Rillito, Santa Cruz, and Pantano River Parks with the Julian Wash and Harrison Road Greenway. More than 136 miles of paved pathways and bike lanes have already been completed with additional trails to come. The Loop connects parks, restaurants, hotels, shopping areas, entertainment venues, and even Catalina State Park! As of March 2018, the Loop had 15 restrooms along the path and 20+ adjacent parks with facilities. The trail is open daily from dawn to dusk. Click here for a trail map.
We loved that we were able to access The Loop directly from our campsite at Catalina State Park. We spent three days biking different sections and enjoyed all of the parks and views along the way. It was fabulous getting to see much of the greater Tucson area from our bikes without having to worry about street traffic. And it was very nice having so many places where we could stop and rest on a bench, refill our water bottles, or use the restroom facilities. An excellent FAQ page can be found here. We used this page to determine if we were allowed to ride our class II e-bikes on the trail.
Be sure to check out the other posts from our stay at Catalina State Park:
The Adventure Continues
Be sure to join us for our next post as we meet up with an old friend for adventures in Tucson’s Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase, you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain this website and is much appreciated!