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An Early Morning Hike in Tucson’s Catalina State Park to Romero Pools

Having lived in Arizona for over 30 years, Chuck and his wife enjoy the great outdoors of the American Southwest.

My wife making her way on a makeshift bridge across Sutherland Wash in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

My wife making her way on a makeshift bridge across Sutherland Wash in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

A Hike to Romero Pools in Catalina State Park

I’m retired but my wife is still working Sundays through Thursday, so we decided to spend our first Friday in April hiking to the Romero Pools in nearby Catalina State Park.

It was seven in the morning when we arrived and the parking lot was already about one-third full. Though it was daylight, the sun was still well hidden behind the towering Catalina Mountains which border the eastern end of the park. The morning air was brisk with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees. As we started out from the parking lot, the first rays of the sun were shining on a couple of peaks to the west of us.

Shortly after it starts, the trail crosses the Sutherland Wash where the water flattens out into a slow running, shallow stream flowing across the flat land as it becomes a plateau at the western edge of the mountains. A couple of weeks ago the water was running a little faster and was both wider and deeper. Now at this crossing point, it was about 15 or so feet across and 6 to 12 inches deep. My wife elected to walk across the makeshift bridge that consisted of a small log and a row of large rocks. She made the trip across successfully. For myself, I chose to go a few yards further downstream where the stream took the form of a delta and I was able to jump it utilizing two small islands that had formed. Since I have longer legs than my wife and was wearing waterproof hiking boots I was able to keep my feet dry despite landing in about three inches of water on each jump.

Thistle in bloom along trail to Romero Pools with Santa Catalina Mountains in the distance.

Thistle in bloom along trail to Romero Pools with Santa Catalina Mountains in the distance.

A Short Detour to the Montrose Pools

Once across the wash, the dirt path is wide and smooth for the first mile; about as wide as a one-lane dirt road. At the very start, there is a small, 400 foot hill to walk up and then the trail is flat and mostly straight as it crosses a wide plateau for the next mile.

The path is a few hundred feet above the wash and is located in a wide grassy meadow with cactus and numerous wildflowers in bloom at this time of year. After hiking slightly over a mile the trail divides in a “V” shape with the section to the right being the trail to the pools.

A short distance from where the trail split there is another short trail going off to the right which, after a hundred yards or so, leads down to water known as the Montrose Pools. There are two small pools which had water in them and created a very picturesque spot.

Picturesque Montrose Pools located along trail to Romero Pools in Arizona's Catalina State Park.

Picturesque Montrose Pools located along trail to Romero Pools in Arizona's Catalina State Park.

The Trail Narrows and Becomes Steeper and Rocky

From this point to the Romero Pools the distance is just under 2 miles with an additional gain in altitude of about 900 feet by the time you reach the end. This, plus the 400 foot hill at the start, culminates in a total altitude gain of 1,300 feet from the trailhead to the pools.

Starting at this point and continuing to the pools, the trail becomes narrow, rocky and mostly uphill. However, the scenery is beautiful and during the spring there is an abundance of wildflowers as well as water in the pools.

Looking down onto the trail heading back from Romero Pools hike in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

Looking down onto the trail heading back from Romero Pools hike in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

My wife while hiking to Romero Pools in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

My wife while hiking to Romero Pools in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

We Finally Reach the Romero Pools

It seemed to take forever to reach the pools. At certain points we could see water cascading down the bare rock a ways ahead of us but no sign of the pools.

We finally reached the first pool. The trail seemed to be about 15 or 20 feet above the first pool which was obscured from view by vegetation and rock until we were almost directly above it.

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We spent half an hour or more at the first pool taking pictures and exploring. The water was low enough that we were able to step across the stream at one spot and follow the trail as it continued on the left side of the Sutherland Wash.

An additional 15 minute walk took us to a couple of more pools and a tiny waterfall between them. There were a couple of people at the first pool and three more sunning themselves and swimming in the second set when we arrived.

Waterfall between two pools in the Romero Pools in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

Waterfall between two pools in the Romero Pools in Tucson Arizona's Catalina State Park.

The Weather Warms Up

By the time we made our way to the pools, the temperature had risen to a rather warm 80 degrees. Even with Arizona’s well-known dry heat, 80 is still warm.

While we sweat in such heat, it usually evaporates so fast that it's hardly noticeable. Our previous hikes since January had been shorter and less rugged and the temperature only rose to the 60s or low 70s. As a result, we cut back on the amount of water we carried.

On this hike, I carried three and a half 16 ounce bottles of water and a 12 ounce bottle of Gatorade while my wife had two 16 ounce bottles and the one she was drinking when we started. As we started back to the car, we were down to my two unopened bottles of water and the Gatorade.

As we headed down the trail I began to feel my face becoming warm and dry. This is an early sign of heat exhaustion. I slowed my pace and sipped some water periodically, and when we reached the Montrose Pools we stopped and rested in the shade. In the shade of some trees, I drank a bit of Gatorade which for me, results in a quick return to normal.

A couple of years ago I started to come down with heat exhaustion. That time we were able to find a shady spot to rest and, fortunately, a couple of other hikers came along and still had a few ounces of Gatorade left. It quickly revived me. They joined my wife and me for the remaining short distance and as a result, I now carry a bottle of Gatorade on hikes in case of emergency.

My wife enjoying the view of the Montrose Pools which we visited a second time to rest on the way back to our car.

My wife enjoying the view of the Montrose Pools which we visited a second time to rest on the way back to our car.

The Parking Lot Was Full When We Finished

It was a little after noon when we got back to our car.

The hike had taken us a little over five hours due mainly to the fact that we were not only taking our time but because of frequent stops to take pictures.

While the out and back trip is about 5.5 miles, we did a little more with the fifteen minute hike from the first pools to the second ones further up. We also took some short detours on little side trails like the thousand feet or so to the Montrose Pools which we took both on the way up and the way back.

However, much time was consumed taking pictures. While the trail was a bit of a challenge and a very good opportunity to keep fit, our main motivation in hiking these trails was the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air along with the spectacular scenery and the great photo opportunities offered.

Rays  from early morning Sun touching the tips of Mountain Peaks in Catalina State Park in Tucson, AZ.

Rays from early morning Sun touching the tips of Mountain Peaks in Catalina State Park in Tucson, AZ.

Tucson’s Wide Open Spaces

One of the bright spots about living in Tucson, Arizona is there are a lot of open spaces. Especially when the pandemic hit, it was easy to maintain a safe distance from others without having to barricade inside the house all day. Unlike cities in other parts of the country and world, the Tucson metro area is not only spread out over a large area but is surrounded by a more or less empty desert and mountainous areas.

One can take a dog or children out for a walk in the neighborhood and to a number of city and county parks. In addition, Saguaro National Park is located on both the east and west sides of the city. The Coronado National Forest, Sabino Canyon Recreation area and two state parks are all within easy driving distance.

My wife and I have been enjoying the beautiful spring weather by hiking in these parks every weekend. Each time we have had good luck finding parking in the designated lots while many more people park along the highways leading to the large recreation areas. However, despite the vast number of cars, these areas are large enough that other than occasionally passing someone on a trail, you are generally alone in nature.

My wife enjoying both the view and solitude available in this rocky mountain overlook.

My wife enjoying both the view and solitude available in this rocky mountain overlook.

© 2020 Chuck Nugent

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