Hiking up by the Cat Mountains – Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson, AZ

Tucson Mountain Park is a county park located just west of the city of Tucson.  Filled with a number of sharp peaks, the park has a web of hiking and biking trails.  We’ve hiked in the park many times, but recent research by the nimble hiker revealed a trail not shown on maps of the park.  It is referred to as the “Cat Mountain Loop on John Krein Trail.”   To get to the trailhead we headed west on Ajo Way but soon ran into a problem.  The annual Tucson Rodeo is held just a few miles west of our RV park and the day of our hike was the day of the annual rodeo parade.  We left soon after the parade was scheduled to end but got caught in the traffic jam created by spectators.  As we sat in traffic, a few of the parade participants cut through the street right in front of us.

Once around the traffic we continued west on Ajo Way to the intersection with South Kinney Road where we turned right (north).  Less than a mile down Kinney Road we turned right on to Sarasota Road and drove another mile to the end of the road where there is a parking area for the trail.

The arrow points to our lunch destination

The Starr Pass Trail goes right in front of the parking area.  We got on the trail and headed south.  The trail soon turns to the east and heads between two small mountains through Starr Pass.

Heading to the Starr Pass

Big Cat Mountain is on the south side of Starr Pass

Little Cat Mountain is on the north

Starr Pass

Once through the pass we turned north (our left) on to an unmarked trail and began climbing up.

Heading up

Strange growth on a Saguaro

Steep climb with the Cat Mountains behind us

Once up on the ridge we could see the Jeep far below us

The Cat Mountains (Big Cat on the left, Little Cat on the right)

At the highest point on the trail there is a spot with a 360 view of our surroundings.  At that spot there is a metal ammo box covered with rocks.  It contains a notebook for hikers to sign, as well as a number of cards recognizing a local hiker who passed away last year.

Lunch with a view

Saguaros sure can be strange!

After hiking back down to parking area we stopped to check out a Crested Saguaro we have seen during hikes in previous years.  It still appears to be very healthy.

We found this hike to be one of our favorites in Tucson Mountain Park with lots of great climbing and a total distance of 5.5 miles.  The trail is not listed on the park map but it is on Google Maps.  There is good phone service in the area so it is easy to follow the trail with a smart phone.

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44 Responses to Hiking up by the Cat Mountains – Tucson Mountain Park

  1. How about that another trail discovered and another trail to follow. From your pic I can tell where you were. Had you turned right after that Star Pass, and go up, that would have been the Explorer Trail that we hiked last November and wanted to hike with you again weeks ago.

  2. exploRVistas says:

    Judging by your clothes, it looks like you had perfect hiking temps! Nice views and a great length on that particular trail.

  3. pmbweaver says:

    Thanks for another super hike. Love the 360 view. Pretty photo of you Pam! Added to my Pinterest. 5.5 is our limit these days. With Paul’s bad hip, a hike any longer makes him have to take two pain pills. I am not a fan.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Marsha! This hike would definitely be a workout for Paul’s bad hip. While the various climbs were short, they were steep and rocky. The views were wonderful.

  4. Nancy says:

    Great looking views! I have come across tins in the desert before left by hikers. Some are used as a kind of treasure hunt. (With GPS coordinates included etc.)

    Our fabulous saguaros with their crazy arms! I met a woman the other day that has at least 2,000 photos of saguaros…. Her criteria was to photograph only strange ones. I to
    D her to make it into a coffee table book. I would enjoy looking at a book like that.

    And I know you put Lunch with a View …for ALL of us who enjoy that capture!

    Happy Friday to you!

  5. On Facebook I had the impression you guys DROVE up “A” mountain–should have known better! Fabulous views!

  6. Duane Wegley says:

    How do you find hiking trails on google maps? I have looked but haven’t figured that out yet.

    • placestheygo says:

      Duane, trails are marked by dotted lines. Some more popular locations will actually be named on Google maps. Google also has many trailheads marked, as well. Type in Starr Pass Trail Tucson and you can see how it is marked on Google. The trailhead and trail are there.

  7. Thank you for providing my saguaro fix this year!

  8. Laurel says:

    What a pretty hike! Definitely adding it to our list for our next Tucson trip. Thanks for discovering it and blazing the trail for us. 🙂 That saguaro looks like it wants to shake hands with you! Great photo of you, Pam — you are in your element!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Laurel! It was a beautiful hike and just what we enjoy. We were all alone the entire way except for a lone hiker as we started down. You and Eric will enjoy this trail.

  9. georgeyates says:

    What an interesting day and a wonderful hike, thanks for all the great pictures.

  10. Susan Bank says:

    I think I would have enjoyed attending that Rodeo Parade, but it was so cold and early this year….ah well, you showed us a few stragglers, even a Bashkir Curly horse! The views from that hike are just beautiful and the weather looked just right. A great way to end your time here in Tucson.
    That Saguaro was odd looking, but not as odd as the ones you encountered at the “A”! What’s going on?

    • placestheygo says:

      Ah! The Labradoodle horse has a real name! He was very strange. I would love to know what happened to all the saguaro in that one area. Almost every one was effected.

      • Laurel says:

        Labradoodle horse — hehe!! I was wondering what it was! (Thought maybe it was just having a bad hair day.) Thanks to Sue, now we know! 🙂

  11. Jim and Barb says:

    Another great lunch with a view! We went to the rodeo and parade last year and really enjoyed it.

    • placestheygo says:

      We discussed going this year, but there’s something about the cold morning and having to ride our bikes from a parking spot that changed our minds! Maybe one year!!

  12. Was that an alien trying to emerge?

  13. William Wallace says:

    Before I read the blog I looked at the pictures. I immediately knew where you were. My grandparents and parents lived at Tucson Estates the mobil home park in the picture. I’ve hiked that trail many times. Great views and a good time of year to hike there.

  14. Sherry says:

    You are amazing at finding trails. Love those first two pictures of the Cats and the one of the lunch view.

  15. geogypsy2u says:

    You do have a skill for finding interesting trails. Great views and far out saguaros too.

  16. There are too many cool hikes in that area. 5.5 miles, with presumably very few other hikers on the trail, and a solid “payoff” view at the end sounds pretty perfect to me. We’ll definitely save it for our visit next year.

    • placestheygo says:

      It will take you awhile to run out of new trails in this area. We still have new trails we haven’t gotten to, and we have been coming here for several years for a month.

  17. Wonderful views! Looks like it was a great hike.

  18. Gay says:

    You guys always find the best hikes! And the most interesting saguaros!

  19. Jodee Gravel says:

    Fluffy horses and wrinkled cactus – never a dull view in Tucson 🙂 That’s quite the climb! Great eye stretching views from the top. With wind so common I’d be afraid to pull out papers from the box and risk having them blow away 😦

  20. LuAnn says:

    We will definitely keep this hike in mind when in Tucson. Leave it to you Pam to find this hike and that unusual growth on the saguaro.

    • placestheygo says:

      I was thrilled when I found this hike. It is a great workout but not a killer, beautiful views, thousands of saguaro, no people, and near by! Pretty perfect:) I shared my photo with Joe the crested saguaro guy. He said it was what they call a globular, a tumor. He shared a bunch of photos of large growths. Very ugly larger but the the one we found was rather neat looking.

  21. Chris barwick says:

    The trail on Google Maps won’t take you to the summit of Big Cat. Have to go off trail and keep an eye out for cairns.

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