Southern Arizona gets so hot and dry that many people don’t consider outdoor recreation a viable means of entertainment in the area.
If you choose your dates and times carefully, however, the Tucson area offers a handful of enjoyable outdoor opportunities, including golfing, bicycling, horseback riding and hiking.
If you’re traveling through the Tucson area and looking for a great hike, I recommend the Romero Pools trail at Catalina State Park.
In order to fully enjoy this hike, though, you’ll want to do a few things differently than I did on my last trip.
Finding Romero Pools Trail
The hike from the Catalina State Park trailhead to Romero Pools is about 5.5 miles out and back. The park itself is about 19 miles north of downtown Tucson, on the east side of North Oracle Road, just past Oro Valley. The park is situated in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the Romero Pools trail will take you up to about 3,700 feet above sea level, an elevation gain of roughly 1,000 feet from the trailhead.
Romero Pools Trail Information
From the parking lot at Catalina State Park, you’ll hike about 2.8 miles to reach Romero Pools, a series of freshwater pools surrounded by smooth, flat rocks that can be a popular hangout place for area high school and college kids. The pools themselves are mostly small but are spread out, so it’s easy to find a secluded spot to relax after your hike. Take a swim, dip your feet in the water or do like I did and just sprawl out on the rocks and relax. The trail back to the pools is not overly challenging. It is fairly well-defined, particularly during the first half, and much of the elevation gain is early on, while you’ve still got plenty of energy. Be prepared for a couple of steep inclines and a couple of spots where rocks are strewn across the path, but overall, I’d classify the trail as moderately challenging.
Romero Pools Trail Hiking Tips
The first mistake we made on our last trip to Romero Pools was we left too late in the day. This created two problems: First, even during October, the late-day sun was intense and zapped our energy quickly. Second, by the time we’d allowed our bodies sufficient rest at the pools, it was early in the evening and the sun was low on the horizon. The views looking back into Tucson, with the sun setting off to the west, were stunning, but the low light makes it very difficult to spot those dangerous creatures that are often on the move at dusk – rattlesnakes. And we did encounter two of them on the way back; the first was a small snake that skirted off the path just ahead of us, but the second was significantly bigger – maybe three-feet long – and coiled up in the middle of the path, rattle shaking. We hung back and waited for it to slither away before continuing, but the two rattlesnake encounters – both over the final mile of our return trek – combined with the blazing heat early in our hike really hammered home the importance of getting outside early in the day in the Tucson area. I’d recommend giving yourself a good three hours for this hike, and leave early enough to be back to the car before noon. Wear hiking boots or comfortable shoes, and bring plenty of water – at least three bottles per person – plus snacks. If you do go later in the day, pack flashlights, as well, to help you navigate the trail and watch for critters. And don’t forget your camera; you’ll be treated to some fantastic views, with saguaro cacti covering the landscape early in the hike, not to mention the gorgeous pools themselves and the views of Tucson on your return trip.
Catalina State Park, Arizona State Parks
Romero Pools, Sierra Club Tucson Trail Guide
Romero Pools, Catalina State Park, LocalHikes.com