Catalina State Park on the north side of Tucson presents the foothills and mountains in the Catalina Range, including Mt. Lemmon area. On the foothills side, you've got several great hikes close to the visitor Centre. One of those starts outside the park (Ventanna) but ends up on a steady climb in the canyon with great views and varied terrain along the way. Ventanna Canyon is ideal because it's very close to a number of accomodations at the base of the canyon in the rather ritzy area off Kolb Road and Sunrise. Just up from Bashas (and several restaurants) on North Kolb, we stayed in the Ventanna Veranda condos, thanks to a listing we found on VRBO. We had resort styled accomodations and were delighted to find that the Ventanna Canyon hike was just up the road at the foot of the hills (near Loews) and also just 5 mins drive to the visitor centre at Catalina State Park where several popular hikes also depart.
For this hike, you start from the reserved parking area (a compromise must have been struck with condo/resort owners) specificially reserved for hikers and users of the trail. Just drive up to Loews and as you pull into the resort, you'll immediately see employee parking and at the back of that lot, you'll see the trailhead parking, it's signed, so no worries, no GPS needed. There is a map at the trailhead, and, it's obvious where to go. Follow along the narrow corridor with private land on either side (the allowance) to start your hike, and before long, you'll walk by some red rock and cactus, the excitement starts to build. So does the elevation, gradual at first, then, before long, you climb a steeper grade but still reasonable, until the final ascent to the lookout. The ascent can get steep, it becomes stairmaster like, but never too challenging.
About 2 hours into the hike, you'll gain the lookout and some small pools most people hike to. If you continue, of course the trail will take you to nearby peaks, where you can go left or right to get to the "window" and other local peaks. You can really keep going for a long time, but most people choose the pools as their stopping point. After this, the trail is less used, and pants would be advised just to cut down on a bit of overgrowth and brush that you walk through. The topography changes as you lose cactus and get more treed and higher elevation vegetation. I'd hesitate calling it alpine, but there is definitely a transition. The views back on town are interesting, but they are also limited by the canyon walls.
After a half an hour of continued hiking past the turn around point for most, we turned around ourselves. The canyon really narrows towards the top, but we realize it would be another 2 hours before we gained a peak, even though they loom just above you. So on our way down, we now found the resting spot where we had chatted with park rangers and a few other hikers, and then, began our steep descent. Other hikers were coming up, this is a busy trail, but not as busy as Bear Canyon in Catalina State Park.
We both enjoyed this hike more than Bear Canyon, as it's a tighter rockier canyon with a steeper climb. Eventually, on our return, the grade lessens and in no time you are back to almost flat terrain, for your return. We spent 4 to 5 hours on this hike, you can do this in 4 to the lookout. I think the pics speak for themselves, and, no GPS data needed, it's a great hike and if you stay somewhere close, you've really got a great hub of trails both here and over at the visitor center just down Sunrise.
Ventanna Canyon has it's own parking lot at the trailhead, just head to Loews Ventanna resort right at the base of the mountain and look for the trailhead (in behind employee parking) parking, and go. The initial 10-15 minutes is an access corridor with private land on either side, but you eventually cross into Catalina State Park. A great hike.
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