Molino Canyon is one of my favorite Tucson escapes when time is limited. The trailhead is just past the fee station on Catalina Highway, about 5 miles up the mountain. You can’t miss the parking lot. Once you arrive, you have three trails to choose from. The first is off to the west and leads to the the Hirabayashi Recreation area. This is a great running trail with lots of climbs and switchbacks. Maybe I’ll write about it later. If you cross over to the east side of the road, follow the trail for a couple of hundred yards to the fork. The Bellota Trail segment of the Arizona Trail heads to the right over the first saddle and crosses Reddington road after 11 miles. That’s a trail for another day. For this post, my interest lies to the left and northeast, up Molino Canyon.
The left hand trail follows the wash half a mile to the falls (N32 20.53 W110 41.04) and then climbs the hill to the left. At the top the trail itself quickly disappears, but you can follow the wash or pick up one of the many game trails that crisscross the upper canyon. On the top, you can explore the large box canyon to the left or follow the main canyon to the right. Travel is pretty easy but there is a lot of boulder scrambling as you go. Today we made it about a mile up before the boulders got too big for Saja to climb. The only alternative was to climb out of the valley to the north to bypass them. Unfortunately, this meant leaving the trees and shade of the wash and Saja was already getting overheated so we just hung out for a while before heading back.
This is a great valley that not a lot of people visit. Granted it isn’t as cool as the higher trails, but you can hike, boulder scramble, rappel, or camp here, and in the wet seasons it comes alive with the stream and waterfalls. If you are looking for wildlife, there is a small herd of deer that frequent the valley, plenty of birds, and signs of smaller mammals, even now when the stream is all but dry.
If you are feeling adventurous, follow the canyon to its end, jump over the ridge, and follow Burro Basin to Guthrie Mountain. Then follow the Bear Canyon trail back to the General Hitchcock campground and bum a ride back down to Molino. That’s about 8 miles from Molino Basin to General Hichcock.
So next time you are stuck behind a caravan going 20 MPH on your way up Mount Lemmon, pull into Molino Basin and check out the canyon.
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About the Author: Tucson, AZ Realtor & Investor. My true passions however are hiking and whisky (although generally not at the same time). If you have a question about any of these just drop me a line!