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Cathedral Rock: Esperero Trail

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Strenuous hike, spectacular vistas, remote location
Near:Tucson, AZ
Distance:16.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain:6000 ft
Hike Time:12.5 hours
Trail Condition:Bush wacking
HikeType:Out and Back

Summary: This hike will take you one the summit of one of the Santa Catalina Mtns most prominent summits. If hiked in its entirety this trail is one of the most difficult trails in southern Arizona. The hike can be partitioned into three legs; the first leg lead (approximately 3 miles) ends at a prominent saddle called Cardiac Gap. The next leg follows Esperero Canyon to Bridalveil falls (5/12 miles). The first two legs are well documented in the reference and make for a great destination or turnaround point. The last leg of the hike is the most difficult. It is very steep, overgrown, and can be extremely difficult to navigate. Follow the faint trail above Bridalveil fall for 0.9 miles to a signed intersection, go east. Follow cairns for 1.1 miles to a saddle. At the saddle head west up the steep faint trail marked with cairns to the base of the prominent cliff band to the north (0.9 mile), look for more cairns leading to summit. Cathedral Rock is the highpoint.
Trailhead: From downtown Tucson, take Speedway Blvd to Wilmot Road, follow Wilmot north as it changes to Tanque Verde Road. Follow Tanque Verde to Sabino Canyon Road, follow signs to the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center and amusement park. It will cost you at least $5.00 to park your car here. (Lat:32.31667 Lon:-110.8222)
Trail Guides for Cathedral Rock: Esperero Trail:
Tucson Hiking Guide
by Betty Leavengood (Pruett Publishing Company)

Best Seasons: Fall, Spring,
User Groups: Hikers,
Ranger Contact: Santa Catalina Ranger District (520) 749-8700
Localhikes Reporter: This hike was submitted by Rob Brinkerhoff, who has posted  33 other hikes on this site
Trail Reviews  Submit your own review
Reviewed by AZDean on 2/22/2013
As with any trail, most people don't actually hike all the way. I have hiked Esperero trail a number of times now, making it a bit farther each time I do. I recently made it up to Cardiac Gap, and for a guy that's 100 pounds overweight, I feel that was a huge accomplishment. The only issue is that once you are going up Esperero canyon, the views are limited until you make that ridge. But by all means push yourself to that point as the views are incredible. I've had so much fun hiking myself that I've started blogging about my hikes at This includes some great panoramas from the parts of the Esperero trail I've been on and even a GoogleEarth video.

Reviewed by jason on 1/2/2012
Hiked up to the window via Ventana canyon, and back down via Esperero trail. Snow/ice and faint trail marking make it difficult to follow between the window and the split for cathedral rock trail. From there on, fairly straightforward and decent trail marking. Beautiful views and a perfect day for the 15.5 mile round trip. Must do a vehicle drop at Sabino Canyon ($5?) prior to starting at Ventana canyon.

Reviewed by J on 4/5/2011
ok so I hiked this last week. I took Esperero trail to cathedral rock and then continued on esperero trail which eventually connects to ventana window and then ventana canyon. it's about 26 mile hike. EXTREMELY hard, about 10 hours uphill but so worth it. the views are incredible and you will need to have one car left in sabino canyon and other left at ventana canyon.

Reviewed by Tranmere R. on 3/21/2008
Great Hike. Past the falls it is easy to notice hardly anyone attempts to summit as the trail is in terrible condition. On the final rock climbing portion the trailmarkers can disappear for a while making it hard to navigate. All the burnt trees on top make this trail seem impossible during the summer as there is hardly any form of shade.

Reviewed by Tim on 11/26/2007
I hiked this trail last weekend. It was my second attempt as the warm weather (93 degrees over Halloween) made me turn back last month. The hike to Bridal Falls is pretty straight forward, just watch for the trail when it goes in and out of the creek bed, hiking up the creek (dry) is much more difficult than the trails that parallel it. After the falls it is a heck of bushwack most of the way. The trail is really overgrown and hard to follow in many parts. The hike took us 12 hours round trip but we probably had an hour off trail in each direction. After doing the hike, I said I don't ever want to do it again, but 1 day later I'm already looking at other trails in the area.

Reviewed by Marc on 9/9/2005
Trail is fun and up and down. You can make this a loop if you catch up to rattlesnake road and come down to the west of sabino canyon.

Reviewed by Robert on 12/15/2004
I've hiked this trail many times and I truly enjoy the scenery. The trail is difficult to follow past the saddle and from camping up there I've noticed a few people who hike the trail as a loop to Ventana Canyon.

Notice: Traveling in the backcountry can be hazardous. You are responsible for informing yourself about these hazards and taking necessary precautions. Information on this web site comes from volunteer reporters and may contain errors or omissions. A current guidebook and proper equipment are essential for safe enjoyment of the hikes posted on this site.
Keys: Arizona Hiking, Arizona Trails, Arizona Hikes, Pima County Hiking, Pima County Trails, Pima County Hikes

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