The names of many outdoor sites herald their majesty: The Grand Canyon, Cathedral Rock, Garden of the Gods. Then there’s Incinerator Ridge.
Yes, there’s really a place — in the beautiful Catalina Mountains, no less — called Incinerator Ridge.
Happily for hikers, the repulsive name is perfectly misleading.
The high, wooded ridge — the site of a long-abandoned dump and incinerator — now offers a pleasant, anything-but-scorching hike to one of the finest vista points in the Catalinas.
Blissfully at odds with its off-putting handle, the Incinerator Ridge Trail winds through lush pine forests and grassy glades to a dead-end at the spectacular Peck Basin Overlook.
The easy, mile-long (round-trip) hike begins at the end of the half-mile Incinerator Ridge Road. Watch for the signed turnoff for the road between mileposts 19 and 20 on the Catalina Highway.
The trail stays atop the ridge most of the way to the overlook and bestows splendid views on either side.
To the north and east, you’ll see the broad San Pedro River Valley, the rugged Galiuro Mountains and the distant, fir-fringed Pinaleño range. Crank your head around 180 degrees and you’ll peer down at the craggy Front Range of the Catalinas.
Not far from the beginning of the hike, the Incinerator Ridge Trail intersects the Knagge Trail, which leads 0.9 of a mile down a canyon to an abandoned mine and cabin site, and eventually into Peck Basin.
Pass the Knagge Trail for now and continue to the end of the Incinerator Ridge Trail.
The scenic rewards for completing this short hike far exceed the effort involved.
At trail’s end, where the elevation is 8,050 feet, you’re standing on the brink of cliffs falling away into wild, wooded canyons thousands of feet below.
This is a place to plop down, perhaps munch on a piece of fruit and let the eyes relax on far horizons.
Hikers visiting the overlook recently were treated not only to a fetching display of pre-monsoon clouds — but also to a stunt-flying exhibition by a pair of aerobatic-gifted, red-tailed hawks.
Two notes of caution:
Don’t take this hike if a thunderstorm is brewing. Much of the route is on an exposed ridge — precisely where you don’t want to be when lightning is striking in the area.
Take special care to stay well back from the cliffs at the overlook, and keep a close eye on youngsters.
Clip ‘n’ Go
Incinerator Ridge Trail
Drive: Take Tanque Verde Road east to the Catalina Highway and follow the highway to the signed Incinerator Ridge Road between mileposts 19 and 20. Turn right onto the bumpy Incinerator Ridge Road and follow it a half-mile to its dead end. High-clearance vehicles recommended, but many passenger cars can make it. The trailhead is at the end of the road.
Hike: Follow the trail through open pine forests along the ridge to its end at the Peck Basin Overlook. Trail signs show the one-way distance as a half-mile, but some hikers say it seems slightly more than that. Don’t hike on the ridge when lightning is present. Stay well back from the edge of the overlook.