Tranquil forests, far-horizon views, cool autumn air and the last hurrah of summer wildflowers — these are some of the rewards of a hike on the Sunset Trail in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson.
Not to mention some splendid sunsets if you trek the trail near day’s end. The 1.6-mile trail leads from the Soldier Camp cabin area along the Catalina Highway to Marshall Gulch, a popular recreation site about a mile south of the mountain community of Summerhaven. Some hikers trek the trail out and back from trailheads at either end. Others arrange a car shuttle to accommodate a one-way hike.
A mix of terrain along the trail includes evergreen forests, enormous rock outcrops and a canyon with an often-flowing stream at the Marshall Gulch end of the route. The trail — at altitudes ranging from 7,400 feet to 7,750 feet — passes several unsigned overlook points including one known as Sunset Rock near the midway point in the hike.
This high perch provides a soaring-hawk’s view of distant ridges and canyons and some pretty good sunset shows when the light is right. One stretch of the trail is steep and rocky. With a deep canyon below, this is a place to watch your footing and keep a close eye on children.
Trail shoes or light hiking boots are ideal for this trek. Be sure to carry plenty of water, sun protection and some energy food.
To reach the trailheads from Tucson, take Tanque Verde Road to the Catalina Highway and follow the highway into the mountains. The trailhead at the Soldier Camp cabin area is on the left side of the highway between mile markers 22 and 23. From the parking lot, two unpaved roads lead into the woods. Follow the left one. Signs will guide the way to a point where the trail leaves the road.
For the Marshall Gulch trailhead, enter Summerhaven and follow the road about a mile south to a parking area at Marshall Gulch. The trail begins at the end of the parking lot and follows a streambed before angling uphill over rocky terrain.