Stunning mountain landscapes. Sacred datura wildflowers. Beautiful butterflies. Gnarly oak trees. Woodland birds. Manzanita plants bearing the “little apples” that give the plants their Spanish name.

These and other natural wonders reward a springtime walk on the Bellota Trail in the Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson.

The trail, which begins near the Molino Basin Campground, is part of the cross-state Arizona Trail.

It offers options for short walks, moderate day hikes or extended treks.

From a starting elevation of about 4,400 feet, the trail climbs to a ridge at 4,800 feet and then descends about 700 vertical feet to an area near West Spring. It’s roughly 2 miles to that area, which makes a good turnaround point for a moderate hike or mountain bike ride.

Longer treks lead to Bellota Ranch Road and Redington Road, but there’s much to see in the first mile or two of the trail.


Among wildflowers visible in a few places along lower reaches of the trail is the sacred datura, a poisonous plant with large, showy white blooms.

Colorful butterflies flutter here and there where flowers are plentiful.

Manzanita plants, with smooth red-orange bark, stand out from the surrounding green terrain along the trail. They are laden with berries, resembling tiny apples, at this time of year.(

The oak woodland terrain of the Bellota Trail is home to several enormous oak trees with gnarly trunks and shapely limbs.

Trail travelers might encounter wildlife including birds, deer, snakes and lizards.

The horizon view is a mountain landscape of craggy ridges and wooded slopes.


From Tucson, take Tanque Verde Road to the Catalina Highway and follow the highway to the base of the mountains. Mile markers begin there. Continue to the Molino Basin Campground between mile markers 5 and 6 and park in the lot outside the campground. The trailhead is just across the road.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz