Hike down Oracle Ridge from Summerhaven to Oracle - part 3
Oracle Ridge Trail is one of the oldest trails in the Santa Catalina mountains. The botanist for which Mount Lemmon was named and her dad used this trail to hike up to Mount Lemmon to do her work. This trail goes from the Catalina highway near Summerhaven all the way to the southeastern side of the village of Oracle to the trailhead near a large storage tank. Alternatively, the hiker can choose to follow the Arizona trail as it exits this trail using the Cody trail that takes the hiker over to Oracle State Park. The Oracle ridge trail is an integral part of the Arizona trail as it passes through the Santa Catalina Mountains.
The Oracle Ridge Trail has a reputation for being difficult to follow, and it didn't dissapoint hiking down the trail. Hiking up the mountain it's even harder to follow, because of all the mining roads that take off to the left (east) when headed south to Summerhaven. The markings definitely could use some improvement, but somehow we were able to figure it out. This trail is about 12.9 miles (half marathon distance) and when you get to the end, you feel like you've hiked quite a ways. What makes it particularly tiresome going down is you have all these hills that you have to hike up and down, when you had hoped that hiking north one would only have to hike DOWN the mountain....wrong! All the same it can be done in a reasonable amount of time. It took us about 9 hours, which is not too bad of a pace.
The trailhead is down the control road from Catalina highway past the fire house near the highway. One can't see the trailhead from Catalina highway, but it's on the next hill behind the helecopter landing pad, on north a quarter mile or so.
You have nice panoramic views both east and west (and north and south for that matter) as you hike down the ridge trail. You can see to the west Mount Lemmon, the Oracle ridge foothills, and the Tortolitas, and nearer in you can see Red Ridge, rocky ridge, Samaniego ridge, and Canada del Oro arroyo, and on a clear day you can see Picaho peak, and the (don't remember the name of the mountains) to the northwest toward Phoenix. The day we hiked the trail, it was uncharacteristically hazy with the smog coming east from L.A., Phoenix, and San Diego. To the east you can see the foothills north and south, and the wide valley over to the next mountain range to the East (don't recall the name of the mountains).
We found quite a bit of information about this trail on hikearizona.com, It's the Arizona trails website, and it's a great resource for people who are looking for a hiking trail, especially near Tucson, Az.
hikearizona.com provides lots of very useful information, including distance, elevation, AEG, elevation gain, average duration time of hike, pictures along the trail and a write up of what to expect.
Of course, the main idea is to stay active, and is to get fresh air, good exercise and interesting pictures. This is an exposed trail with not very much shade at all, so you probably want to have a good hat and sunglasses, and may want to hike on a cooler or partly cloudy day.
This trail is perfect to hike in the winter when it's sunny, and not too hot... the 70's in the valley is about perfect, because the mountain is about 15F cooler than down in the valley. The exception is when there is snow and ice on the trail making it difficult to hike and slippery dangerous and / or risky. One nice feature of this trail, is that the upper elevation end of the trail is 8,000 feet elevation, and the "lower" end of the trail (north end) at Oracle is 5,000 feet elevation, so it's cooler than tucson valley by 6F to 15F degrees.
One thing to remember about hiking this trail in the summer is that it's located in the desert southwest, and it's really too hot in the summer to do outside exercise without getting a heatstroke. Probably be mostly ok to great from about November to April. The summer wildlife such as rattlesnakes, gila monsters, tarantulas, scorpions, and other things come out in the summer.
Because of the elevation, one could encounter snow, so it is important to look from Catalina highway down the ridge from Summerhaven to see if the trail is snow covered. It might be unpleasant hiking in deep snow without snowshoes.
We saw several lizards and one snake. The Southern Arizona Whipsnake, which is a very unusual snake that moves as fast as a cracking whip. This snake literally backflipped to get away from me. In less than 3 seconds this snake moved from about a foot in front of my foot on the trail to about 8 feet off the trail into some thick underbrush. Fast as lightning.
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Last Update: April 02, 2016
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