Tucson: Romero Pools hike

One of Tucson’s favorite hikes, I write up my experience on a trek to the Romero Pools.


Name: Romero Pools

Location: within Catalina State Park

Total time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Length: 6.5 miles to the pools and back


The views along the trail to the Romero Pools will take your breath away—if you have any breath left, that is. Steep ascents remind you how out of shape you are, while flat spaces between climbs provide a welcome respite (and also keep this hike ranked a 3 on trailvoyant.com, a local Tucson hiking resource).

Fueled by breakfast burritos from El Güero Canelo, Rob and I headed out on a beautiful 70-degree morning for Catalina State Park. We paid $7 for a day pass (check the calendar to time your visit with an event and get the most bang for your buck) and followed the road to the trail head. Dogs are allowed for the first mile or so, after which the trail runs through Bighorn Sheep wilderness, which is strictly protected and dogs are strictly forbidden. From there, we walked a little more than 3 miles. I’d estimate 1.8 of those were pure elevation gains, baby.

Hiking up the trail to the Romero Pools, in Tucson, Arizona.

I fully admit that this hike kicked my butt, and there were several pauses where I found myself asking, “Can I do this?” All I can say is KEEP.GOING. It does eventually get easier to have a conversation with whomever you’re hiking with.

You’ll stretch your legs up and over steep steps, hop from rock to rock and carefully balance close to the trail’s edge. There’s little respite from the sun on the most difficult part of the trail, so wear a hat and sunscreen and DRINK WATER (I drank my Camelback dry). Cool breezes on your sweaty forehead help a bit.

Take it easy—go slow, take breaks. When you pause, you’ll hear the rustling of wildlife among tall, dry grass; calls to each other with buzzes, tweets and chirps. You might even run into a ressssident.

Flora here is pure Arizona—you’ll see prickly pear cactus, ridiculously spiny cholla cactus, saguaros with arms reaching up to the sky and tall yucca plants.

Cholla, prickly pear, yuccas and more can be found on this hike.

And then eventually, eventually, you’ll hear running water. Even though it had rained pretty heavily a few days before we got there, the Romero Pools were pretty low. I imagine they’re most full during monsoon season, but it’s brutally hot then.

The Romero Pools in early November.

The pools are a system of puddles and streams, ranging from relatively still to flowing waterfalls that feed deep swimming holes surrounded by smooth rock. There are lots of spots to sit and watch the more adventurous flip and jump into the water.

We rested for about 20 minutes before heading back to the car. As expected, the return trip was much easier and much faster. Smartest decision we made? Making sure there were cold beers in our fridge to celebrate with when we got home. Cheers!


What are your favorite Tucson hikes? Leave a comment (up top, to the left) and let me know!

Below, I’ve listed the five things I always keep in my Camelback (other than water, duh).

  1. Head lamp: good for dusk and dawn hikes. You’ll look dumb but feel ridiculously smart. I use this one and keep the batteries out of it because it’s on/off switch is impressively sensitive.
  2. Lip balm—my entire family swears by this one.
  3. Sunscreen
  4. A handkerchief: use it to soak up sweat, pour some water over it and tie it around your neck to cool you down, tie it around an unfortunate injury as a bandage—the possibilities are endless.
  5. Grub: none of that M&M-filled stuff. I like the Sweet & Spicy Pecan mix from Trader Joe’s. Takes months to expire, is durable in packs that might see some abuse and doesn’t melt all over your hands. (Here’s a recipe to make your own.)


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