The Best Hiking in Catalina State Park with Kids

Beautiful View of the Catalina Foothills in Tucson, Arizona

Catalina State Park is an excellent hiking destination for families with kids.

The park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains on the east side of Tucson, Arizona. If you are visiting family in Oro Valley then this is your spot!

Catalina State Park offers a wide range of hiking and other kid-friendly activities. In this post we highlight our favorites. If you are looking to visit the park and do not want to do a ton of research, just pick one or two below. You won’t be disappointed!

And we apologize for the quality and lack of pictures. The last time we hiked here was before we started our blog and frankly didn’t take any worth sharing! The cover photo is actually at Sabino Canyon… but they look very similar and will have to do until our next trip!

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What is Catalina State Park and where is it located?

Catalina State Park is conveniently located minutes form downtown Tucson, just north of the suburb Oro Valley. The park sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains (which includes Mount Lemmon) and provides equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into Coronado National Forest. It is one of our favorites when we have a busy day and want to squeeze in a quick hike.

Be sure to check out the Arizona State Park Service Website for up-to-date park information and contact information. They do a wonderful job maintaining this park and are a wealth of information.

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What amenities does Catalina State Park offer?

Catalina State Park offers may of the amenities that you would expect from Arizona’s wonderful State Park System. The park charges an $7 fee for each private vehicle, which covers the vehicle and all of its passengers.

The Visitor Center is open from approximately 8AM to 5PM daily. This is where you can purchase your entry permit and learn more about the park and area. The Visitor Center also is home a a nice giftshop with postcards, maps, books, field guides, snacks, water, sunscreen, hats, and t-shirts.

In addition to hiking, Catalina State Park offers opportunities to camp, bike, ride horses, and experience a variety of guided programs. There always seems to be something going on at the park. Don’t forget to check out the Junior Ranger Program!

Kid-Friendly Catalina State Park Hiking Options

Catalina State Park is home number of great hikes for kids of all ages, even if they need a stroller. We have broken them down by age to help you pick out the best for your family. This handy guide provides a full map of all hiking options and is available at the visitor center. There are not great options for ADA accessible trails. Below are some that will work with a stroller with some heavy lifting at times.

Hiking in Saguaro National Park with Babies & Toddlers – Stroller/Wheelchair Accessible

Romero Ruins (0.6 miles)

This is an easy loop that crosses a seasonal wash and then meanders through the park. The Romero Ruins archaeological site includes the surface features of the remains from a Hohokam village dating back to about 500 A.D. The trail has educational trailside signs that are fund to read. The wash can be a great way to cool off on a hot day (and all kids love water!). It is stroller accessible, but you may have to carry it over the wash and up some steps if the water is running high.

Nature Trail (1.0 mile)

This is another easy loop. It is similar to Romero Ruins but without the water.

Hiking in Catalina State Park with Little/Medium-sized Kiddos

Whether your kid falls into this category or not is all dependent on your family’s hiking style. Our kids lived in baby carriers until about four years old. We were used to the weight and they were used to sitting and looking around. If you fall into this category, some of the advanced trails in the next section could be options. If your kids are new to hiking or just aren’t ready a long or steep trek, then these Catalina State Park trails will be perfect.

Birding Trail (1.0 mile)

This is similar to Nature Trail above but provides a chance to spot some elusive winged friends. It crosses a seasonal wash twice so you could get wet feet depending on the time of year. You can also connect this hike to the Canyon Loop Trail below if you are looking for a slightly longer trek.

Canyon Loop Trail (2.3 miles)

This is an easy hike through the foothills. The loop starts at the Trailhead parking lot on the Romero Canyon Trail. Then you veer right onto the Canyon Loop Connector. Once you cross the Sutherland Wash (twice) you take another left on the Sutherland Trail back to the parking lot.

Hiking in Catalina State Park with Older Kids and Adults

There are a ton of other hiking trails in Catalina State Park that are good for older kids and adults. Given the overwhelming number of options, we’ll focus our attention our two favorites.

Romero Canyon Trail (6 to 14.4 miles)

This one is adults only (or really good kid hikers), but one of our favorites. It can take you to Montrose Pools and Romero Pools, which can be great for a quick dip! Montrose Pools is early on in the hike and often dry. Romero is about 2-3 miles into the trail and is a steep and rocky climb. This trail is unmaintained so you do need to pay attention. You can stop at Romero Pools or continue until you are ready to turn around. The Romero Canyon Trail ends at Romero Pass where it intersects Mt. Lemmon Trial and West Fork Sabino Trail. You literally can go anywhere from here!

Mt. Lemmon (27.2 miles)

This is a HUGE hike, but a great one. Plan a full day, bring lots of water and snacks, and leave the kids at home. From Cataline State Park you can hike to the peak of Mount Lemmon. To do so, follow the Romero Canyon trail (above) the full 7.2 miles until it hits the Mount Lemmon trail. Then hike 5.8 miles to the peak. To get home , you can retrace your steps OR about a third of the way back on the Mount Lemmon Trail you can turn right onto the Sutherland Trail and hike the remaining 9.9 miles back. This will lead you right back to the Trailhead where you started.

This clearly isn’t for the faint of heart, but the views are oh-so-worth-it!

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Why do we love Hiking in Catalina State Park with Kids?

Catalina State Park is all about one thing, the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains! It is also very close to Tucson which makes trip planning much easier.

The one downside to this park is that it has less options for those with strollers or needing ADA accessible hikes. If this is you, Sabino Canyon or Madera Canyon might be better options.

And again, there are A TON of hikes in Catalina State Park. We know how overwhelming it can be to visit a park with young kids and wanted to provide you with a curated list of our favorites! We hope you enjoy!

Let us know if the comments if you took any of these hikes and what you thought of them!

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The Quill Family

We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 


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