Relatively new, the Bug Spring Trial in the Santa Catalina Mountains follows portions of an old abandoned trail that once linked Prison Camp with upper Bear Canyon. In spite of its name, the trail does not visit Bug Spring, which was once the primary water source for the old camp.
Cathedral Peak and the Mt Lemmon Highway above the lower trailhead
Geographically, the hike has two distinct sections. The lower portion passes through a burned area from the big fires earlier this decade, and tends to stay on or near ridge tops, with interesting rock hoodoos and big views.
Ridge top hoodoos
The upper half wanders through a delightful, unnamed canyon that escaped the destruction of the big fires, decorated with ponderosa pine, madrone, oak, juniper and Schott’s yucca.
Two trailheads serve the Bug Spring Trail. Driving from Tucson up the Mount Lemmon Highway, the lower trailhead is clearly signed: "Bug Spring Trailhead" near milepost 7.6. The upper trailhead near milepost 11.6 is signed “Green Mountain, Bug Spring”.
Parties with two or more vehicles available have the option of arranging a one way traverse of the Bug Spring Trail by either planting a car at one trailhead and driving to the opposite trailhead to begin the hike, or by breaking into two groups and swapping keys in the middle of the hike. The one way hike from upper Bear Canyon down to the lower trailhead is generally very mellow, though at the beginning there is a pretty steep hill to climb.
Abandoned water works below Bug Spring
Season: Fall, winter and spring. Lower portions of this trail can be very hot in the summer.
Water: Seasonal water is infrequently present in the un-named canyon along the upper portion of the trail; it is definitely best to bring plenty of your own water.
Difficulty: Moderate, though there are a few steep climbs. A one way trip is approximately 4.5 miles, with a 600 ft elevation gain traveling downhill from upper Bear Canyon; or a 1,400 foot gain from the bottom up. A round trip is about 9 miles long with a total gain of 2,000 ft.
Note: This is a Forest Service fee area. The Bug Spring Trail is popular with mountain bikers; be alert for downhill riders and be prepared to step off the trail quickly.
Maps: Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains
Click map for larger image