Finger Rock Canyon and Mt Kimball

The top of Mt Kimball, a wooded summit that sits at the head of Finger Rock Canyon, is curiously non-descript considering its magnificent location. The headwaters of several rugged canyons in the Santa Catalina Mountains originate on the high slopes of Mt Kimball, including Montrose, Pima, and Finger Rock Canyons.

Finger Rock Canyon is one of the more spectacular “Front Range” canyons in the Catalina Mountains; narrow, steep, and decorated with huge cliffs and the unmistakable classic spire of Finger Rock. And, the mouth of Finger Rock Canyon is imminently accessible from the Tucson area.

Finger Rock with Mt Kimball’s wooded summit behind and right

The trip up Finger Rock Trail is one of the great hikes in southern Arizona, and also one of the more demanding and strenuous ones. The first mile of trail is relatively flat as it snakes through thick stands of Sonoran vegetation near the canyon bottom. But then the trail begins a steep and relentless ascent on the slopes above the rocky gorge. This hike requires heavy breathing!

Steep walls in Finger Rock Canyon

The vistas and rugged scenery are stupendous from bottom to top of Finger Rock Canyon, and the ecological transition from the saguaro forest below to the juniper and oak woodland in the higher country is fascinating.

A little shy of three miles up the trail watch for Linda Vista, a prominent saddle just off the path which shows a fine view of the Tucson valley. Linda Vista is a popular turn around point for hikers wanting a shorter outing on the Finger Rock Trail; not a bad idea since by this time you have seen the most spectacular reaches of the canyon and have gotten a nice work-out to boot.

After investing the considerable effort required reaching Mt Kimball’s summit, one can’t help notice that potential views are completely blocked by resident trees and vegetation. Take heart! An excellent lookout is available on a rock outcrop just 30 or 40 yards to the east.

Cathedral and Window Peaks from the view point east of Kimball’s summit

To reach the trailhead, drive to the very northern end of Alvernon Way. You can’t follow Alvernon all the way from Tucson as there is a big gap north of River Road. Pick up the final northern spur of Alvernon Way by turning north off Skyline Drive; the trailhead parking lot at the end of Alvernon is obvious and well marked.

Just a few hundred feet past the trail head continue straight north past a junction with the Pontatoc Trail, which heads east towards Pontatoc Canyon. A mile in, Finger Rock Trail leaves the canyon bottom and begins a steep and steady climb up the east side of the gorge towards Mt Kimball. About 2.8 miles up the trail, watch for a spur path heading south towards the saddle known as Linda Vista, with its sprawling view of the Tucson valley. At 4.2 miles a signed trail junction is reached – turn left (north) onto the Pima Canyon Trail which initially works uphill in the general direction of Mt Kimball. The Pima Canyon Trail avoids Kimball’s summit, and you have to be alert for an unsigned junction (32.37582 N, 110.88026 W, WGS84) where a spur trail heads right (northeast) towards the top. Kimball’s summit doesn’t offer much in the way of views because of a thicket of trees and brush — walk just a little further east to reach a good viewpoint.

Upper reaches of Finger Rock Trail

Season: Fall, winter and spring. With its south facing aspect and narrow, heat-absorbing canyon walls, summer heat in Finger Rock Canyon can be ferocious – avoid this hike on hot days.

Water: Generally scarce: bring plenty of your own.

Note: Dogs are not permitted on this trail.

Difficulty: The trip to Kimball’s summit is difficult – about 4.8 miles one way with a nearly 4,200 foot elevation gain. After the first mile, the trail is continuously steep. Hikers looking for an easier outing will enjoy the scenic lower sections of trail. The first mile has little elevation gain, while a trip to the Linda Vista saddle is about 3 miles one way with a 2,500 elevation gain (still pretty challenging!)

Maps: Rainbow Expeditions Santa Catalina Mountains, Green Trails Maps Santa Catalina Mountains, or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.

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