There are quite a few reasons to like the Palisade Trail – easy access to a great section of Pine Canyon, great views of an outstanding Santa Catalina waterfall, great views of Thimble peak and Tucson… But the best thing about the Palisade Trail is that you can use it to take a journey from the pines to the cactus!
8:20 AM – Sabino Canyon parking lot – this is where we will end our hike so we leave one car here and take another car up the Catalina Highway. We head about 19 miles up the highway and make a left turn onto Organization Ridge Road – the turn is just after a set of restrooms (on the right) and before the Palisade ranger station (on the left). The Palisade trailhead is less than a half mile down Organization Ridge Road on the west side – just after the turn off for Shower’s Point Campground. A dirt parking area and trail sign mark the start of the trail.
9:24 AM – After getting our gear together we head down the trail! The trail starts at about 7800 feet – we enjoy the cool air, tall pines and sounds of a small trickle of water in Palisade Canyon.
9:33 AM – After hiking for a few minutes there is a trail that comes in from the east – clearly signed ‘no public access’ – and a trail to the west. The trail to the west takes you to the bottom of Palisade Canyon (where there is usually some water to make this a nice diversion). Look west for good views of the Druid – a popular Tucson climbing area.
9:45 AM – The wilderness boundary sign – this marks the start of the descent into Pine canyon as trail moves to the east side of Organization Ridge. As you head down to Pine Canyon you start to move thru areas impacted by fire – dead tree trunks mix with new green growth.
10:15 AM – The trail levels out and passes within yards of Pine Canyon – a few different social trails will take you into a beautiful rocky area. A small set of falls is just a few minutes down canyon. This is a fantastic spot to spend a few minutes – or a few hours (or days!) – or use this as a turnaround point if you want a shorter hike.
10:35 AM – Mud Springs! The tank for Mud Springs is just off the trail to the west and there is an explosion of green as you approach. Watch your step – there is sometimes a slippery section of muddy trail (a rare treat in Tucson!) created by run off from the spring. A few minutes down trail you will cross a drainage that can be used as a rugged off-trail route down into Pine Canyon (it will arrive in Pine Canyon a few minutes below the falls marked on the USGS topo).
10:55 AM – The trail has been of the west slope of Pine Canyon for the past 40 minutes – very spectacular – and now it moves back to the other side of the ridge. For the first time in about an hour we can see Palisade Canyon, now much deeper and more rugged than the simple stream near the beginning of the trail. As you move across the ridge the trail become harder to follow – but if you are attentive there are more than enough cairns to keep you on the trail.
11:14 AM – Break time! We find a fantastic overlook and take a break. From here the trail takes a long and winding path down into Sabino Canyon.
12:38 PM – Just a moment after crossing Sabino Canyon we come to the signed junction with the East Fork Trail. Take a left here and you will head up switchbacks, eventually arriving at another trail junction – at this junction you can head down the Bear Canyon Trail or take the trail past Sycamore Reservoir to the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area (both interesting alternatives to ending in Sabino Canyon). Take a right and you will be heading west towards the Sabino Canyon Trail and Tram stop #9!
1:06 PM – Just after the junction with the Box Camp Trail duck under a tree and you will be at the junction of the West Fork, East Fork and Sabino Canyon Trails! This is a great spot to take a break and catch your breath before heading uphill on the Sabino Canyon Trail. If you have time and are comfortable rock hopping off trail you might head down canyon – in less than 20 minutes you should find some great areas to get in the water and cool down!
1:48 PM – Finally the junction with the Phoneline Trail – I am tired and it seems like forever to get to this junction! For a longer hike you could continue south on the Phoneline Trail – but we are (very!) tired and (very!) happy to head down to Tram Stop #9.
1:59 PM – Tram Stop #9 and the end of our hike!!!! There is almost no shade at the Tram stop but it doesn’t matter – we all sprawl out and wait for the tram. The current fee to take the tram down is $8 – you can walk the road, but at this point I was happy to hand over the $8… If you plan on taking the tram be sure to check the last time it will pick up at stop #9 and double check that it is currently running to stop #9.
My GPS reports that this hike is 10.88 miles – starting at 7,800 feet – in the Pines – and ending at just under 3,400 feet – with the cactus!