What to See and Do at Catalina State Park

If you’re looking to find an escape for some extra fresh air near Tucson, look no further than Catalina State Park. Located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area, this scenic desert park sits right at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a good time for solo hikers, couple getaways, or the whole family.

If you’re interested in learning more, keep reading! This article will teach you more about what Catalina State Park is known for, the park’s must-see spots, hiking trails information, open hours, entrance fees, camping opportunities, and nearby accommodations.

1. What is Catalina State Park Known For?

Catalina State Park spans roughly 5,500 acres of breathtaking Arizona foothills, canyons, and streams. Nature lovers flock here every year to take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife. (Fun fact – Catalina boasts around 5,000 towering saguaros!) In addition to drawing visitors because of its incredible scenery, this park is also well known as a hotspot for bird and wildlife watchers, as well as a great location for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians to enjoy multi use trails.

Catalina State Park Sign

Bird and Wildlife Viewing

Catalina is home to a vast number of desert wildlife, including over 170 different species of birds. Wildlife enthusiasts have high chances of spotting deer, coyote, big horn sheep, javelina, bobcat, and jackrabbit crossing through the park. However, it helps to keep in mind that most of these desert animals are nocturnal, so early morning and late evening are the most optimal times for viewing. 

For bird watchers, we recommend downloading the park’s printable bird list to keep track of what you see!

Hiking and Biking

Catalina State Park is a terrific spot for those who are seeking trail adventures– whether on foot, on a bike, or on a horse. The park has eight trails that showcase the towering Santa Catalina mountains surrounding the park. Catalina State Park is a great option for when you want to embark on a challenging hike but don’t want to spend your entire day doing it! Once you arrive at the park, swing by the Visitor Center to grab one of the park’s trail maps so you can plan your route.

Catalina State Park - Night Sky

Horseback Riding

Catalina State Park also has the equestrians covered. A horseback riding staging area is available for visitors who trailer their own livestock into the park. Your horses can be off-loaded for day rides, or you’re welcome to camp out with your animals. Catalina State Park offers 16 corral pens on a first-come, first served basis free of charge. Picnic tables, BBQ grills, a restroom, and drinking water are available here as well. Most of the park’s trails are open to equestrians. Be sure to double-check the signage at the trailhead before setting off.

If you’re interested in horseback riding on Catalina’s trails but don’t own your own horses, there are plenty of nearby stables with day ride packages. Contact Catalina State Park’s office to inquire further.

2. Top Spots to See in Catalina State Park

If you like to find something unique about every park you visit, don’t forget to check out Catalina’s Pusch Ridge Mountain view, Romero Pools, Romero Ruins, and Visitor Center! 

Pusch Ridge Mountain View

It’s almost impossible to visit Catalina State Park without seeing Pusch Ridge Mountain, as it is one of the most prominent features of the Santa Catalina Mountains that tower over the area. However, we especially recommend timing your visit so you can gaze at this peak during sunset. Talk about breathtaking!

Romero Pools

Whether it’s a hot summer day or a cool winter day with fresh snow on the ground, this is always a must-see spot. The Romero Canyon Trail will lead you past a forest of saguaros to a hidden gem known as the Romero Pools. These shallow pools are catchments from canyon streams that flow seasonally. In the summer months, the pools are full of blissfully cold water — a welcome escape from the Arizona heat. And in the later months of the year, the pools quite literally reflect the winter magic of the surrounding area and can often create rushing waterfalls. 

Please note, the Romero Pools can dry up during summer months, and you should also be mindful of summer being monsoon season so flash floods can come out of nowhere.  Always watch the weather.  If you’re planning a trip around this spot, be sure to call the Catalina park office ahead of time to inquire about their status.

Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail

This is an easy .75 mile loop trail that leads visitors to the Romero Ruins archaeological site. This historic area includes the surface features of the remains from a Hohokam village dating all the way back to roughly 500 A.D. 

On the trail, you’ll find helpful signs that will tell you all about the archaeology and importance of the site, the Hohokam culture, and the Romero homestead. Plan on 30 minutes of walking time. This is the only trail in the park designated for foot-traffic only.

Catalina State Park - Hiking Romero Canyon Trail

Visitor Center and Gift Shop

Catalina State Park’s Visitor Center is a must-stop spot for all your needs. Here, you can find postcards, maps, books, field guides, drinking water, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and tee-shirts. Park Rangers are also available here to discuss questions and provide camping permits. In addition to acting as the park’s gift shop and information hub, Catalina’s Visitor Center also showcases a number of educational exhibits that detail natural wonders of the park and southern Arizona as a whole.

3. Hiking and Trails Information

At Catalina State Park, you can hike, take a horseback ride, or mountain bike while taking in the glory of thousands of towering saguaros basking in the shadows of the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. The park offers eight marked multi use trails and leashed dogs are welcome on every single one. 

It can be hard to choose among these trails. They’re all great! Be sure to check out the park’s website for the fully detailed list. In the meantime, here are some of our recommendations:

  • Birding Trail – a 1.0-mile loop up and down the park’s foothills. No horses.
  • Canyon Loop Trail – an easy 2.3-mile loop that is mostly flat and offers great views.
  • Sutherland Trail – a lengthy 9.1-mile hike one-way that weaves in and out of the park and the Coronado National Forest.
  • 50-Year Trail – another lengthy 8.6-mile hike one-way. This one follows a ridge top into the open desert. The 50-Year Trail is known as a great choice for equestrians and mountain bikers!

4. Park and Camping Information

Park and Facility Hours

Catalina State Park is open year-round for day use from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm. The park’s Visitor Center and Park Store is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. Special holiday hours are as follows:

  • Thanksgiving: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
  • Christmas Eve: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
  • Christmas: Closed

Entrance Fees

  • Per vehicle (up to four adults): $7.00
  • Per individual/bicycle: $3.00

Family Camping Information

When it comes to state park campgrounds, it doesn’t get much better than waking up to the Santa Catalina Mountains staring back at you! Catalina State Park offers 120 developed campsites with electricity outlets, a water spigot, a picnic table, and a barbecue grill. All of the state park’s campsites also have nearby restrooms with flushing toilets and with hot water showers. 

RVs are welcome to utilize Catalina’s campsites. The park has placed no limit on the length of RVs but does limit reservations to a maximum of 14 consecutive nights. RV dump stations are available in the park. 

Catalina State Park campgrounds are open all year. The sites are first-come, first-served unless reserved ahead of time for a small $5 fee. To make a reservation, visit the Arizona State Parks website online or call the Arizona State Parks reservation desk at 1-877-MY PARKS (697-2757) during normal office hours. 

Catalina State Park Picnic Ramada

Group Camping Information

Catalina also offers group areas that can be reserved for overnight camping. There is a minimum number of 20 people required to reserve one of these group areas, and the maximum number of people allowed in each area is 200 people. 

Each group camping area includes a 20×40 shade ramada, 20 picnic tables, a pair of barbecue grills, and a fire put. The two group areas share a restroom facility that includes flushing toilets and hot water showers.

Whether you’re setting out for a night of camping or a week of camping, it helps to be prepared! We recommend checking out the Arizona State Park complete camping checklist to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases.

5. Where to Stay

If you’re not camping savvy, you can still find plenty of places to stay in the area surrounding Catalina State Park. The Tucson area is vast and contains a large number of hotels, resorts, airbnbs, and bed and breakfasts to choose from.
Here’s an article for Top 10 – Fun Things to Do in Tucson if you’re in the Tucson area.

If you’d like to get some hotel and restaurant tips from an insider, we recommend reaching out to the Tucson Visitor Center at +1 (800) 638-8350 or browsing through the official Tucson Travel Information Guide Website’s curated listings.

We’re sure you’ll find that the Tucson metropolitan area is booming with things to do, and Catalina State Park is one of the most highly recommended places to see while you’re there! Next time you have the chance, grab your hiking boots, sun protection, and a few friends, and head over to enjoy a day or weekend inside of Catalina State Park. Trust us, you’ll understand what all the buzz is about in no time.