In Spanish, “ventana” means “window,” and hikers who enjoy the trek into Ventana Canyon will appreciate that name as they look back down upon the city of Tucson gorgeously framed by the rugged, saguaro-lined slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Hikers who travel this route in the winter and spring (or early morning during the summer monsoons when there’s some water in the ground) will also get to enjoy a series of isolated, rocky “Maiden Pools” tucked deep into the canyon that generally hold water year-round.
The hike begins just outside the Loew’s Ventana Canyon Resort, a four-star hotel tucked into the base of the mountains just north of Tucson. There’s a separate parking area for hikers that sits just outside the area for resort guests. Head to the north end of that parking area and look for the Forest Service’s Ventana Canyon trailhead. The trail here heads due west, following a property boundary for a housing development that is often hemmed in by a chain link fence that does little to add to the region’s beauty — so do yourself a favor and just keep looking to the north to soak in your desert scenery.
At 0.2 mile, the trail makes a nearly 90-degree turn to the north, following a broad fire road through some great desert terrain.
There is leased private property bounding the National Forest here, so please stay within the fenced-in boundaries on the fire road and trail to prevent damage to the landscape (and angry landowners).
At about 0.5 mile, you’ll pass through a Forest Service gate, and here the trail departs the fire road for a single track trail. It’s a beautiful route dotted with saguaro cacti, mesquite trees, and blooming brittlebush in the winter and spring.
Although the trail stays primarily to the east side of the Ventana Canyon Wash hugging the canyon walls, you will be crossing the wash several times on this trip. If it’s been raining recently or if Tucson’s had a nice stretch of precipitation, be prepared for a bit of puddle jumping along the way.
It’s a slow and gradual incline for most of the hike, but you will definitely note you’re climbing upward as the trail gets rockier and significantly more boulder-strewn. At about the 0.8 mile mark, you’ll pass a steep 80-foot high rock wall on the right, near a particularly rocky section of the Wash. If you lose your way here, look for cairns along the route to help you find the trail again.
It’s pleasant canyon wash-side hiking until about 1.75 miles, where the trail takes a sharp turn toward the left and begins a tough climb up out of the canyon floor.
While the elevation gain will certainly step up the difficulty of the trail here, the extra height will start to provide some of those unbelievable views of Tucson. Still, you’ll want to tackle this trail in the early morning to avoid overheating here, as there’s no shade other than the shadows cast by the canyon walls.
At about 2.4 miles, there’s an exception overlook down the canyon from near the top of the ridge you’ve just climbed. Soak in the southward views here, because you’re going to head over the ridge and then across some rock formations to the 2.6 mile point, where you’ll follow a short spur trail back down to the upper reaches of Ventana Canyon Wash and the Maiden Pools.
The Pools are a lovely place to have a snack and relax before heading back down the way you came in.
Alternatively, you can continue up the Ventana Canyon Trail to summit nearby Mount Kimball. If you’d like to add the extra destination, follow the Ventana Canyon Trail an additional 2.1 miles north and head west at the junction. In another 1.5 miles, stay to the right, and 0.4 mile later keep right to hit the summit.
Tags: coronado national forest, maiden pools, santa catalina mountains, tucson, ventana canyon