Romero Pools Trail: A Desert Oasis in Catalina State Park

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Climbing Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools

If you’re new to following us, then you’ll quickly learn that we’re absolutely in love with the Arizona desert. Vast desert plains, tall saguaro cactus, beautiful mountains, and brilliant pink & purple sunsets. Just a few attributes that won our hearts over!

Naturally, our favorite way to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the Arizona desert is through a solid hike. Now top that off with a gorgeous oasis and you immediately have our attention and then some.

Catalina State Park in Tucson is where you can find this epic hike. The park boasts tall mountain ranges loaded with saguaro cacti where you climb to the very top to find these “hidden” pools.

After hearing this, we made it a point to hike Romero Canyon Trail to see the popular Romero Pools during our brief visit in Tucson.

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The Romero Pools are an instant hit for any hiking enthusiast or desert lover, making it one of the more popular trails in all of Tucson.

The pools are shallow catchments from canyon streams that flow seasonally. Meaning in the summer months the pools dry up and then are replenished again during the wetter seasons.

So make sure you plan your visit at the right time to see them at their peak!

How to Get to Romero Pools – Romero Canyon Trail

To reach Romero Pools, hike the Romero Canyon Trail within Catalina State Park. The park is conveniently located just 30 minutes of the big city of Tucson and just 5 minutes from the smaller city of Oro Valley.

Literally a swift turn from the main street and you’ll quickly find yourself within the borders of this scenic mountain park.

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To reach the Romero Canyon Trailhead, follow the main road within the park all the way down till you reach the last parking lot on the left. If you hit a round-a-bout then you just past it!

Park in this parking lot and walk across the street to find the trailhead. (not the trailhead from the round-a-bout which is the Sutherland & Nature Trail) You should see signs for Romero Canyon Trail as you approach the start.

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Hike Details

  • Entry fee to Catalina State Park: $7/vehicle
  • Length: 5.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
  • Time to Complete: 3-4 hours

Remember, this is the desert. Hopefully you aren’t hiking in the summer as this hike would be rough to do in the heat. Make sure you bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and wear proper hiking shoes.

Romero Canyon Trail is basically all uphill. Expect to spend most of your time ascending up the mountain. If you have it, we highly recommend trekking poles as the climb up and down can be hard on your knees and joints. (we unfortunately left ours at home!) *facepalm*

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If you don’t own poles then look no further than the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles. Cork absorbs shock and sweat exceptionally well, long angled handles handles allow a variety of grips as you trek over different types of terrain, and the wrist loops provide plenty of cushioned support.

If you’re looking for something flat and easy, this trail may not be for you.

The First (& Only) Flat Portion

As you start the trail, you’re taken directly over a wide wash. Cross this and follow the signs for Romero Canyon Trail which takes you left up a small hill. There are several other trails in this area so make sure you’re always following the signs to avoid getting turned around.

The first section of Romero Canyon Trail is very flat. From the very beginning, you can already see the beautiful mountainside off in the distance. Already I was so excited to be out here, the scenery is truly magnificent.

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When you get to your first junction, stay right to continue on the trail to the Romero Pools. In total, this sandy flat section of the trail goes for about 1 mile until you reach the base of the mountain.

Beginning The Climb Up to Romero Pools

Now here’s where the fun really starts. You’ll reach another large junction, stay left and follow the signs heading up the mountain.

From here on out, you’re going to be climbing. Say goodbye to the flat land! *deep sigh*

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Honestly, while I don’t necessarily prefer steep incline, I never found this climb too daunting. Take your time, take breaks when you need them, and enjoy the views.

For the next 1.7 miles, the trail to Romero Pools is much tighter and more rocky as you head up the mountain. Expect to climb over jagged rocks and even do some scrambling in some areas.

This is always more fun for me! If anything, I prefer a little rock scrambling compared to a straight uphill trail.

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As you steadily climb up the mountain, you’ll quickly see some amazing views.

Just after 10 minutes, we were already in awe of the picturesque sight we had behind us. You could basically see all the way out to the horizon over the city of Tucson.

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Apparently, this is a popular area for Bighorn Sheep based on the signs posted. Sadly, we didn’t see any Bighorn Sheep during our time here. Maybe you’ll get lucky and catch a glimpse of one!

It’s A Cactus Lover’s Heaven Up Here

Along the way, you pass TONS of saguaro cacti. These magnificent plants obviously flourish up here from the heavy rainfall in the wetter months. It’s amazing how much water they soak in and store in their big thick arms and trunks. There’s just no other way to survive the brutal summer!

We saw some pretty epic ones placed perfectly in a few picturesque spots. Almost like they were standing there gazing off enjoying the view with us!

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Reminded us a lot of the incredible cacti we saw at Saguaro National Park. Just outside the city of Tucson! If you have the time, make this your next stop, you won’t regret it.

Further up the mountain, the trail becomes a bit rockier. Some parts you literally walk through cross sections of boulders where they cut the pathway through. Eventually you do hit some decline, as you wind around the mountain, but don’t get your hopes up. You’re heading back up before you know it.

Enjoy the views while you can from this beginning part of the climb. After winding around the mountain, you’re perspective starts to get cut off from the mountain range.

As you head higher, you’ll see the Saguaro cacti forest become denser. It’s crazy how many reside up in the peaks of these mountains! An authentic desert forest at it’s finest.

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Crossing Over The Mountain Pass – About 2/3 of the Way There

You’ll start to see the top of the mountain as you near the pass. I was hoping Romero Pools were just over the hill, but no, not yet! Once you reach the top of the peak, I’d say you’re about 2/3rds of the way there.

The good news is the trail past the mountain’s peak is a combination of both uphill and downhill. Making it a little bit easier than a straight incline as you previously experienced.

Once over the peak, you’ll decline for a little ways. Giving your muscles and thighs a short break! My feet were pretty tired by this point but I knew we were getting close to Romero Pools. There was no turning back now.

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As you follow the trail down and back up again, you’ll start to hear running water off in the distance. Although it’s not till after you descend, ascend, and descend again that you’ll reach the pools. Just know after crossing the peak, you’re in the home stretch!

Reaching Romero Pools

Finally, after a steady climb and work out, you reach Romero Pools in a crevice of the mountain. And what a gorgeous oasis it was to see after trekking through that dry desert landscape!

There are multiple pools that make up Romero Pools. The first is a small running creek that’s right next to the trail, this is what you come up on first. If you head left and down through some brush, you’ll find 2 larger pools, one sitting above the other.

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I’m sure in the wet seasons the water level can get pretty high which would mean seeing some steady waterfalls. No waterfalls for us this time around!

Surrounding Romero Pools are tons of smooth rocky ledges to rest on. Perfect for an afternoon lunch if you brought food or to simply just sit and take in the satisfying view.

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We scrambled a bit around the boulders to take a peek at all the different pools. The largest pool seemed to be the lowest, sitting furthest away from the trail. The rock faces can be pretty slick so be careful as you climb around the area.

Hike Further to Romero Pass (4.4 miles further!) Ayyee

If you have it in you, you can hike further past Romero Pools to continue along Romero Canyon Trail. It goes on for another 4.4 miles to Romero Pass at 6,000 feet elevation. This is technically where the trail ends, intersecting with Mt. Lemmon Trail.

Definitely quite a ways further if you continue on to Romero Pass. Expect 7.2 miles from the start of the trailhead to Romero Pass with an elevation gain of 3,300 feet! Basically a 5 hour hike only going one way.

Although, if you’re just craving a bit more (but not that much!), you could always just hike a bit further and turn around whenever you’re ready. I don’t know about you, but I’m not capable yet of a 14.5 mile hike in just one day. Props to those who are!

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Once you’re ready to head back, go back the same way you came in. The good news is that you’ll finish the trail almost twice as fast compared to before since you’re mainly descending. Hopefully you have trekking poles as the decent was pretty tough on our knees and legs.

Could be the fact we just completed a 8.5 mile hike just 2 days prior, but who knows! Nonetheless, my legs were pretty shot by the time we reached the car!

Why Romero Pools Are Certainly Worth The Climb

Out of all the hikes we’ve done in Arizona, Romero Canyon Trail to the Romero Pools is undeniably one of our favorite trails we’ve done in the state. It’s not that common to find a combination of stunning desert scenery, incredible views, cacti forests, and refreshing pools in just one trail.

And all within 5.6 miles? Amazing to say the least!

While there definitely is some pain and puffing to get up the mountain, the scenery along the entire trail made the whole journey worthwhile.

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We already can’t wait to visit Catalina State Park again to see the many other trails the park has to offer! Romero Pools Trail should be on everyone’s list for nature lovers traveling through Arizona.

Visiting from out of town like we were? Affordable lodging would be best found in the city of Tucson. Always cheap rates and much to do in one of Arizona’s largest cities! Or even better, grab an AirBnb for a more unique experience. Our favorite type of nightly accommodation. Feel free to use our $40 off discount code towards your stay!

For more of our favorite desert hikes in Arizona, be sure to hike the beautiful Devil’s Bridge Trail in Sedona or the more intense South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon!

Have you been to Romero Pools in Catalina State Park? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below!

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About the Author

Shelby Kirk is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. With a strong love for nature and adventure travel, she hopes to inspire others to get outside and explore our natural playground that we call home.

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