This route takes in two great southern Arizona desert peaks while completely flooring the hiker in Sonoran desert richness. This route takes advantage of many miles of trails that are not marked and do not show up on maps I’ve consulted, but nonetheless exist and are clear to follow. There is a brief but steep and prickly bushwacking section to reach the summit of “Little Cat Mountain.”
Enjoy the views, the desert outcrops and the Sonoran Desert flora, and pinch yourself to remember you’re so close to downtown Tucson!
Roundtrip Distance: About 6 miles
NET Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet (cumulative gain is higher)
YDS Rating: Mostly rough Class 1, but steep, rough Class 2 to Little Cat summit; perhaps Class 2+ on the "Little Cat" summitblock.
I describe below one of several ways to access this loop route.
• From I-10, south of Tucson, Hwy 86 / Ajo Way and head west on Ajo Way for roughly five miles
• Turn right / head northwest on S. Kinney Road for about one mile
• Turn right /head northeast on Sarasota Blvd north for ½ mile
• Turn right on a (currently unmarked) gravel road; if you enter Tucson Estates manufactured home community you have gone too far on Sarasota.
• Park in a gravel parking area where a walk-through gate permits access through the fence
• From the parking area, go through the gateway in the fence and head northeast on wide trail / old road.
• Follow this path as it narrows to a wide trail for less than one mile to “Los Gatos Pass,” the low saddle between Cat Mountain and “Little Cat Mountain” (UN 3330).
• Stay on the trail just past two rusty red metal posts – good markers for departing the main trail. Keep your eyes peeled here for an unmarked trail heading generally northwest along the eastern base of “Little Cat Mountain.”
• Continue for roughly ¾ of a mile to a saddle between “Little Cat Mountain” and the southern summit of UN 3380.
• Look for a cairn and a rough footpath heading through the desert flora southwest toward “Little Cat Mountain.”
• This path is steep, narrow and rugged but will lead you up to the only obvious weakness in the cliff band surrounding the top of “Little Cat Mountain.”
• The route climbs steeply through prickly plants over rough, sometimes loose terrain, to a plateau below the summit of “Little Cat Mountain.”
• Continue southwest across the plateau, following a use trail where possible, toward the “Little Cat Mountain” summit block.
• A few easy scrambling moves will put you on the pleasantly airy summit of “Little Cat Mountain.”
• Enjoy the views before backtracking across the plateau, down the steep, rocky slope, to the saddle.
• From the saddle, head northwest on the well-established use trail, heading slightly downhill, for just a hundred yards or so.
• Keep your eyes sharp for a smaller use trail heading north up a slope.
• Follow this unmarked but well-loved use trail for about ½ mile to a highpoint. This is the southern sub-summit of UN 3380. From here, the summit of UN 3380 is visible to the northwest, and quite enticing.
• Descend briefly heading northwest to a summit, then begin climbing again along the trail.
• Less than ¼ mile from this saddle, a spur trail heads ruggedly east to the summit of UN 3380. Stop at the summit, sign the register and take in the awe-inspiring views.
• Descend the spur trail to regain the main trail. Follow this trail roughly northwest long the northwest ridge of UN 3380. The view of the Gates Pass area from here are divine.
• The trail then descends to the north to regain a well-established trail on the valley. Head west on this trail.
• Follow this trail west for about ¼ mile, carefully selecting from the maze of trails here a well-worn route that will wrap around the base of UN 3380 heading southeast.
• Continue on this trail, which eventually parallels W. Tucson Estates Pkwy, for 2 miles to return to the parking lot.
• Trail map (Trails Illustrated #237 – Saguaro National Park would meet most needs)
• Scrambling gloves (gardening gloves would do in a pinch)
• Clothing to protect your skin from rocks abrasions and vampire desert plants (including long pants and long sleeves, though gaiters may be useful as well).
• Abundant drinking water and salty snacks