Recreation options you'll find at various sites around Arizona: hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, bird-watching, camping, picnicking and exploring ancient ruins. • Recreation options you'll find at Catalina State Park: all of the above. • You get the point. • The park - nestled in the foothills and canyons of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson - is a one-stop destination for many of the things people love to do in the great outdoors. • Make your way to the 5,000-acre preserve in late winter or early spring and prepare for pleasure. It's a time of balmy weather, flowing streams, tranquil pools, beaucoup birds and winsome wildflowers. • Today, we offer a guide to finding your outdoor groove at Catalina Park.
TREK THE TRAILS
Hikers have lots of choices - everything from the easy, milelong Nature Trail to rugged canyon routes that can pose a challenge even to hard-core hikers.
Some trails are contained within the park, but others extend onto adjacent national forest land. That allows trekkers to concoct loop routes and marathon hikes - some extending many miles from the park's 2,700-foot main trailhead to the 9,000-foot heights of the Catalinas.
The trailhead, at the end of the main park road, is the starting point for some of the park's most popular routes. They include:
• Canyon Loop Trail
This 2.3-mile trail is a mostly easy ramble with big visual rewards. Hikers pass through diverse terrain ranging from cactus deserts to broad ridges with big vistas and streamsides graced with tall cottonwood trees.
"Just beautiful," was the rave review from Joni Kiesecker, a visitor from Boulder, Colo., as she hiked the trail with her husband, Frank.
• Romero Canyon Trail
The 7.2-mile trail, with an elevation gain of 3,300 feet as it ascends to Romero Pass, poses a challenging 14.4-mile round-trip hike. Damage from forest fires can make some of the upper sections difficult to follow.
But here's the thing: You don't have to go all the way. Many hikers trek just the first 2.8 miles to Romero Pools and return.
Hikers Deb Larson and Mike Richardson found "good water running in the pools" on a recent trek, Richardson said.
Consult a park map and trail guide, available at the entrance station, for details on other popular routes, including the Nature Trail and Sutherland Trail.
HOP ON A HORSE
Equestrians find not only miles of horse-friendly trails at the park - but also an Equestrian Center with 12 pens available on a first-come, first-served basis.
All trails are open to riders except three short routes: the Nature Trail, Birding Trail and Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail.
Pusch Ridge Stables, an equestrian concessionaire near the park, offers rides on some park trails. Go online to www.puschridgestables.com for information.
PEDAL THE PARK
Mountain bikers find a mix of easy and challenging terrain on many park trails, but the 50-Year Trail is especially popular with two-wheel travelers.
The trail begins at the Equestrian Center and follows a ridgetop 2.6 miles through the northern part of the park. It continues beyond the park on State Trust land.
ADMIRE THE AVIANS
The mile-long Birding Trail, which is reached from the main park trailhead, winds through three types of habitat.
The habitat includes open expanses of desert scrub, streamside terrain and mesquite thickets known as bosques. Such varied habitat attracts a diverse mix of bird species.
CAMP OUT IN COMFORT
Camping is available in about 120 sites - including some with electric and water hookups and some without hookups. Rates are $25 a night for sites with hookups and $15 for those without.
Campsites have picnic tables and grills, and a larger picnic area is nearby.
YOUR LIFE IN RUINS
The park's Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail takes visitors on a look-but-don't touch tour of some ancient and historic ruins.
The ancient sites include faint remains of a walled village where Indians known today as the Hohokam lived more than eight centuries ago.
At another point on the three-quarter-mile loop trail are the crumbling walls of a house built by rancher Francisco Romero in the 1800s.
Tucsonans Kevin and Melanie Duckett walked the trail recently - pondering the challenges of life so long ago.
Access to the trail is from a parking lot along the main park road near a picnic area.
IF YOU GO
• Get to the park: Drive north out of Tucson on Oracle Road, which becomes Arizona 77. The entrance to the park is at milepost 81.
• Cost: Admission is $7 per vehicle and includes a map and trail guide.
• Dogs: They are allowed on park trails but must be leashed at all times.
• Good to know: Day-use entry will be free on May 4 in celebration of the park's 30th anniversary.