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Monday, January 6, 2020


Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain District.
Panther Peak (center distance) looms over Panther Peak Wash
Situated in an airy wilderness in the northwest sector of Saguaro National Park, Panther Peak Wash trail delves into an unusual niche of the park’s varied eco-zones.
Panther Peak (L) and Safford Peak (R) from Cam-Boh trail
The trail sits at the base of a ragged ridgeline dominated by Safford Peak (3,563 feet) and Panther Peak (3,435 feet) and follows the sandy course of a desert drainage that funnels runoff from the surrounding Tucson Mountains. 
Saguaros grow above the sandy course of Panther Peak Wash
A bobcat footprint in Panther Peak Wash
A popular way to approach this hike is to make a loop by tying in the Cam-Boh and Roadrunner trails.
Santa Catalina Mtns seen from Panther Peak Wash trail
From the parking lot at the Cam-Boh picnic area, start at the west end of the lot where a map kiosk shows an overview of the route and key topographic features.  
The first leg of the hike follows the Cam-Boh trail 1.3 miles through open desert with clear views of the peaks and the Santa Catalina Mountains to the east. Massive chain fruit cholla, ocotillo and (of course) saguaros grow profusely on the sunny desert plains. The route hops over Prophecy Wash and crosses Picture Rocks Road before connecting with the Panther Peak Wash trail. After a short traipse through more flat desert on a slender single track, the route enters the wash proper. Here, the trail becomes a broad, sandy corridor that weaves among loose rock bluffs, jagged bends, shallow caves and narrow mesquite-shaded passages.
Junction for the Roadrunner trail is easy to miss
Water-scoured banks of Panther Peak Wash
Distant Picacho Peak seen from Roadrunner trail
Flood waters expose tree roots in Panther Peak Wash
Mesquite trees shade a bend in Panther Peak Wash
Environment-shaping power of water is evident on the route
Scoured escarpments, jostled boulders, and piles of twisted plants torn from the roots and smashed into heaps at the base of resilient ironwoods are evidence of the environment-shaping power of running water. This is not a hike to do during or shortly following rain storms as you could be injured or swept away.
Throughout the wash leg of the route, the soaring russet form of Panther Peak stands out to the north while a wall of smaller but equally striking pinnacles hover over the trail. 
Striking geological features are plentiful along the loop hike
Between ogling the mountains and curious rock deposits, keep an eye out for the easy-to-miss turnoff for the Roadrunner trail on the left. A small metal sign set roughly 10 feet beyond the bank of the wash marks the start of the 1.4-mile return leg. Standout elements of the final mile that parallels a quiet community of ranch homes are glimpses of Picacho Peak to the northwest and views of a dense saguaro forest blanketing a craggy ridgeline.  
Cholla cacti line the Cam-Boh trail
LENGTH: 4.5 mile loop
RATING: easy
ELEVATION: 2,278 – 2,530 feet
FEE: $15 - $25 for a 7-day pass. Interagency annual passes also accepted.
There’s a scannable QR code at the trailhead kiosk to pay by mobile devise.
Fee free days for 2020: MLK Day Jan 20, April 18, August 25, Sept. 26, Nov. 11
From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take the Ina Road exit 248 and go 2.7 miles west to Wade Road.
Continue 0.6 mile on Wade Road, turn right onto Picture Rocks Road and go 3.5 miles to the Cam-Boh picnic area on the left.  There’s a restroom at the trailhead.

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