Catalina State Park: Celebrating its 40th Anniversary + Hiking Safely in 110-degree Heat

Arizona hikers with no water rescued at Catalina State Park as scorching temps expand across Southwest

Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona celebrated its 40th anniversary in May. The park serves as one of Tucson’s most popular hiking and camping destinations and is well-known for its trails and saguaro-studded scenery.

With temperatures reaching the 110s and an excessive heat warning in place, knowing how to keep yourself safe if you choose to hike is important. This time is the year is the most common time for heat-related illnesses and hiker rescues. Two hikers were recently rescued and officials say the pair failed to bring enough water as excessive heat scorches the Southwest.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park is home to many common hiking trails. Park officials say that if you so want to enjoy these hiking trails, it’s best to come as early as possible to avoid the triple-digit temperatures.

“They were about six to seven miles out on some very rugged terrain. They didn’t have enough sun protection and they became exhausted and needed an extraction,” says George Graham, the senior ranger at Catalina State Park.

The rescue was no easy task and required three separate groups to rescue the hikers. Graham says the area the hikers were at could only be reached on foot and doing so at 105 degrees was “a very very difficult task.”

Graham says the three most important tips to remember when hiking is pack a lot of water, hike with a partner, and go early in the morning.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park was signed into legislation in 1974 and over the next three years its Master Development Plan was formed by students of the School of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona and completed by a citizen’s planning committee.

After a series of land trades, leases, a land purchase, and initial construction, Catalina State Park was dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt on May 25, 1983.

“Just in terms of visitation, Catalina is our third-busiest park in the state,” said Bob Broscheid, executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails. “We know there are members of the community who visit there daily to hike the trails and enjoy the calming surroundings. Part of what makes this park special is the dedicated staff and volunteers who ensure everyone has a great visit.”

Camping at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 120 campsites, an equestrian campground with horse pens, picnic areas, and an expansive network of multi-use trails leading into the Coronado National Forest.

In summer 2020, the park was impacted by the Bighorn Fire which was started by a lightning strike in the Catalina Mountains. The fire burned nearly 120,000 acres before being extinguished.

In late 2020, a new Master Development Plan was approved for the park. Additionally, Catalina State Park has received $5.8 million in funding for fiscal year 2024 to design and build a bridge spanning the Cañada del Oro wash that separates the entrance of the park from the campground. Since the fire, this wash has been more prone to flooding from rain and runoff in the mountains.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First responders were called to Catalina State Park located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson after the pair of hikers wandered off trail, Golder Ranch Fire District wrote on Twitter. Officials said the hikers were found without water.

The fire district urges hikers to stay on trail, bring plenty of water, and start hiking early before the heat spikes. 

“Keep in mind temperatures are dangerously hot now through this upcoming week,” fire officials said.

Cañada del Oro wash floods at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Weather Service in Tucson issued an excessive heat warning for six counties through Tuesday evening for most of Southeast Arizona. Over the weekend, the temperature at Tucson International Airport had hit 111 degrees.

Hot temperatures have been expanding across the Southwest with parts of Texas seeing above-average temperatures for the 12th straight day.

The heat wave in Texas has offered little reprieve. For two straight weeks, high temperatures in Del Rio have exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day—rising at its highest to 115 F. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 13 people have died as a result of the heat in Texas. Eleven of those deaths were in Webb County. The city of Laredo has recorded 16 consecutive days of 105+ temperatures.

During this heat wave a 31-year-old Florida man and his 14-year-old stepson died in Big Bend National Park in Texas after hiking in extremely hot conditions, according to park officials.

The teen had become ill on the Marufo Vega Trail around 6 p.m. and lost consciousness as temperatures hit 119 degrees.

The teen’s 21-year-old brother attempted to carry him back to the trail head as the stepfather left the two to go back to the vehicle and find help. The stepfather’s vehicle was later found crashed over an embankment at the Boquillas Overlook.

Both the 14-year-old and the stepfather were pronounced dead when officials arrived at the scenes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking in the heat

Planning your hot weather hikes is an important factor in staying cooler when hiking in the heat.

1. Choose a location that will provide some shade. Hike in the woods or canyons that are not exposed to direct sunlight. Higher altitude hikes will also be cooler.

2. Choose a hike near water. Sometimes the slight breeze from the ocean or lake can be a little refreshing. If you will be hiking near a creek or river, you’ll have access to the water to cool off by splashing some water on you or dipping a hat, neck gaitor or shirt in the water.

3. Check the forecast. Obviously you know it will be hot but if they are calling for record highs it is during a brutal heat wave or humidity levels are going to be extremely high, you may want to reconsider and hike on a different day. Humidity levels play a huge factor in the heat index making it feel hotter than it is. It can seem like you are walking in a steamy fog!

4. Hike in the early morning or late evening. Don’t hike in the hottest part of the day which is usually between 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.

5. Choose light colored clothes. Dark colors absorb the heat making you even hotter. Select light colors like white, tan, or pastels to help reflect the sun and heat.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. A UV-protected, wide brimmed hat is best, but even a ball cap will help protect your head and face. 

7. Start hydrating before your hike. Don’t start your hike dehydrated. Begin drinking more water several days before your hike. Better yet, just get in the habit of drinking at least 64 ounces of water every day!

8. Drink plenty of water during your hike. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Sip on your water though out your hike. Take plenty of water plus water purification if you will be hiking near a water source.

9. Know the signs and treatment of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Both are usually caused by dehydration when exposed to high temperatures. One of the first signs of dehydration is dark colored urine.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check this out to learn more:

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith