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Name: Sutherland Trail FR643 Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on two votes)
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (4 out of 5)
Time: 4 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 3.5 miles (one way) Elevation gain/loss/change: +1500 / -0 ft / +1500 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 3600 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Medium Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: February, 2011
Short Description: This is the toughest, roughest trail around Tucson
Geocaches:Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Cargodera Flat-Rock Oasis;Tanks for the Mammaries.
References / Contact Information: FJ Cruiser Forum; Ihmud, Youtube Video (McDonald); Youtub Video (Hummer X)
Points of interest: "The Squeeze"; nice views of NW Tucson and Oro Valley; difficult 4WD.
Special Considerations: State Trust Land permit required.
How to get there: The trail starts in Catalina (a few minutes north of Tucson and Oro Valley). From Tucson, take Oracle Rd north until you reach E Golder Ranch Rd (just before entering Catalina). Take a right on Golder Ranch Rd and drive almost 2 miles until the road turns to dirt (Waypoint 009). Click here for directions.

Trail Description

This is toughest 4WD trail around the Tucson area. It should only be attempted by experienced four-wheelers who know how to drive. Most stock vehicles will have problems. Rocker panel, bumper, body damage and roll-overs possible. Not only is this trail difficult, but it is rough. I've never seen a trail so littered with rocks (usually about the size of soccer balls). It is one bumpy ride. But, if you want a place to challenge you and your vehicle, this is it. The further you go, the tougher it is. You can take it just to where you don't feel comfortable, then turn around. And up near the Wilderness Boundary, the scenery and views are nice.

General Information and History

I believe the Sutherland trail is named after the Sutherland family who lived in the area in the 1800's. The road follows a series of power lines that go from Catalina all the way up to Mt. Lemmon. The power lines are still there (and look functioning), but the road is no longer drivable the entire trip. At around 6000 ft it intersects a Wilderness Area and is closed off. A hiking trail skirts the edge of the Wilderness Area and continues all the way up to the top.

The Wilderness Area isn't what is going to stop most four-wheelers. There's an extreme spot (Waypoint 0019) about 0.75 miles from the boundary edge that will turn back all but the most adventurous (and have the vehicles to match).

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The Trail

The actual trail doesn't start until you reach Waypoint 0011, but here are directions from where your tires meet dirt. At Waypoint 009 (the end of Golder Ranch Rd pavement), take the dirt road directly in front of you.

After almost 0.75 miles, keep right on the public access road (to the left is a private drive). Keep going for another 0.8 miles until you reach a large parking area and a gate to FR643 (the Sutherland Trail). This is where you can air down your tires, check your vehicle and gather your courage.

Head through the gate and up the trail. The trail starts the long, gradual climb up along the northern side of Sutherland Ridge. The hill near Waypoint 0012 will give you just a hint of what's coming. This is an easy hill compared to the rest of the trail. If this makes you nervous, it's probably time to turn around.

Go through the gate at Waypoint 0013 and keep left at the trail intersection at Waypoint 0014 (the hiking trail to the right heads to Catalina State Park).

The first real taste of what this trail is like is at Waypoint 0015. It's called "The Squeeze" for good reason. You will have to navigate your way through some boulders that many vehicles will have only an inch or two on either side to spare. All this while you're careful not to slide down in the 3 to 4 ft crack in the middle and going up and over a large boulder at the end of the obstacle.

Luckily, there is a bypass, which is what we decided to take (yep, call me a wimp, but I don't really want a large dent in the door of my Rubicon just yet). Just to the left of The Squeeze, you can climb up the large rock to the top of the small hill. Sound easy? Well, it is easier than The Squeeze, but unless you have a big lift and tires, you will need to place your tires right or you'll get into trouble. One of the Jeeps that went with us missed the line by a few inches, slid off the rock, bent his tie rod and needed to be winched up for fear of a roll-over. Hit the right line and it's fairly easy.

Continue up the trail until you reach Waypoint 0016. This is where the Baby Jesus hiking trail intersects the Sutherland trail. A nice break is to hike the 0.5 mile (one way) to the Wooden Tank along the Baby Jesus Trail to visit the goldfish (see Baby Jesus Trail for more information).

After Waypoint 0016, keep heading up the hill until you reach Waypoint 0017. Here's another tough hill. Again, correct tire placement is critical for not getting hung up on a differential.

More small obstacles dot the trail between Waypoint 0017 and 0017A. There's a large parking area off to the right at Waypoint 0017A and can be used to turn around, which is what we did. The canyon off to the right is nice and after a nice rain (or snow melt), there are places where waterfalls would flow down the rocks.

We walked up the trail to Waypoint 0018. There's a series of two difficult hills here. They are steep, rutted and have a thin layer of sand on top making them slippery. I think we could have made it, but we'd had enough by that time and a new impassible hill (at least one I wasn't willing to attempt) wasn't too much further up the road.

You can drive (or walk) up to Waypoint 0019 and have a look at this hill. There's a four foot off-camber crack that looks like roll-over central to me. People have done it before. Take a look at some of the pictures and videos from the references section in the table above to see what it's like.

I believe the road ends at the Wilderness boundary about 0.75 miles ahead of Waypoint 0019. I wish I had time to walk this, but we were running late. Next time.

Whatever you choose to do, when you've had enough of the Sutherland Trail, all you've got to do is turn around and do everything again, this time going downhill (which is much easier).

Look at the views heading back to town. Nice!. If you made it this far, congrat's, well done.

This is a nice place to test out your skill and your vehicle, but too rough for me to want to do on a regular basis.

Have fun and be safe!

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Comments

Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here. You can also rate this adventure by clicking here.

Bumpy, but fun trail

January, 2013: Me and a friend went up the Sutherland trail this past weekend and it was an great run. The only drawback was that this is by far the bumpiest trail I have ever ran. There were bowling ball size rocks covering every inch of the trail... The obstacles (the squeeze, etc) were very fun and took every bit of experience to navigate. My wife and kids enjoyed the scenery and overall this was a very fun day out with the Jeeps. I would reccomend this trail but again, you will be bounced out of your seat the entire day.

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