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Matt Marine

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Read the Experience Arizona Disclaimer before attempting any of our adventures. Check with local authorities (FS, BLM, etc.) before heading out on any adventures for updates road conditions, closures, etc.

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Name: Butterfly Trail Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on one vote)
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Difficult)
Time: All day Region: SE Arizona
Length: Approximately 5 miles out-and-back (for the portion I did), 12 out-and-back miles for the entire trail Elevation gain/loss/change: +2231 / -1997 ft / +234 ft (one way for the entire length of the trail)
Type: Through Trail Avg Elevation: 7500 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, summer Fees: Daily Mt. Lemmon Pass
Fitness rating: High Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Medium Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: July, 2010
Short Description: A difficult, strenuous hike through some beautiful scenery.
Geocaches:Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Log Reel; Marshall Gulch.
References / Contact Information: Coronado National Forest
Points of interest: Awesome scenery, portions of an F-86 fighter jet, wild raspberries (in season) and great views.
Special Considerations: Long, steep climbs. Mt. Lemmon Pass required.
How to get there: The trailhead (Waypoint 001) almost to the top of the Catalina Highway that winds its way up Mt. Lemmon. There’s a small parking area off to the right (and another to left nearby if this one is full). Click here for directions..

Trail Description

This is a beautiful hike up in the cool air of Mt. Lemmon near Tucson and a great change of scenery for us desert dwellers! But, this trail isn’t for beginners. It heads down, and keeps going. Some parts are steep enough that I was stopping to catch my breath on the way back up. You can also visit the site of an F-86 fighter jet crash in 1957. Finally, as the name implies, you have a good chance at seeing a bunch of beautiful butterflies. All-in-all an awesome hike.

NOTE: I did not complete the entire hike. The “red” trail on the map is the portion I was able to accomplish. The “blue” portion of the hike is the part of the trail I was able to draw by looking at other maps and reading other hiking blogs.

General Information and History

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve driven by the Butterfly trail, I’d be … well, I’d have enough for a cup of coffee (not at Starbuck’s though). Anyway, I never gave it a second thought. I’d never heard of it and I assumed it wasn’t anything special. I was wrong. Really wrong.

This was one of the most beautiful trails I’ve been on in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. I don’t know if the trail is always so lush and green as the time I went (maybe it was the heavy winter rains?), but sometimes it felt like I was bushwhacking my way through a jungle instead of hiking in the southwest. Portions of the trail were overgrown with thick green ferns and wild raspberry and blackberry bushes. The raspberries were all but gone in July, but I’m thinking sometime in early June this might be a great time to have a sweet snack during your hike.

Much of the initial portion of the trail is along the side of the mountain offering wonderful views to the north. You’ll also walk through portions of the forest that’s been partially destroyed in a fire some years ago.

I hiked this trail with my dog and it seemed like almost everyone else had the same idea. My guess is that about 75% of the hikers had dogs with them. You can also visit the site of an F-86 fighter jet crash in 1957.

NOTE: I did not complete the entire trail. The “red” trail on the map is the portion I was able to hike. The “blue” portion is the part of the trail I was able to draw by looking at other maps and reading other hiking blogs .

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The Trail

November 2013 Update: I received the following information from a hiker who tried to complete the trail this month. She started at the Butterfly Trail Head (Waypoint 001) as I did and found a couple of large trees had fallen across the trail. Negotiating them (especially with dogs) was difficult. Also the trail appeared to be overgrown near the plane wreckage (though she was able to make it to the plane). She was unable to find the trail after approximately Waypoint 006 and had to return to Waypoint 001. Remember to bring lots of water on this one. The climb out is difficult.

Remember: I did not hike this portion of the trail, but I am giving directions as I believe they should be (from reading other websites and blogs).

From the parking area, head north down the wide easy trail. But don’t be fooled. After about ¼ of a mile, this turns into the narrow, winding trail you’ll be on for the rest of the hike. You’ll hike on the side of the mountain for about a mile, then you’ll see a nice big rock with a great view (Waypoint 002). A little while later, you’ll come down into a open area with a fire pit (Waypoint 003). 

At Waypoint 003, you’ll cross the Crystal Springs Trail. Keep going straight. I saw the Arizona Black Rattlesnake at Waypoint 004. He gave my dog a nice little rattle to make sure she understood he was there. After that, he just laid there and soaked up the sun.

I hiked down to Waypoint 005 before I turned around. This last part of the trail was fairly steep and had lots of switchbacks. I wish I had the time (and energy) to go the next half mile to the plane crash site, but I decided to head back to the car from here. Either retrace your steps like I did, or continue on!

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