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Name: Pistol Hill Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Hike Difficulty: (medium). The trail is an easy walk, the medium rating is due to anticipated length, though for all 12 miles I would rate it difficult
Time: 4 - 6 hours (but can be as much as you want) Region: SE Arizona
Length: 12 miles (out and back) Elevation gain/loss/change: +627 / -447 ft / +180 ft (one way)
Type: Loop Avg Elevation: 3500 ft
Best time to go: fall, winter, spring Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: October, 2009
Short Description: A nice trail near the Vail area that takes you through a small saguaro forest
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Pistol Heights; Pup's Pleasure
References / Contact Information: Arizona Trail; Mountain Bike Trails
Points of interest: Colossal Cave. Lots of saguaros
Special Considerations: Can be a little crowded on weekends. Mainly a mountain bike trail
How to get there:The trailhead (Waypoint 001) is on Pistol Hill Rd about 1.5 miles north of Old Spanish Trail. Pistol Hill Rd is a well-graded dirt road and the trailhead is on the right side of the road, just past a cattle guard. The small parking area has a large wooden sign, though at the time of this posting, the sign didn’t have any information on it. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

This can be a nice semi-urban hike in the Vail area (southeast of Tucson). It's part of the Arizona Trail system, see Passage #8, Rincon Valley section. The trail heads through some small rolling hills, then to Colossal Cave Mountain Park and up to a saddle. Obviously, you can take this further (or turn around whenever you want). The last part of this section (near Colossal Cave Mountain Park) is my favorite as it takes you through some a nice saguaro forest.

Note: This trail was originally done as a mountain bike ride but is a great hiking trail. Many of the pictures and video are from my original ride.

General Information and History

The Pistol Hill Trail is part of the Arizona Trail (an 800-mile trail that winds its way through Arizona top to bottom). The hike described here takes you from the Pistol Hill trailhead south to the saddle between hills just south of Colossal Cave, but you can also go north from the trailhead or take the trail much farther south if you want.

For the first mile to mile-and-a-half, the trail glides and winds its way through shallow foothills like a kids roller coaster at the fair. You’ll enjoy the hike along Colossal Cave Mountain Park spectacular as you walk through mesquite trees and forests of huge Saguaro. Awesome! The climb up to the second saddle is the toughest part of the trail.

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The Trail

From the parking area, walk back on Pistol Hill Rd over the cattle guard for about twenty feet and you’ll see a cleared area on your left. This looks like another road, but the trail begins on your right just after turning into the cleared area. This is trail, so if you’re walking on a Jeep road for more than thirty feet, you’re on the wrong trail.

Hike south along the rolling hills as the trail makes a shallow climb up toward the first saddle. Along this portion of the trail, you’ll cross a number of four-wheel-drive roads. I’ve placed waypoints at some of them. The trail is well-marked and all you do is cross the road.

At Waypoint 004, you’ll find yourself at the top of the first saddle. Now begins a gentle descent into the Colossal Cave Mountain Park. When you reach Waypoint 006, you’re in the park. You’ll find old stone building walls, restrooms, picnic tables and ramadas here. A nice little park. The trail hugs the north side of the park’s road.

At Waypoint 007, you’ll have just finished a short descent down to the park’s road (a bit of pavement here) and you’ll walk on it for about twenty feet until you come to a wash and see the trail heading up between two boulders in the wash.

This part of the trail is beautiful as it winds its way through mesquite trees and through some huge saguaros. Some of the rocks are colored a beautiful red in this area. You’ll keep walking straight along the main trail past the intersecting equestrian trails at Waypoints 008 and 009.

A little while after Waypoint 009, you’ll begin hiking up the long switchbacks as you climb up to the saddle on your left. Another equestrian trail intersects the trail at Waypoint 010. Be careful of mountain bikers as you walk up the last part of this hill. The trail can be very narrow and some mountain bikers can pick up considerable speed coming down this section.

Once you’ve reached Waypoint 011, you’ve reached the top of the saddle. Congrat’s! Take a well-deserved break. If you want, you can continue down the other side, heading south toward I-10, or you can turn around and go back the way you came.

Whatever you decide to do, have fun and be safe!

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