Charouleau Gap - Oracle, Arizona

By: Mark Griese- September 2002


Charouleau Gap


Just north of Tucson, Arizona, this trail meanders through the lower elevations of 9100 foot Mount Lemmon, offering excellent views of the Sonoran Desert and sheer granite cliffs. The riparian canyons and hidden pools formed by the Canada del Oro river are surrounded by an area rich in mining history and prehistoric Hohokam ruins.

The Gap is a challenging trail minutes from the Tucson suburbs in the picturesque Santa Catalina Mountains. This 4.0- rated trail is considered harder to run from Oracle to Catalina, than in the opposite direction because of one obstacle called "The Step". Since this was my first outing as a trail leader and first time on the Gap, I chose the easier route.

Shane's SAS on "The Step" The trailhead is well marked Tucson suburbs are close by

We were up early for the drive from Phoenix to Catalina. Our meeting place was Claire’s Café, a favorite local place for breakfast. After everyone was assembled and fueled up we headed out about 8:45am. The start of the trail is at the edge of town and is well marked. While the trail is only 19 miles long, we rarely did 10mph, so we did not make Oracle until just after 4pm.

There were five Tacomas in our group, mine being the smallest, with Shane’s solid axle swap towering over it. The sign up sheet asked for lift, locker, and sliders, but John from Tucson was without a locker, and did just fine.

The trail starts through what used to be a section of private land. The Tucson Rough Riders 4WD club fought hard to have this made into a Forest Service road. After a mile or so, you begin climbing through the foothills and some nice deep ruts.

Tucson Rough Riders Adopt-A-Trail John on the first steep climb Ruts big enough for the SAS to flex in

The first water crossing, although not deep this time of year, has a warning sign due to the rock gardens on each side.

Be Warned -- 4WD is required Mike on the rocks Mark at first water crossing

Once to "The Step", some bargaining was in order to see who would be first. Everyone was itching to try it, but I wanted to press on since we had to be back in Phoenix early. The bypass is steep but flat enough so it should not be a problem when running the trail in either direction.

Who wants to be first? John on "The Step" Mike on bypass

Next up was "The Car Wash" and some long rocky sections that do not track on the GPS maps. Mike lost one of the blades from his fan when crossing "The Car Wash" - our only carnage for the day.

"The Car Wash" Another rocky wash

Nearing the end of the trail are many ups and downs through creek beds and loose hills leading up to a long steep decent called "The Elevator".

"The Elevator"

The last couple of miles were graded this summer to allow heavy equipment access to battle the Bullock Fire. Some of the route may be difficult to find, we always chose the more traveled one and had no problems. Be sure to close the two gates as you go through them.

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