Every time you ride up Mt Lemmon, you parallel Molino Canyon for a couple of miles. Eventually I wondered what it would be like to hike up it from the bottom to Molino Basin. Finally I did this on 3/31/2020, taking a bit under 5 hours.
There was certainly some tedious ground to cover, working my way through bushes and grass and sandy patches, but there were also parts that were much more interesting than I expected, giving me plenty of Class 3, 4 and above scrambling.
From the intersection of Catalina Highway and Tanque Verde, drive up the Catalina Highway to the second 4-way stop at Snyder Road. Turn right and drive for 1 mile to the stop at Soldier Trail. Cross Soldier Trail and go 0.4 miles further east along Snyder then turn left on N. Avenida de Suzenu. Follow this for 0.3 miles until it deadends at Horsehead Road. Park here.
Follow Horsehead Road east for about 0.6 miles until it sort-of deadends at N. Wentworth Road (which is an incredibly steep bicycle ride). Go down into the wash then follow this uphill. It starts off easily, just hiking up the bottom of the wash, but just wait, there will be plenty of interesting scrambling.
There are several places where the canyon closes in with beautiful short rock walls. For the most part you can climb up the rocks without too much trouble (assuming you are comfortable with technical scrambling), although there were a few spots where the route I chose had some very difficult moves. But mostly you can choose the route you want to follow.
There was a fair amount of water flowing when I hiked and scrambled this canyon—some of the sections would be much easier if there was no water. There was one short section where I took off my socks and shoes and waded.
I was able to climb the rocks around the waterfalls at all the waterfalls but one (shown in the photo on the left.) I tried climbing the rocks on the left wall but towards the top there were too many large loose-looking blocks, so, being by myself, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and retreated. You can bypass this part of the canyon on either side, then descend as soon as you can to rejoin the bed of the canyon above the cliffs.
Above this it seems that the interesting scrambling is over as you now have some tedious work to do, but never fear, there are several more shorter but still interesting rock walls ahead. One of these interesting areas is where the canyon bends right, just below the Molino Canyon Vista. There are some lovely pools in this whole area, and you’ll see lots of footprints from people who hike down from the road to play in the pools.
Eventually there is a tunnel on the left under the road, but don’t take this. Instead continue up the main river bed until you reach a double tunnel under the road. Go through this then follow the river bed up to the main parking area at Molino Basin.
Links and Other Clicks
A page about cycling up N. Wentworth Road.