Sutherland trail was the perfect antidote to Finger Rock: smooth, gently sloping, little work for a satisfying payoff. We hiked it on a day when the weather was also the ideal winter mix of clear, calm and a mild 60 degrees. Tim and I arrived at CSP around 10 and proceeded through the gate to a nearly-full parking lot. Alan, the cairn terrier, accompanied us with great enthusiasm but very short little legs.
This trail is accessed off the Canyon Loop trail, so we left our car and walked to the east end of the parking lot, then hiked .8 miles along Canyon Loop to the turnoff, which is clearly marked "Sutherland Trail." Water was flowing higher than normal in the two stream crossings and I soaked a shoe at one crossing while trying to balance on the rocks as Alan pulled on his leash.
The trail begins with a climb up a couple of dozen stairs to reach a faux-ridge with a fairly wide, sandy path leading north. The views to the left (west) included parts of Oro Valley. To the east-southeast the high & rocky Catalina Mountains were dusted with snow and they made for a stunning backdrop. The trail included another brief climb, then leveled out for a long, gentle incline all the way to the turnaround. It dipped and snaked and curved, and fairly soon turned into single-track of nicely tramped earth. These types of conditions are fairly rare, with little dust nor mud and a perfect walking surface. We hiked through a few stands of tall, plump saguaro, eventually weaving among large boulders and walking over slick rock. Really pleasant hiking without much work. On the way out, we passed one couple with their poodle and a family with two small black dogs.
We reached a rusty, barbed-wire gate just as we heard the sound of fast rushing water. Through the gate, the path dropped down into a significant drainage, which I believe is called Cargodera Canyon. The trail crossed this small portion of the canyon via several stepping stones and a wide, flat rock that looked like the perfect lunch spot. After this it was a short jog to reach the split for "50-mile" trail to the left; we went right up what was described as an old jeep road but was more like a dry creek bed. We hiked up this road and aside from slightly different mountain views due to the change in direction, it was clear the scenery wasn't going to change. The end of this trail is the top of Mt Lemmon, a 6000+ elevation gain for a total of 12 miles. Since we weren't going that far, we decided to turn around, about 3 miles from where we'd begun. It wasn't much fun trekking on that road anyway, and something had spooked Alan because he couldn't wait to get back.
As soon as we got off the jeep road, Alan stopped straining at his leash and relaxed. We took a break at the canyon/flat rock area just as another hiker arrived, but it was clear he was only resting, so we sat and shared an orange. Just as I was beginning to relax, another hiker came from the other direction with two very large huskies on leashes and we decided to leave. It was clearly a popular destination point.
The hike back was delightful, as the whole walk was a mild downward slope, and the trail itself well maintained. Plus there were better views of the jagged, snowy mountains in the distance. Near the junction with Canyon Loop, I took a photo of two grazing horses (posted). Their owners sat on a bench nearby. When we reached the main trail, we turned left and continued the rest of the loop (1.6 miles) back to the parking lot. Saw many people along the way, and everyone seemed happy to be out.
Neither Alan nor I suffered undue fatigue and that puts this hike squarely in the "easy" category.