If you enjoy hiking, you’ll love Tucson. It’s just about as simple as that. Since the city is surrounded by five mountain ranges and bordered by two halves of a national park, there are seemingly endless opportunities to get out and experience nature, whether that’s 9,000 feet above sea level on Mt. Lemmon or a few steps away from a luxury resort; whether you’re an experienced hiker or just lacing up your boots for the first time. Here are ten trails worth looking into in the Tucson area – just remember to bring sunscreen and more water than you think you’ll need.
Located in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, the moderate hike to and from Seven Falls is accessed through the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area approximately 30 minutes from downtown Tucson, but also only a few minutes from restaurants and hotels. Yes, there’s a $5 day pass needed to enter the recreation area (this is true of nearly everything in the Catalinas), but you get a convenient parking lot and visitors’ center at the beginning of your journey in exchange. Yes, the “Falls” part of this area’s name does refer to waterfalls, which are running most of the year. Start up the Bear Canyon trail, turn at the sign and enjoy a half-day hike with a break for splashing in cool pools of water.
In the Tucson mountains, Tumamoc Hill calls to city-dwellers looking for a relatively-easy quick hike up a gently-sloped paved road. There are a few catches: the path is closed between 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM Monday through Friday (there’s a research station at the top that needs the road) and you can’t bring your pets. However, the 3.1 mile round trip offers a spectacular view of the city and – if timed right – a great vista for sunrises and sunsets.
Located in the beautiful Tucson Mountain Park (also the home of movie studio Old Tucson
and spectacular zoo Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
), the Yetman Trail offers a moderately difficult hiking experience of about 12 miles round-trip on a well-maintained path. Best of all, however, is that while you’re just a few minutes west of Tucson, there’s a distinct feeling of seclusion and quietness on the Yetman Trail among thousands of saguaro cacti.
Also located off the Bear Canyon Trail, Blackett’s Ridge is a more challenging excursion, but one that pays off with breathtaking views in nearly every direction of the city, Sabino and Bear Canyons and the Santa Catalinas. While you do have to prepare yourself (and your calves) for the 1,700 feet in elevation gain over six miles, this is the sort of hike that inspires great memories (and great Instagram photos).
First, a warning: Walking through the trails around the various pools of Tanque Verde Falls, you might see some unexpected sights. Naked people. The Reddington Pass area in the Rincon Mountains east of the city is a haven for nudists, so the sight of someone wearing a hat, hiking boots and nothing else (although let’s hope lots of sunscreen) isn’t super uncommon. Even if you’d prefer to keep your clothes on, the pools of this area are a great sight and some of the waterfalls are around 100 feet tall. More serious warning: jumping from adjacent rocks into the pools is a bad idea, due to unexpected submerged rocks and surprising currents.
The low elevations of the Tucson Mountains mean that the trails of this area aren’t ideal during Tucson’s summer months, but the rest of the year – especially in the winter – the hike to Wasson Peak is a spectacular opportunity to experience the best of the Sonoran Desert. Majestic saguaro are abundant on your trip to the 4,687 feet height of Wasson Peak and while it’s not an easy hike over some rocky hillsides and through sandy washes, the Red Hills to the west of Tucson are worth the effort.
Yes, it’s a little strange that the trailhead for the Ventana Trail starts in the employee parking lot and of the trails on this list, this might be the most challenging with some steep switchbacks, but the payoff is well worth it. Yes, the last section is possibly the most difficult, but when you get to “The Window,” in front of a hundred-foot drop, the view is unparalleled, expanding towards the city below. If you’re staying at Loews Ventana Canyon (the source of the aforementioned employee parking lot), the tough journey will be rewarded with a tasty cocktail.
With the word “mountain” in the name, you’d imagine the end of this hike would be the best part, but getting to the summit is anticlimatic. However, the journey – and this is definitely a cliché – is the point here as you wind through forests, canyons and a far greener environment than you’d expect from a desert. Catch this trail in March or April and you’ll likely get the treat of some snow on the ground.
This is one of the easy ones and provides a nice leisurely trip for all ages through the eastern portion of Saguaro National Park from a trailhead at the end of Speedway Boulevard, one of Tucson’s major streets. If you want to get outside, wear uncomplicated footwear, be among the surprising amount of green and hopefully finish with a running waterfall at the end of your walk, Douglas Springs is for you. It’s well marked, has a nice mix of terrain and is good for the whole family.
If you can find a way to get to the peak of Mt. Wrightson, the highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson, you should do so. With thick ponderosa pines, oaks, ferns and an environment that seems very out of place with the desert (yet still very green) biomes of the majority of Tucson area hiking trails, the Old Baldy Trail is about 11 miles round-trip and worth every foot.