National Parks & Forest Areas
One of the things that has put Tucson on the map as a top destination for outdoor recreation is the fact that it is bordered by both a National Park and a National Forest...
Saguaro National Park
Head to the east or west and you will hit the borders of the awe-inspiring Saguaro National Park, which is divided into two districts. The Tucson Mountain District lies to the west, just a short drive from downtown Tucson. A little bit further from Tucson's urban core but just as accessible is the Rincon Mountain District to the east. Both districts have distinct topography and unique history but the one thing they both have in common is stunning vistas and of course, a massive number of Saguaro cacti - more than anywhere else in the Sonoran Desert.
The Tucson Mountain district boasts ancient petroglyphs at sites like Signal Hill, plenty of hiking trails, gravel bike riding on the Bajada Loop Drive, and easy access from a number of other top Tucson attractions like the top-rated Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
The larger Rincon Mountain district stretches deep (and high) from the desert floor to Ponderosa pine forests, offering rugged day hikes or even multi-day backpacking excursions to sites like the historic Manning Camp. Staying closer to the entrance of the park also offers hikes for all levels and a beautiful bike or car ride along the paved but scenic Cactus Forest Drive.
Coronado National Forest
Head north or south of town and you'll find yourself in one of the sky island districts of Coronado National Forest. To the north are the towering cliffs of the Santa Catalina Mountains, home to the mighty Mount Lemmon. From the ski area at the top of this 9,159-foot behemoth to the warmer, lower elevation campgrounds and everywhere in-between, recreation opportunities abound, making this one of Sothern Arizona's favorite playgrounds. One of the most accessible and recreation-friendly areas of Coronado National Forest, here visitors will find numerous campsites, hiking and mountain biking trails, climbing routes, and one of the most famous road bike rides in the states, up and down Catalina Highway.
To the south are the wild and scenic Santa Rita Mountains, home to Mount Wrightson, the tallest peak in Southern Arizona (297 feet taller than Lemmon), and Madera Canyon, one of the country's most recognized birding destinations. Much like the Santa Catalinas, this picturesque range offers endless hiking trails and opportunities for hiking and biking. While the trip is a little bit further from Tucson than heading north to the Catalinas, the extra miles are certainly worth it.
And if you're willing to go even further beyond Tucson, the other districts of Coronado offer access to more of Southern Arizona's sky islands. Find even more rare species of birds in the Huachuca Mountains, more camping, hiking, and cycling in the Pinalenos, and stunning rock formations in the Chiricahuas, home to the must-visit Chiricahua National Monument.