Hiking in the Tucson area is one of the best ways to connect to the desert and see the beauty of this sunshine and cactus-covered lands first hand. While there are some trails better left to experienced hikers, the region hosts potential adventures for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels.
Regardless of your experience, always exercise good judgment. In the desert, no matter what season, it’s important to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water. In the summer, save hikes for early mornings and always bring more water than you think you need.
Also make sure to wear comfortable shoes, don’t be embarrassed to take a walking stick along and don’t be afraid to get out there and see nature. Remember to be mindful of wildlife in the area; stay on the trails and be alert, and definitely don’t pet the javelina.
1. Sabino Canyon
A natural desert oasis on the northeast side, this hiking gem on the edge of Coronado National Forest is popular with out-of-town visitors and locals alike. Visitors to the canyon have the choice of taking a free tram through the eponymous Sabino Canyon Trail or Bear Canyon Trail. Along the narrated Sabino route, nine shuttle stops offer visitors a chance to snap pictures, interact with the environment and enjoy themselves. The Bear Canyon route also leads to the trailhead of Seven Falls—a popular collection of pools often filled with water. More information can be found online at sabinocanyon.com, and the parking lot for the canyon can be found at 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road.
2. Tumamoc Hill
Tumamoc Hill is home to an operating University of Arizona research facility sitting on 860 acres of ecologically significant land that’s considered one of the longest-settled locales in the region.
Not only is the site a living laboratory, but a popular destination for fitness enthusiasts. Previously closed to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the week, Tumamoc is now open from 4 a.m. until 10 p.m. The paved road allows for walkers or runners to make the three-mile trek to the top of the hill where pre-Hohokam once lived (the hike includes a 700-plus foot elevation change). On the way up, the switch backs exercise your heart, and you may see some mule deer and other wildlife. At the top, a beautiful view of Tucson awaits. Find the hill at Tumamoc Hill Road, which starts southbound from West Anklam Road, just west of North Silverbell Road.
There is also a smartphone app available for anyone interested in taking the trip to the top, called the Tumamoc Tour, and is available for both Android and Apple phones.
3. Pima Canyon Trail
Overlooking the Town of Oro Valley and the rest of the northwest side, this hike situated within the Coronado National Forest offers a chance to hike among the region’s green obelisks—the saguaro. Three other trail heads that are part of this Foothills system besides Pima—Ventana Canyon, Finger Rock and Linda Vista. All go up into our beautiful Catalina Mountains.
Pima Canyon crosses a varied landscape: a rocky desert ridge into a cool riparian wash of old cottonwoods, around snaking bends to a col surrounded by peaks, up to a set of old dams. Mortar holes dot the bedrock where Hohokam Indian women once ground seeds. Intrepid hikers can continue for several steepening miles up to a saddle and on to Mount Kimball. To the north are views of the West Fork rift and summit of the Catalinas; to the south, the whole Tucson valley is laid out below. The most comfortable temps are fall through spring, but you’ll see locals in broad sun hats tackling the heat through the summer; this trail is just that beautiful.
To get there, head to the intersection of North Oracle and West Magee Roads and head east on Magee. Follow the road until the parking lot at the end.
4. Marshal Gulch
When the heat of the desert becomes overwhelming, or you just need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than Mount Lemmon.
In the winter it can be covered in snow, and in the summer it is often a refuge for cooler weather.
Located past the town of Summerhaven lies one of the mountain’s most cherished activities, the Marshal Gulch Trail. Also known as The Marshall Gulch Trail #3, this great hiking opportunity provides plenty of forest scenery and access to the top of the mountain, where the Aspen Trail, Mint Spring Trail and Wilderness of Rock Trail can be found. The out-and-back system covers nearly three miles and includes roughly 550 feet of elevation change. The Marshal Gulch Trailhead can be found by continuing through Summerhaven on Sabino Canyon Parkway to the parking lot.
5. Romero Canyon Trail
Located within the spacious Catalina State Park, the Romero Canyon Trail could be called a rite of passage for local hikers, because this trek can be tough at times. Stretching about seven miles into the Santa Catalina Mountains, this route cuts through washes, steep climbs and occasional rough trail conditions—though it comes with a marvelous payoff.
Roughly two hours after taking off from the trailhead, adventurers come to Romero Pools, a collection of natural pools that fill throughout the year to provide a refreshing dip after a long hike. Catalina State Park is home to several trails, and countless good memories. The park can be found at 11570 N. Oracle Road, and more information can be found online at azstateparks.com/catalina/things-to-do/trails.
6. Picacho Peak State Park
Home to dozens of camp sites, space for RVs and in the shadow of one of Southern Arizona’s most iconic natural structures, Picacho Peak State Park also hosts a handful of fun (and sometimes challenging) trails to hike.
Along Interstate 10 north of Tucson, the state park’s most well-known trek is the Hunter Trail, a two-mile climb that crests at the top of the peak. Definitely a difficult path to take, this trail includes sections of steel cables anchored into rock to assist in the ascent. If you want a taste of cable climbing with an easier beginning, the Sunset Vista Trail (3.1 miles) is a perfect step down in difficulty. There are three other, easier trails to conquer as well: the .7-mile Calloway trail, the half-mile nature trail and the Children’s Cave Trail, which spans only .2 miles. The park is open year-round from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the trails are open while the sun shines. Find the 1,500 foot peak at 15520 Picacho Peak Road.
7. Madera Canyon
South of Tucson down Interstate 19 is a forest paradise filled with nearly 100 miles of amazing hikes, spanning the experience chasm and providing handicap-accessible trails and gentle walking paths.
Birders love the region for the winged friends the destination attracts. Near the gift store is a great spot to sit and watch birds near a set of bird feeders, and sometimes you can find a coatimundi competing for some bird seed, too. Like Mount Lemmon, this is also another beautiful summer escape.
To start off in the picnic area, turn east off of I-19 at the Continental Exit 63. Follow the signs to Whitehouse Canyon Road and on to the Forest boundary, about 11 miles.
8. Tortolita Mountains
Bordering the northwestern extent of Tucson’s regional boundaries, near Oro Valley and Marana, is the smallest of the area’s mountain ranges: the Tortolitas. More attuned to the desert environment than the peaks of Mount Lemmon, a trek through the Wild Burro Trail is guaranteed to provide great scenes of the
The Wild Burro trail connects to a much larger network of regional trails, and provides for a more challenging (and much longer) trek. The Wild Burro Trailhead is located at 14810 N. Secret Springs in Marana.
10. Saguaro National Park
Separated into an eastern and western district on opposite ends of the Tucson region is Saguaro National Park.
Between the two districts, an adventurous spirit could find more than 165 miles of hiking trails ranging from leisurely walks to intensive treks. Within the Rincon Mountain District in the east are the Mica View Loop (2 miles round trip), the Loma Verde Loop (3.4 miles), the Deer Valley Loop (4.1 miles) and the Garwood Loop (5.6) miles—which means multiple trips into the region will supply a new experience every time.
Other highlights include Signal Hill with Native American petroglyphs and Wasson Peak with a 4,687-foot summit. Tucson Mountain Park is adjacent to the west area with even more paths.
The eastern district is located at 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, the western district at 2700 N. Kinney Road.