Hiking in the heart of the Sonoran Desert is a blissful way to spend your free time, regardless of the season. Luckily for those living in Southern Arizona, there are plenty of locales offering some of the nation’s finest trails, with a seemingly-endless array of scenic and physical variations at your disposal.
We’re blessed with beautiful trails through national, state and county parks. Whether it’s the dryland basins of the Tucson Mountains, the riparian utopia of Sabino Canyon, or the sprucy wonder of Mount Lemmon, there’s a hiking trail to suit your fancy in our midst.
Scenic beauty isn’t the only benefit to getting out on the trails and conquering some peaks, hiking is a good cardio workout with a wide list of benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease, improving blood pressure and improving core strength. (Plus, some studies have shown that hiking even reduces stress and anxiety.)
With so many places to begin your trek into Mother Nature, it can be a little challenging to find the right spot. Here are some popular hiking destinations in the region:
Romero Pools (Catalina State Park)
This 5.5-mile trek follows along the spine of the Santa Catalina Mountains, with 1,322 feet of elevation gain. The long and sometimes arduous path eventually leads you to a double-tiered basin of pools that contain runoff water from the taller peaks year-round, so you can either cool off in the heart of the summer or merely take a moment of Zen by the water’s edge if the temperature’s on the cooler side of the thermometer. The out-and-back trail can increase in difficulty, given the flow of Sutherland Wash, which cuts through the trail from time to time in the year. Romero Pools follows along the dry stream bed that flows from the Catalinas to the Cañada del Oro Wash, which can create various challenges when the region receives precipitation, generally in the winter and summer monsoons. Entrance to Catalina State Park (11570 N. Oracle Road) and the trailhead is $7, with a large paved parking lot between the gatehouse and the start of the earthen path.
Marshall Gulch (Mount Lemmon)
There are two trails that take you through the upper reaches of Mount Lemmon to Marshall Gulch, in the 4.4-mile Aspen Trail and the equally-stunning 5.1-mile Sunset Trail. Each of the aforementioned paths are moderately difficult, with the former being off limits to dogs, while the latter is dog-friendly, as long as your pooch stays on its leash during the duration of the trek. Both trails offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, the City of Tucson and everything in-between. Both treks also provide needed reprieve in the hot summer months for dedicated hikers, with bountiful coniferous trees providing shade, along with sizable elevation that is far cooler than the city limits.
Seven Falls Trail (Sabino Canyon)
Any list of hiking spots in Southern Arizona would be incomplete without the famous Seven Falls Trail, which winds its way to the aforementioned falls. The five-mile hike gains 917 feet in elevation, with various river crossings that rely on stepping stones that may or may not be completely submerged by the aforementioned river bed. Bring waterproof shoes on this trail, as you’re more than likely to slip and step into the icy waters that make said stones rather slick through the year. Such obstacles are worth it, however, given the incredible sight of the falls at the top of the trail, with water cascading down the jaunted rock faces that stick out from the Catalina Mountains. Seven Falls’ trail, which is located at 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road, is open year-round, so you can satisfy your hiking and scenic pleasures whenever it suits you.