Whether you bike, hike or head out for a walk, Oro Valley has a lot to offer. Due to COVID 19 we have all learned the value of the great outdoors. Now that the region’s snowy season appears to be over, and the days are beginning to get both longer and warmer, it is the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the beauty of Oro Valley.
A couple of trails at Oro Valley’s doorstep that are close to five miles up and back are Pima Canyon to the dam (a six-mile round trip hike) and Southerland Trail in Catalina State Park. On this hike you can branch odd to Dripping Springs to make it just over six miles in length.
Pima Canyon is located at the end of Magee Road and uses the Iris Dewhirst trailhead for parking. The trail is moderately used, but not many hikers go all the way to the dam.
This hike begins with an incline that will give you a good workout from the beginning to the first riverbed crossing. For families that want to get their little ones into the hills or fitness advocates that want to have an uphill challenge, the trail to this point is perfect, challenging for little ones but not too far. Beyond this point you go in and out of beautiful views of canyon wall, green growth, burned areas and sights of the city to the southwest. There is also a beautiful riparian area about 1.5 miles up the trail that makes a nice, shorter, destination point.
It was enjoyable to see the exposed rock and beautiful rock formations that the burned areas exposed. The fire made areas of the mountain more visible. This was a pleasant surprise because it replaced my fear of seeing the desert I loved as ugly. Fire will allow new growth and many of the native plants have branches that survived the fire. After passing the riparian area, you will cross the dry river several times as you continue up the canyon. The entire hike is beautiful. Finally, you come to an area where you dip down from the west side of the river and come up on the east side crossing over some bedrock mortars. These were created by native, pre-historic people who used a pestle to grind or pulverize grains for food in these holes. Just beyond is your destination, as the dam is situated against the west rock face.
The next trail we recommend is the Southerland trail from the main trailhead in Catalina State Park. From the parking area will take the trail to the north east which will take you across three river crossings. Depending on rain or snow melt, there may be running water in the riverbeds. For many families, the river crossings are their destination so their young ones can play in the water. There are many benefits to children provided by play time in nature, and this is a great trail for that purpose. The walk to the river crossings is flat, fun and not very far, even to the third crossing which usually has the most water. Past the riverbeds, you will turn left and head up a set of railroad tie stairs. Should you prefer to take the Canyon Loop trail for a 2.3-mile total hike, continue straight or east and experience another beautiful trail within the park. After the uphill to a bench, the rest of the trail is fairly flat. Our goal (and a perfect destination location for a day hike) is to the large flat stones just shy of the 50-year trail.
Both of the above hikes should take three to five hours to complete. For adventurers seeking relatively easier hikes, we suggest the Honey Bee Canyon hike and the Linda Vista Trail hike.
For an easy hike, Honey Bee Canyon Park, off Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, offers the opportunity to see some petroglyphs, created by native people most likely before the appearance of settlers and ranchers. Starting at the Honey Bee Canyon Parking lot, follow the paved sidewalk down its terminus. The Park’s restroom building and ramadas will be on your left. Almost directly across the way is a natural surface trail. Follow that as it curves to the right. You will see a park sign mentioning the petroglyphs. Follow the wash bottom north under the Rancho Vistoso bridge. It is a flat hike, popular with hikers and runners, but with the added challenge of traveling through the sand in the wash bottom. The canyon is insulated enough so you rarely feel as if you are still in civilization. At approximately a mile from your start in the parking lot, you will see the petroglyphs on the rocks; it is an exercise in intellectual creativity to theorize what the symbols may have represented to those previous inhabitants. Past that point, you will see a concrete water tank and then the remnants of a dam built by a rancher long ago. This is the common turnaround point for many hikers on this trail.
The adventure, beauty and excitement awaiting you in and around Oro Valley abound. The spring is the best time to experience it. Remember to always take plenty of water on any hiking trip.
Lynanne Dellerman-Silverthorn is the Town of Oro Valley’s recreation manager.