Prime hiking season has arrived. We have not yet hiked a fraction of the bodacious hiking trails you can take in Tucson, not to mention the rest of Southern Arizona, but here is a list of Ms. Karen’s favorites that she has been on, and a bucket list of those she would like to do in the future. As a caution, as always, be sure to take plenty of water, let someone know your route, and when to expect you back. Cell phone service in these areas may be a challenge, so don’t expect to have 100% service. If you hike in warm weather, be mindful of critters; rattlesnakes and Gila monsters can hurt. All that said, here is a cautionary tale about hiking with a friend.
A List of Some of the Best Hiking in Tucson
This is one of my favorites. Best traveled in mid-February to take advantage of the wildflowers. My favorite agenda is it hike the Sweetwater Trail to the notch, then take the Kings Canyon Trail back the west side to the parking lot. On the way, you will have an opportunity to visit petroglyphs that are not on the tourists’ maps. Then meet your driver at the parking lot and cross the street to have lunch at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. There are plenty of hiking trails around Mt. Wasson, the Hugh Norris Trail is probably the best-known trail and perhaps the easiest grade.
I hiked the trail to the Seven Falls several years ago. It was a level pleasant 4-mile hike. Ok, I was younger then. More recently it seemed a bit more difficult. This is one of the more popular hikes in Sabino Canyon, although there are several more that are on my list: re: the Telephone Line. Be mindful of the monsoons in the summer. They will wash you away.
Catalina State Park has some nice long hikes including Romero Pools but the short trip to Romero Ruins is unique.
This hike starts at the southern end of Camino de Oeste, just south of Speedway in the Tucson Mountains. Or head to the East side of Gates Pass, park in the parking lot downhill on the south side, and hike from there. Tucson Mountain Park has plenty of hiking opportunities. Be sure to bring plenty of water. There is not a lot of shade here.
This is the best of the best. To say AWESOME is an understatement. We took the Echo Canyon to Visitors Center hike, as we had a limited amount of time and two companions who were not able to join us this week but waited for us at the Visitor’s Center. There are many trails through this remarkable area, called the WONDERLAND OF ROCKS for a reason. Some of them short, some of them longer but moderate and some of them longer and strenuous with an elevation change of 500 – 1000 ft. Pets are not permitted on most of these hikes. The Echo Canyon Hike is 4.2 miles, mostly downhill to the visitors center. You begin at the top and travel through spectacular scenery of rocks for the first 2 miles. Then you will reach forested area, and woodlands, partially touched by the Horseshoe fire of 2011. Despite the devastation caused by this fire that burned for more than a month, the area still stands out as a premier visitation area. Be sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center for maps and information before heading out.
Dragoon Mountains – Cochise Stronghold
We visited Council Rocks where Cochise most likely surrendered. Although the immediate area is protected, you can camp on the BLM land and hike this amazing rock fortress to your heart’s content. Be sure to take a high-clearance vehicle.
Even in the summer this 4.5 mile trail which follows the Santa Cruz River is tolerable. It’s a short, level hike, through canopied trees and grasslands. It crosses the Santa Cruz River several times. Here I found the Santa Cruz River with actual water in it. Start at either the Tubac Presidio or Mission Tumacacori. Hike back or have someone meet you at the other side. Have lunch at Wisdom’s Cafe or Shelby’s Bistro.
Aravaipa Canyon – East or West
Aravaipa Canyon is 11 miles from East Entrance to West Entrance, much of it in Aravaipa Creek. If you want to hike from either side you must have a permit. You can get them from the BLM. See the article on the Canyon’s West Entrance.
The Arizona Trail spans the border from the Coronado National Monument to Utah. Covering over 800 miles, pick the portion you would like to hike and support.
On the east side, at the foot of Baboquivari is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge’s Environmental Education Center. Public Hikes are offered for a small fee on the second and fourth Saturday of the month from November to April. Private Hikes can be arranged and are a flat fee.
There are plenty of hikes in Madera Canyon, few of them for casual hikers. There is a 1.8-mile Handicapped Accessible Nature Trail and two 3-mile trails. Most of the other trails are graded C and up, 6 – 11 miles. Check out the MAP here from the Friends of Madera Canyon.
Two of my favorite summer hikes on Mt. Lemmon are the most popular Aspen to Marshall Gulch Trail, where the Aspen Fire of 2003 started, and the Butterfly Trail on the other side of the road. In winter, stay down at the bottom and hike the Arizona Trail at the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground.
Sweetwater Preserve allows bikes, horses, dogs and hikers. Almost 900 acres to explore. Take exit 252 west to Tortolita and make a left.
Here is another wilderness area that will knock your socks off. Near the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton Resort, Dove Mountain has hiking and equestrian trails for all levels. See the Town of Marana’s website for information about guided hikes and horseback rides.
One of the newest series of trails developed by Pima County, it is the Southernmost part of the Tucson Mountain Park. Read about it. Beautiful rolling hills meet up with older parts of the Mountain park with Starr Pass just to the north.
Another recent addition to Tucson Mountain Park is Painted Hills. It lies just west of Starr Pass off Anklam Road.
For a list of reviews we have written please see our Hiking Page. There are plenty more hikes I have not tried. On Pima County’s Recreational website, you can find plenty of hiking in the parks around Tucson. Let us know what you find. We are always looking for interesting hikes.