The Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona is the greenest desert on the planet, receiving an average of 12 inches of rain a year, 6 in the monsoon summer and 6 in the winter. Following is a list of some of the Parks, Gardens and nature outings, where you can experience something special and unique. Some of these venues have an extended history. Here they are in no particular order. Click on the title for more information about these places.
Las Lagunas Wetlands is located in Nogalas, just off the I-19 freeway. It is one of the last natural wetlands left in Arizona. Painstakingly restored by the community of Nogales, this unique oasis, was a stopover on the De Anza expedition that led to San Francisco. Open from dawn to dusk, this oasis has shaded picnic tables, walking paths, storyboards, and floating docks making it a waterfowl haven.
Tucson Botanical Gardens is a treasure in Central Tucson on Alvernon, not far from the Lodge on the Desert, a midtown resort. TBG boasts extraordinary national exhibits, such as Frida Kahlo Garden exhibit, the Origami Sculpture Exhibit and Butterfly Magic. It also has an exceptional bistro, Cafe Botanica.
Sunday Brunch at the Bistro and a walk about the grounds with their varied garden settings make for a lovely day. Visit several art exhibits located around the grounds, take a class, purchase some exotic plants from the greenhouse or unique gifts from the museum store.
The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is our recommendation for the first destination when visiting Southern Arizona for the first time. Located on the western side of the Tucson Mountains in the Avra Valley, it is part desert garden, part zoo. It is an all weather venue. There are plenty of things to see and do indoors and out, rain, heat or shine.
It is not like there aren't a plethora of saguaros everywhere you look in the Tucson area, but Saguaro National Park West and East have programs and hiking trails that make it a destination. Both parks, East and West, Rincon and Tucson Mountain districts, have human histories spanning thousands of years. You can find petroglyphs in either park; always fun hunting for them.
The Mission Gardens is a project of love and fortitude by a select group of Tucsonans, dedicated to seeing that our heritage plants are not lost. They have recreated a garden of heritage fruits and vegetables, on the original agricultural site. Some of these plants are actual clones of the fruits brought here by Father Kino over 4 centuries ago.
This preserve, part of the Nature Conservancy is located in Patagonia, Arizona. There is a short hike within the preserve that will take you by Sonoita Creek which has water and pools in it most of the year depending on the rains.
Part of the Pima County Parks and Recreation system, Agua Caliente is one of the more popular parks. It has a rich history with a naturally fed hot spring whose future is in question. This is due to a water flow rate that has been reduced to next to nothing, caused by the lowering of the depth of the aquifer. Visit the historic Ranch house. Take part in some of the activities for families. Hike the trails in this 100 acre park. Bring a picnic. There are plenty of picnic tables. Of course, due to its popularity, get there early.
Your first trip to the San Pedro River should include a stop at the San Pedro House where hummingbirds and feeders abound. Stop in at the bookstore, take a hike. A combined effort by the Bureau of Land Management, the Nature Conservancy and the Friends of the San Pedro River is trying to ensure the continued life cycle of this important environment. The Friends of the San Pedro River have a number of programs, hikes, and historical experiences to make you a believer in the conservation of this unique area for future generations. The Friends of the San Pedro River offer programs and hikes to Fairbank, the mines and ghost towns on the San Pedro, The Clovis Mammoth Kill site and The Clanton Ranch.
Technically, the Chiricahua Desert Museum is not in Arizona, nor is it a park, but may as well be. It is on the East side of the Chiricahua Mountains, technically Rodeo NM, near Portal AZ and Cave Creek Canyon, a popular birding site. The Chiricahua Desert Museum is a smaller version of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, only with a more impressive snake exhibit. You like reptiles? Don't miss it. For more information visit: https://www.chiricahuadesertmuseum.com/
Birders love this hideaway canyon in the Santa Rita mountains close to Green Valley. Plenty of hiking trails, many of them difficult and long. Hike to snow covered Mt. Wrightson. Picnic, camp or stay in a cabin. Bring your own food as there is no real store, (only a small general store), near the end of the road.
Many of the Arizona State Parks, are Historic Ranches whose grounds have been left to the state of Arizona, such as Catalina State Park, Oracle State Park and San Rafael State Natural Area (currently not open to the public). Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, is a little off our Southern Arizona map, but a worthwhile trip. Other State Parks such as Patagonia State Park and Roper Lake are great summer getaways having a lake.
Ramsey Canyon, not really a park, but a park like setting is part of the Nature Conservancy. Complete with a visitor's center it boasts being the Hummingbird Capital of the world. Plenty of shaded hiking, cooler than Tucson, it makes for a perfect birding area in the summer.
Paton House was purchased by the Tucson Audubon Society recently and there are plans to renovate it and make it a hummingbirder's paradise. Located in Patagonia, near Patagonia/Sonoita Creek, it has a great history.
The Tortalita Mountains north of Tucson near Dove Mountain is a vast system of hiking trails and varied desert mountain views. If you stay at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton you can enjoy the wide range of trails without getting in your car. Join one of the decent led hikes to get a history of the area and learn where the petroglyphs are.
Tucson Mountain Park is a large Pima County park encompassing over 20,000 acres and miles of hiking trails within the Tucson Mountains on the west side of Tucson.
Here you will find a campground and 3 picnic areas, a shooting and archery range.
Just south of Sierra Vista is a unique shrine to the Virgin Mary set on the hillside. It's Our Lady of the Sierras, a chapel, serenity garden and stations of the cross that will take your breath away. Whether you are a religious person or not, this place is worth a visit.
A very special park brought to you by the water reclamation program with the city of Tucson is Sweetwater Wetlands Park. This is a bird haven. You will see herons, hawks, ducks, grebes, blackbirds and possibly a rare bird or two. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/sweetwater-wetlands
A favorite destination all year round for all walks of life is Sabino Canyon. Bring the whole family. Enjoy a tram ride to the top. Jump in one of the many cool pools of water along one of the 9 stops. Head to the top and hike down the phoneline trail back down to the Visitor's Center. Take a 4 or 6 mile hike in Bear Canyon to the 7 falls Be careful of hiking this canyon in the monsoon season. Flash floods are not uncommon.
If you haven’t experienced it yet, do visit Tohono Chul Park’s new Desert Palm Oasis. They have created a reproduction of the ecology in the canyons near Guaymas, Mexico along the Gulf of California coast where 3 species of fan palms thrive. These rare palms are only found north of … Continue reading
According to the Southern Arizona Humane Society, the Tucson area has a dozen dog-friendly parks.Continue reading
There are many reasons to love Tucson Botanical Gardens. First, of course, are the many different types of gardens. Second, every spring they have a “Weird Plant Sale” where you can purchase living conversation pieces. Third, TBG is a peaceful place in the midst of a bustling urban environment. Fourth, they have concerts & art shows. Fifth, you can rent the facilities and have a magnificent party there, be it for a wedding, reunion, or whatever special occasion. Go to our Tucson Botanical Gardens to discover reasons #6, #7, & #8.Continue reading
Tohono Chul is a peaceful garden oasis in the midst of city and suburb. You can stroll along winding paths through several different types of gardens with hundreds of native plant species, as well as many birds, including hummers.Continue reading
The Yuma Visitor’s Center boasts that there are no less than three Wildlife Refuges within a short driving distance of Yuma. They are Imperial, Kofa and Cibola National Wildlife Refuges. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is on the way to the Castle Dome Mine Museum as is Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. … Continue reading
On a clear Sunday morning in early February, Neighbor Roy, Ms. Karen, & I arrived at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for our 2nd Behind The Scenes tour, this time of the new Warden Aquarium. Lacey was our guide for our group of 8, including two little boys who looked to be about 4 and 6 […]Continue reading
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a National public work relief program. Operating from 1933 to 1942, it was organized to assist unemployed, unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. The CCC provided jobs for these young men, helping families who were having difficulty finding jobs during … Continue reading
Mother’s Day 2014 saw a new mom at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum with the birth of its first Big Horn lamb since 2007. The new lamb arrived early Saturday morning, May 10. Over the years, the Museum has had six successful Big Horn births. The ewe, recently transferred from the … Continue reading
We delight in the beauty of Southern Arizona. And no place is more magnificent than Saguaro National Park West. When friends & family visit for the first time, we always recommend they visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to learn about our Sononan Desert. We suggest they then go a few … Continue reading
About 2 miles down the road from the Desert Museum is the Saguaro National Park Visitors Center.
I know this is odd, but there are two Saguaro National Parks – East & West. In between is Metropolitan Tucson. If you only have time to visit one, go West.