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Last Updated on September 8, 2022
Tucson is a fantastic destination for hiking. The city is ringed by mountains, with the fabulous Sonoran Desert providing endless Tucson hiking opportunities for all physical abilities. It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson. Here we share our favorite Tucson day hikes throughout the area.
Tucson hikes in Sabino Canyon
Sabino Canyon is a recreation area that is part of Coronado National Forest, just northeast of Tucson. It’s at the base of the Catalina Mountains, with excellent opportunities for exploring the Sonoran Desert landscape. One of the things I really like about Sabino Canyon is that there is something for everyone: there are trails for all fitness levels and accessibilities, making it an ideal destinations for families. There is a visitor center, which has exhibits about the local flora and fauna, along with a gift shop that sells an excellent selection of books and detailed maps of local trails. Restrooms and fresh water are also available.
Information: Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area
Hours: Recreation area always open; Visitor Center open daily, 8:30am to 4:30pm
Admission: $8/vehicle/day; $10/vehicle/week; $40/vehicle/year; National Park Passes accepted
PRO TIP: Sabino Canyon is a popular spot. There is a huge parking area, along with an overflow lot, which can fill up in the fall & spring and during holiday weekends.
Sabino Tram Road (Walking Path): Accessible/Flat
This paved wide path begins near the visitor center and follows Sabino Creek for about 3.8 miles up into the canyon, with several bridges traversing the creek along the way. You can hike the entire 7.6-mile out-and-back length, or turn around whenever you’ve had enough. It’s one of the few Tucson hikes with water year-round; and there are plenty of trees that provide greenery in spring/summer and pretty foliage through the fall (and most of the winter). The path is a gradual incline, rising about 700 feet over the entire distance (so gentle that you barely notice you are climbing!). There are restrooms and picnic areas along the route.
As the route name implies, there is also a tram, called the Sabino Canyon Crawler that goes up the path (roughly every hour), with stops along the way. It’s popular to ride to the tram and hike the 3.8-mile path back as it slopes gently downward toward the visitor center. This is a lovely hike in mid-late afternoon; you can often see deer and other wildlife taking a sip in the creek.
Phoneline Trail: Easy to Moderate
I like trails that offer a loop, so I don’t feel like I’m retracing my steps. The Phoneline Trail is one of the Tucson trails that offers a few different options depending on how much time (and energy) you have. As the name implies, the trail follows the historic phoneline that was once the only means of communication between the Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon (which rises about 6,500 feet above you) and the rest of the world.
The trail climbs about 500 feet, hugging the side of the canyon and offering magnificent views of Saguaro cactus, the creek below–and of the city of Tucson in the distance. After about 2 miles, you have option of returning via a trail that descends toward the creek and back toward the visitor center. Or you can continue along the canyon ridge for an additional 3-ish miles, where it meets up with the Tram Road at its end. From there you can stroll the paved path back, or take the tram if you’re feeling particularly tired.
Seven Falls (via Bear Canyon Trail): Moderate
This 7.8-mile out-and-back hike along Bear Creek, which is in Bear Canyon, just east of Sabino. As the name implies, there are waterfalls along this trail, which vary throughout the year, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Unlike the paved Sabino Tram route, this is one of the Tucson hiking trails where you actually cross through the creek as you climb. Along the way you’ll climb about 700 feet, getting stunning views of the saguaros and the Rincon Mountains to the southeast.
NOTE: It’s important to check the hiking conditions at the visitor center before you set out (and be sure to wear shoes that can handle a little water and/or mud!). While this is one of the best Tucson hikes after rain, occasionally flash flooding can make this hike dangerous.
Take a Saguaro National Park Hike
Saguaro National Park flanks the city of Tucson with two distinct sections: The Rincon Mountain District to the east of town, and the Tucson Mountain District to the west. Both sections offer an abundance of trails through desert terrain, with plenty of opportunities to view the magnificent cacti up close for hikers of all levels. The eastern section is larger, and has some longer trails that go high into the Rincon mountains, for those looking for more challenging Tucson hikes.
Information: Saguaro National Park
Hours: Vehicles, Saguaro East-5:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer, 5:00 am to 6:00 pm in winter; Saguaro West-sunrise to sunset, year-round. Park is open to hikers and cyclists 24 hours/day.
Admission: All passes are good for 1 week: Vehicle-$25.00; Motorcycle-$20.00; Individual-$15.00. National Park Passes are accepted.
Desert Ecology Trail & Mica Trail (Saguaro East): Accessible/Flat
There are two trails in Saguaro East that are great for those looking for flat Tucson hikes; these trails also provide access for those using wheelchairs. The 1/4 mile paved Desert Ecology trail has exhibits about the plants and animals that are found in the Sonoran Desert. Resting benches are spaced along the trail. Separately, a 0.7 mile portion of the Mica View Trail is graded to ADA standards and surfaced with a natural material that supports all types of wheelchairs. Park at Mica View Picnic Area or the Broadway Trail head.
Freeman Homestead Trail (Saguaro East): Easy
This 1.1 mile “balloon” trail is a one of our favorite short Tucson hikes for families. The trail is meanders through a wonderfully dense grove of saguaros and past the site of an old homestead foundation, which provides a real sense of discovery. There are interpretive signs and featuring exploration activities for little ones, making this more than just a “walk to see some cactus.” Although fairly flat, the trail has some steps and is rocky in places. Therefore strollers & other wheeled vehicles are not recommended.
Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls (Saguaro East): Moderate
This 5.8-mile out-and-back hike to Bridal Wreath Falls is popular with birders. The seasonal falls (most likely after summer monsoons or winter snowmelt) are a hit with the feathered set. Regardless of the time of year, this is one of the Tucson hikes that climbs into the Rincon Mountains and offers good views of the city of Tucson and the Catalina Mountains to the north, along with plenty of saguaros and other cactus. You might also spot a group of riders heading out from the luxury Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (Saguaro East): Moderate to Difficult
This trail up to Tanque Verde Peak is not for the faint of heart. With a 2,000 foot climb over 8 miles, it’s certainly one of the more challenging hikes in greater Tucson. The good news is that this is an out-and-back route, so you can turn around at any point, making the hike as long (or short) as you like.
After a fairly steep 3/4 miles, you are already up on the ridge, so views to the west and south over the Tucson basin are spectacular, and just keep getting better the higher you climb. (Be sure to take in the Boneyard, where more than 4,000 military planes are stored in the desert sun.) A good shorter hike goal is at the 2.5-mile mark, where you’ll see an example of the rare (1 in 10,000!) crested saguaro cactus. If you’re planning to hike the 8.7 miles to Tanque Verde Peak, consider camping at the Juniper Basin Campground, at the 6.9-mile mark.
Desert Discovery Trail (Saguaro West): Accessible/Flat
Those seeking flat terrain with interpretive signs will find it on this 1/2 mile paved trail in Saguaro West. The trail features shade ramadas with resting benches scattered along the textured pavement trail. Trail guides in braille may be obtained at the visitor center. This is also a great trail for photo ops: the views of saguaros at sunset are fabulous.
King Canyon/Gould Mine Trail (Saguaro National Park West): Easy to Moderate
This is one of the Tucson hikes that offers a little bit of everything: a climb up a dry wash, lots saguaros, scenic views . . . and the remains of an abandoned copper mine. All this in a 2.5-mile loop! Begin the hike scaling the King Canyon Wash bottom, which is sandy with several rocky stair-step ways to climb as you go.
After a mile or so, the trail connects to the Gould Mine trail, which passes by piles colorful copper residue piles, along with the remains of a stone cabin and a few mine shaft entrances. Although this trail is within the national park boundaries, the entrance to trail is accessible from a small parking lot in Tucson Mountain Park, which is free.
PRO TIP: The King Canyon Trail straddles Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park. Saguaro National Park charges a fee, however if you park at the Tucson Mountain Park trailhead, you can access this trail for free.
Hugh Norris Trail to Wasson Peak (Saguaro West): Moderate to Difficult
At 4,369 feet, Wasson Peak is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains west of the city. You’ll climb roughly 2,000 feet over the roughly 4.5 miles to reach the peak on this out-and-back hike. But the views once you reach Wasson Peak are totally worth it: a 360-degree panorama of the entire Tucson basin.
Along the way you’ll see plenty of saguaros (natch!), plus ocotillo, barrel cactus and prickly pear. There’s also the remains of an abandoned mining shack, which is a fun (and shady) diversion. Remember to sign the log book at the top of Wasson Peak . . . if you make it this far, you certainly deserve the credit!
Hiking trails in Tucson Mountain Park
Tucson Mountain Park is one of the largest municipally-managed natural resource areas in the U.S. There are more than 60 miles of shared-use trails in the park’s roughly 20,000 acres, so there are an almost endless combination of trails you can take here. The park is located just south of Saguaro National Park’s Western section. As a result the scenery (i.e. Saguaros everywhere!) is very similar. And best of all, the park is FREE.
Hidden Canyon Bowen Loop Trail: Easy to Moderate
This 2-mile trail gives visitors a terrific snapshot of Tucson saguaros in a fairly compact loop. The trail begins and ends just behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort, making it a great option if you’re staying at that hotel. Begin on the more southerly (and flatter) Bowen Trail, then turn off to the Hidden Canyon Trail after about 0.3 miles.
The trail will climb about 300 feet via some switchbacks, and is rocky in spots. But you’ll be rewarded with a quiet canyon full of saguaros, ocotillos, and other cacti. This trail is particularly lovely in spring, when the cactus flowers are in bloom. If you’re looking for a rich Tucson hiking experience that doesn’t take too long, this is highly recommended.
Rock Wren/Yetman/Bowen Trail Loop: Easy to Moderate
This is a pleasant 5-mile loop that we created ourselves by using the excellent trail map of Tucson Mountain Park. It involves a little gentle climbing on saguaro-strewn hills, plus a hike through a sandy wash that leads past the stone remains of the Bowen homestead. (Always cool to find ruins while hiking!)
Begin at the Richard Genser Trail Head and eventually exit the park behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort. From here, the last mile-ish is an easy amble through the Starr Pass neighborhood back to the parking lot. We like to stop at the Marriott for a coffee (on chilly days) or a refreshing cool drink (when the weather is hot), enjoying the view from their patio before heading back to our car. It’s a fun indulgence at the end of an enjoyable hike.
Brown Mountain Trail: Moderate
It’s fun to be able to climb a (not too high) mountain and walk along its ridge as you take in the surrounding views. Brown Mountain offers that in this 4.5 mile loop trail in the western part of the park. All told you climb ascend about 500 feet over the course of about a mile to reach the ridge, then enjoy a few dips and bumps as you skirt along the top. After descending at the opposite end of the ridge, the return portion of the loop is along the valley floor, amid lots of cactus of all varieties. There are also restrooms and picnic tables here.
This is one of the Tucson hikes that passes along a ridge, offering great views of the valley below, including Old Tucson Studios off to the south. It’s easy to imagine you’re in some old Western movie, perched on a lookout point, a “pardner” scouting for cattle rustlers 🤠.
Catalina Foothills Hikes
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the western end of Santa Catalina Mountains and is adjacent to Coronado National Forest. The park includes some great Tucson hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and equestrian trails in 5,500 acres of desert landscape, (which includes almost 5,000 saguaros!).
Information: Catalina State Park
Open: 5am to 10pm Daily; check website for holiday hours.
Admission: $7.00/vehicle; $3.00/individuals, cyclists
Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail (Catalina State Park): Easy
This is a fun little loop trail (3/4 mile) for those of you who like a little archaeology on your Tucson hikes. In addition to some stone remnants of the Romero homestead, this site also includes remains from a Hohokam village that’s about 1500 years old! (Wow!) There are interpretive signs along the trail explaining the the archaeology and Hohokam culture.
NOTE: Although the trail through the ruins is flat, you must climb about 80 steps to reach it, making it unsuitable for wheeled vehicles.
Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools & Romero Pass(Catalina State Park): Difficult to Strenuous
Romero Canyon offers Tucson hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how far you choose to go on this out-and-back trail. The roughly 3 mile hike to the (seasonal) Romero Pools is relatively flat for the first mile, then turns into a steep and rocky climb for the rest of the hike. Views of the canyon are magnificent, and the pools are a refreshing sight.
Those looking for more of a challenge can continue an additional 4 miles to Romero Pass at an elevation of 6,000 feet. In total you’ll scale an elevation gain of 3,300 feet, with a hike that takes about 5 hours one-way. To continue to Romero Pass, follow the trail to your right as it ascends out of the streambed. The trail then slowly climbs up-canyon to the Pass.
Linda Vista Trail Loop: Easy
Linda Vista is a family-friendly hike (with free access) on the western slope of the Catalinas. The 3-mile loop has just enough short climbs up and down for kids to feel like they’re on “nature’s playgym,” but never so much that it becomes a slog. Access this trail via a small parking lot behind the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy off of Oracle Road. Although adjacent to a neighborhood of upscale homes, you quickly reach a small valley where you feel you’re in the middle of the saguaro wilderness.
There are some spectacular saguaros here, including one that has over 20 arms! There are also spots with lacy green palo verde trees (the Arizona state tree), providing a dappled shade, which can be welcome on Tucson hikes. The trail is narrow at many spots, so alert young hikers to avoid “sticky” encounters with the cacti on the trail.
Tucson hikes within the city of Tucson
Sentinal Peak (“A Mountain”): Easy
This is one of most popular hikes in Tucson–and it’s free to access. It’s hard to miss the huge “A” that adorns the side of a small mountain southwest of downtown Tucson. Sentinel Peak served as a sentry point to alert Tucson of impending danger during the Civil War. But after a University of Arizona football victory in 1915, students claimed it as their own by constructing a massive basalt “A” (160 feet high x 70 feet wide!) on the mountain’s face and whitewashing it for all to see.
Today there is a paved drive up to the top, with picnic tables and benches on the western side of the mountain. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, park at the trailhead lot partway up, and hike the trail that brings you across the saddle and up to the top. You pass through some lovely saguaro and cholla cactus before reaching the Big A, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of downtown Tucson (and the U of A campus in the distance). Go Wildcats! 😊
Rillito River Park Path: Accessible
The Rillito River Park Path is a 10-mile paved path (with free access) that follows along the Rillito River/Wash northeast of Tucson. The Park is part of the 136-mile Chuck Huckleberry Loop that is popular with cyclists. The path is flat and crosses the River periodically via dedicated bridges. There are parks and stopping points along the way, making this a nice option among Tucson hikes if you’d like to take a more leisurely stroll as well.
The path is popular with cyclists as well as hikers/walkers (and the occasional horse!), so everyone should be mindful of others using the path.
PRO TIP: Take the Rillito Park Path on a Sunday morning and stop in at the Heirloom Farmer’s market. It’s a lively event with dozens of food and craft vendors, as well as some terrific food trucks offering yummy breakfast treats.
Tucson Hiking: Cienega Creek Natural Preserve
AZT loop via Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead: Easy
This 2-mile loop, which is (a short) part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) is one of the more unique hikes in Tucson. Pass through serene Davidson Canyon, a riparian habitat in the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve that is free to use. Pass under shady cottonwood trees as you hike along the sand creek bed (dry in all but the summer monsoon months). Cross under an active Union Pacific Railroad bridge before climbing back up to a ridge and the return portion of the trail (which parallels a second railroad bridge). Chances are pretty good that you’ll see at least one freight train passing through during your hike, reminiscent of a scene in a Breaking Bad episode.
SPECIAL NOTE: This trailhead commemorates Gabe Zimmerman , a US congressional aide who was killed in 2011. He loved this portion of the Arizona Trail. Read more about him on the Arizona Trail website.
Want more Tucson hiking recommendations?
If you’re looking for more hikes in and around Tucson, we suggest picking up a copy of Five Star Trails: Tucson by Rob Rachowiecki. The author lives in Tucson and provides lots of detail about the area and the many hikes you can take there. As you can see from the photo, our copy is pretty dog-eared because we use it so much. Highly recommended! It’s available on Amazon.
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