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  • Kate Severino

15 Best Hiking Trails in Tucson, Arizona

Updated: Apr 17

With mountains surrounding us, this outdoor mecca is the perfect place to get some trail steps in. Tucsonans are spoilt with five prominent mountain ranges surrounding the city: Santa Catalina (northeast), Rincon (east), Santa Rita (south), Tucson Mountains (west), and Tortolita (northwest).


While the Catalinas are the most expansive and the Santa Ritas feature the highest peak, there are a variety of trails (various degrees of difficulty) spread throughout the ranges.


While I'll openly admit that I haven't hiked all the trails in Tucson, I have found some baller hikes to share with you that you won't want to miss. These include (leashed) dog-friendly trails, such as Aqua Caliente and Marshall Gulch, day-trip out and backs like Finger Rock and Vault Mine, and the shorter, Sunday-afternoon type, such as Pima Canyon or Douglas Springs.


Here's a map pinpointing all the trails mentioned in this article. Click to enlarge and check out where they're at:



It's time to get stepping; here are my favorite Tucson trails—when spring and fall awaken, hit them up first!


Mountain ranges, trails

  • Catalinas - Agua Caliente Hill, Finger Rock, Mt Lemmon: Marshall Gulch and Mt Lemmon Trail to Meadow Loop, Pima Canyon, Romero Canyon, Sabino Canyon: Seven Falls and Blackett's Ridge, Ventana Canyon

  • Rincons - Saguaro National Park E: Douglas Springs and Tanque Verde Ridge, Tanque Verde Falls

  • Santa Ritas - Madera Canyon: Vault Mine

  • Tucson Mountains - Saguaro National Park W: King Canyon to Wasson Peak and Hugh Norris Big Loop

  • Tortolitas - Honeybee Canyon— I have yet to hike the Tortolitas but heard that the short Honeybee trails have cool petroglyphs to check out if you're in the area


Disclaimer: On the trails where I wasn't using an app or wearing a watch, I used AllTrails and Hiking Project as references for elevation and length to ensure accuracy.


Catalinas

1. Agua Caliente Hill

This out-and-back trail is flatter than most initially and you can turn around when ready. I have done it in part at sunset, in the rain, and plan on doing it as a trail run before I leave the city. In spring, you'll spot vibrant yellow Brittle Bush bowing as you pass by.


The trail is well defined and has a series of ups and downs. If you're looking for a shorter trail, hike around 2 miles in to the pond or just less than 3 to the saddle and turn back. Friends of mine have dogs and take them out here, throwing sticks and letting them run through the pond.


If you continue on, it gets steep and increases in difficulty, especially the last mile or so. On windy days, it can be dangerous at the top.


Pro tip: If you're aiming for the full hike, take a note with you for the lockbox at the end.


Details

  • Length: 8.6 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 2,390 feet

  • Notes: dog-friendly trail; rated moderate-difficult, no shade; easy to follow


2. Mount Kimball via Finger Rock Canyon Trail

This was the first hike I did in Tucson, two years before I moved here. I was visiting and thought I'd give it a shot. I had just moved to America and my husband was on a work trip in Tucson—I went along. I had no working sim for my phone yet, no clue where I was in the country (and had never visited a desert before), but I had some time on my hands.


One of Chris' coworkers told me about the Richard "Dick" McKee trail (this one). All I needed was a recommendation. I actually memorized the city map to get me from Davis Monthan Air Force Base to the trail and back driving a foreign car on the wrong side of the road. Laughable.


Finger Rock Canyon trail is an uphill scramble that will take you all day. Come prepared!

Did I take enough water? No. Did I go alone? Yes. Red flags right there.


Anyway, I made it out alive to tell the tale... so, spoiler. I questioned the recommendation halfway up ;) but I have also been back and attempted to take my husband. We got lost... *laughs*


Real talk

Let me reiterate: Finger Rock is an uphill scramble that will take you all day. Dress appropriately, with shoes that have grip (running shoe fail), bring plenty of water and food/snacks, and hike with a group of friends (certainly not alone). Do not attempt in summer or in the rain (and you will encounter snow in winter). There is no shade and the cliffs are covered in sand and slippery—you walk right along the edge. If you have poles, bring them. It is exhausting.


What's the draw?

The views and flora and fauna are stunning and if you do make it to the top, you'll be patting yourself on the back in celebration. It's a sweat, but it is rewarding—definitely for those who like a challenge.



Details

  • Length: Undetermined (prepare for 11-13 miles total) - if you're following AllTrails for distance, it's inaccurate

  • Elevation gain: 4,189 feet

  • Notes: out-and-back trail; no dogs; rated difficult; for experienced hikers; steep ascent


Pro tip (or common sense): Start early—it takes anywhere from 6 - 9 hours to complete (or less if you're running the last couple of miles to make it out before sunset... because that happens sometimes when you don't have a watch or phone to keep you on track)


Mount Lemmon

Mt Lemmon, the highest point in the Catalina Mountains, welcomes hiking, camping, day trips, and dogs. We've hiked, camped, and eaten our way around the top at the restaurants and cabins. You should, too.


While there are more than two dozen trails on the mountain, we favor the Marshall Gulch and Mt Lemmon trail. The Butterfly trail is on my to-do list.


3. Marshall Gulch Trail

Mount Lemmon

This trail is gorgeous in all seasons—and everyone knows it. It's well trafficked for good reason: shade, leaf glitter along a tiny creek in autumn, cooler temperatures, gradual incline, and birdsong.


Drive all the way to the top of the mountain, through Summerhaven, pass the Cookie Cabin (yes, you'll want to return), down to the last parking lot. The Marshall Gulch trailhead is tucked away from the lot, just to the side of the restrooms. You have to climb up vertically (a few steps) as you begin. Take the Marshall Gulch trail all the way to the Marshall Saddle (about an hour in) and you're there. You won't get lost, it's well trodden.


If you want an alternate route back to the parking lot, head down along the Lower Aspen Trail #93 once you've reached the saddle. Both options offer tree shade, easy-to-follow paths, and friendly passers by of all ages.


Details

  • Length: 2.6 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 52 feet (7,445' - 7,969')

  • Notes: dog-friendly trail; shaded; single track; out and back with possible loop option


If you have a dog that you're planning to hike with, just be mindful that you'll likely pass other dogs on the narrow trail.


4. Mt Lemmon Trail + Meadow Loop

Mount Lemmon

Chris and I embarked on this trail to camp—if you're into camping, the sunsets up there are unbelievable. There are many trail options along the mountain to extend your route if you do desire. The shade and cooler temperatures on the mountain are a welcome change.


The campsite

If you look at the map at the trailhead, the camping spots are marked with stars.


To get to our campsite, hike clockwise along the loop on the Mount Lemmon trail. After a mile, instead of completing the loop back to the lot, continue along the Mt Lemmon trail for .7 more miles. There are shaded spots to camp just before the trail intersects the Arizona trail.


On the way back, complete the loop by taking the .8mile Meadow trail.


The trail is rocky, just go slowly–adjusting to the altitude change can be rough. There's not much shade until you get to the campsite, so offload and set up camp before exploring further.


Pro-tip: leave early in the morning because the route back is uphill—you will encounter less people, it will be cooler, and it gives you time to catch brunch/lunch at Le Buzz Cafe once you're down the mountain—always my incentive.


Details

  • Length: 2.7 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 528 feet (7,445' - 7,969')

  • Notes: dog-friendly trail; shaded in part; rocky path; high elevation ; places to camp


Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Located in northeast Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is proof that water can flow through a desert. While walkers, joggers, bird enthusiasts, and photographers have access to the park during the day, bikers are welcome after 5 p.m.

5. Seven Falls Trail

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Although the recreation area has over 30 miles of trails, Seven Falls is a firm favorite. The name comes from the number of times you will need to cross Sabino Creek in order to reach the cascading falls at the end.


My favorite experience hiking this trail was in February (late winter/early spring) when the creek was full. If you do choose to go at this time of year, you're either going to have to remove your shoes when crossing the creek or surge through the water, splashing friends as you go. I'll let you guess which one I did.


Spring is also the best time to hike in Tucson in general, so take full advantage.


The hike is just under 2.5 miles one way from the trailhead (but you need to either take the shuttle from the Visitor's Center to the last stop or walk the 1.8 miles to the trailhead from the parking lot). If you opt for the latter, you'll start at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center, follow the Bear Canyon trail #29, and follow 'Seven Falls' signs to the end.


Be prepared to take your shoes off over all the crossings there and back after a lot of rain. On my first visit, I just waded through each stream, shoes on, and loved it. It was a raging hot day and it kept me cool. My husband cringed when I told him that I hiked with wet feet though.


Avoid the trail in summer—the heat and gnats are enough to drive you crazy.


You'll need plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen, and snacks—the hike has been known to take anywhere from 3 - 5 hours to complete. And bring your swimsuits—if it's hot enough, you'll want to jump in.


Details

  • Length: 5 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 604 feet (2,794' - 3,355')

  • Notes: no dogs; easy-moderate hike with gradual incline; no shade; cross over the river seven times one way; scenic views with an end reward



6. Blackett's Ridge

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

If attempting this out-and-back hike, make sure not to do leg day at the gym two days prior. Seriously.


While steep and rocky almost all the way to the end, the views along the ridge are worth the climb.

From the Sabino Canyon parking lot, you'll begin by winding along a paved road towards Seven Falls. Once you cross your first bridge (which might be overflowing and require you to remove your shoes to cross the river in the spring), you'll encounter a vertical '7 Falls' sign with a right arrow. Instead of turning right, walk straight.


The Blackett's Ridge trail begins (and continues) with rocky steps and a steady incline from there. (And the steps don't seem to end, ouch.)


While you're heaving fatigued limbs along climbing switch-backs, take a breath and look around at the view. It's spectacular—a tree-covered mountain pass to one side and a valley with city views and saguaros on the other. The parking lot will fade quickly as you climb and reach your first ridge—watch your step and hold onto your hat, it's known to be windy.


Continue along the relatively flat ridge and enjoy the breeze on the gradual incline to the end. It's all breathtaking.


You'll come across wildflowers in spring—Brittle Bush (yellow daisy-like flowers), Mexican Gold Poppies, purple Thistles, crimson Ocotillo flowers, and long-stemmed orange Globe Mallows —and a few desert creatures—we spotted a hawk and a Great Basin Collared Lizard.


Details

  • Length: 7 miles (11.1km) - it has been recorded as 6 from the main lot but we started from an overflow lot

  • Elevation gain: 1955ft - recorded online as closer to 1800 (but I ran up and down hills for pictures of the sunset)

  • Notes: no dogs; rated difficult; takes between 3.5 and 4 hours to complete (with resting time and time for photography); no shade; views of Thimble Peak in the northeast and of the Coronado National Forest


7. Pima Canyon Trail

Well, hello wildflower paradise. Pima Canyon Trail #62, also known as Iris O. Dewhirst, inspired this post.


This heavily trafficked, out-and-back trail in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area is easy to follow and would be a great option for trail running. The city and valley views are wonderful and the birdwatching opportunities, golden.


The trail is sandy with rocky crags and is narrow throughout. It is busy on weekends but beautiful after the rain. Keep a lookout for desert Bighorn Sheep. Although I didn't see any, they've been spotted in the area.


Although trail records indicate that the trail ends at its junction with Finger Rock trail, there is no real turnaround spot.


Like many canyons, you could probably hike for days, so I recommend hiking to the river, walking up the rocky bed for five minutes to a small waterfall and turning around. I couldn't really see how to get beyond it, so... take your shoes off, put your feet in the icy stream, and watch the butterflies fluttering nearby. Bliss.

Details

  • Length: 3.9 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 667 feet

  • Notes: no dogs; no shade; easy-to-follow path; rated easy-moderate; has a river


8. Romero Canyon Trail

Catalina State Park

I have completed two trails in Catalina State Park: Romero Ruins and Romero Canyon trail to Romero Pools. While the former is a shorter loop, boasting a vibrant spring bouquet, the latter is a well-trafficked, 5.5 mile out-and-back hike that promises streams of water after the rain.


The park is well kept—paved roads, good signage, and stunning mountain views. There are benches planted along trails that offer a quiet reprieve (and more views). I have seen children playing in the streams flowing through sandy Sutherland Wash at the end of the road within the park and RVs camped out.


Even if you aren't hiking, give Catalina State Park a visit. $7 gets you into the park, unless you have a military ID (half price).


Once you park (last parking lot in the park), you'll cross a wash to get to the trailhead. It had just (two days prior) rained, so the wash was flowing and a small trail of rocks and sticks was my bridge to cross—what fun. You'll get to a sign pointing left for Romero Canyon trail and immediately walk up a hill. The whole route is well marked—no maps or apps needed to find your way, phew!


The first mile is a flat, sandy path wide enough for people and horses to pass (which happened on my trip). In spring, take time to enjoy the wildflowers—you won't have to watch your step. There are blankets of purple Owl's Clover and vibrant cactus blooms.


When you reach a sign pointing you left up a rocky, wooden staircase, you'll begin your ascent. The next 1.8 miles is a rocky path, often single track, giving your calves that burn they crave. ;) It's a series of ups and downs.


If you're heading along the path after the rain, keep your ear to the ground—when you have around a half mile to go before you get to the pools, you should hear the roar of a waterfall. You'll have to climb around a large boulder to get this view:


That isn't where you're headed though and I don't recommend that you try and find it... it's too far down the river, without a trail, to get to—I've tried and almost hailed a chopper to hoist me out of there (I'm laughing now but I definitely wasn't then).


I hope you brought your swimsuit because you're heading for the pools. After the rain, they are flowing. The pools are situated along a river and never quite seem to end.


You could easily spend hours at Romero Pools, with snacks, enjoying the escape from the heat.

Once you're at the pools, if you cross over the river and follow a trail to your right for five to ten more minutes, you'll find an off-shoot from the path drawing you towards rushing water. You guessed it, a hidden waterfall in a cave with more pools to dip into.


Details

  • Length: 5.5 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 1,322 feet

  • Notes: no dogs; rated moderate; no shade; easy to follow; a river and pools


9. Ventana Canyon Trail

One of my favorite trails to date: Ventana Canyon.


Head to Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, go inside and park (follow the trail signs to the employee's lot) and prepare to climb up, up, up. I did this at the end of winter, took plenty of water, some snacks, and a friend—old dogs can learn new tricks.

We loved it—the path, the views, and the visitors we met along the way all made for a wonderful outdoorsy Saturday.


The trail is easy to follow. Almost 5 miles in, you'll reach Maiden Pools. From there, connect to Esperero Trail #25 in order to reach The Window.


The viewpoint

If you can't make it all the way to the end of the Ventana Canyon trail, aim for the viewpoint two miles in like we did. It's spectacular.


Details

  • Length: 10.4 miles

  • Elevation gain: 3,172 feet (3,012' - 6,133')

  • Notes: no dogs; out and back; rated difficult; no shade; views


Rincons

Saguaro National Park East

The Rincon Mountains sit east of Reddington Pass and are nestled in Saguaro National Park East—pronounced 'sah-WAH-row.' The drive though the park is beautiful, it's a wonderful place to walk in any season other than summer, and has great MTB trails. I live nearby and have been fortunate enough to visit often.


If you've come to breathe some fresh air and view the wildflowers but don't want to break a sweat, try the .3mile Desert Ecology trail situated along the Loop dive in the park. If you're looking for more of a challenge, read on.


10. Douglas Springs to Bridal Wreath Falls

Saguaro National Park East

This trail was unexpected. I left home a little later than I intended (what else is new?) and besides distance, I didn't really know what to expect when I arrived.


I followed some directions to the trailhead online which were misleading (taking me up Reddington Pass) but eventually found my way to the parking lot opposite Tanque Verde Ranch. While the trail is technically in Saguaro National Park East, there's no gate or entry fee. You just park and... begin.


Douglas Springs is the smoothest trail I have hiked in Tucson.

After scrambling over rocks, slipping and sliding along the Tanque Verde Falls trail the week prior, I thought I was dreaming when I discovered how smooth and rock-free this trail was—and my ankles were thanking the heavens!


To find Bridal Wreath falls, follow Douglas Springs all the way to the end. The trail climbs for about three quarters of the way and then tapers off along a ridge. Your path will be intercepted by another trail, you will then cross a dry river bed, and then three other trails will intercept yours along the way. Keep your eyes on the prize. You will come to what appears to be a dusty fork in the path—keep right. You will cross one more dry riverbed before you get to the sign for Bridal Wreath Falls.


From there, you have a quarter of a mile to go before you reach the 25-foot falls. When I went in late spring, without much rain, they were but a thin spray, but still glorious in their own right. If you're looking for a higher vantage point, there's a rocky (but dangerous) trail to climb—be careful!


Details

  • Length: 5.8 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 1,066 feet

  • Notes: no dogs; rated easy-intermediate; no shade; the trail is lined with scorpionweed (bold lilac-blue flowers) in spring—don't pick them, they're poisonous


I bet you're wondering if I made it out before dark this time. Well, the sun had definitely set (I was taking photos of it along the trail) but I managed the return journey in an under an hour (speed walking/jogging, of course).


11. Tanque Verde Ridge Trail

Saguaro National Park East

It took me almost two years, living on the east side of Tucson, to discover this gorgeous trail. Don't wait that long to explore it.


Although Saguaro National Park East is known for it's 8-mile loop with Saguaro-covered hills and bike trails, there's more to see. I had always driven the loop (and at 25 miles an hour along a one-way paved road for 8 miles, it's a commitment).


One fine day (that's how all great stories start, right?), I found a hike on an online map that seemed to be inside the park. But how? I'd driven the loop countless times and knew all the trails. As plain as the nose on my face, I tell you I had never turned right to the picnic area as you enter the park... the loop I always took was to the left.


And, low and behold, when you turn right a new adventure unfolds.


Think of it as a secret entry, a bookshelf that leads to a hidden world... basically the same experience by choosing the two-way picnic area route—a whole set of trails and wilderness area extends east. For now, let's begin at the Javelina (pronounced 'hah-vah-lena') picnic area or Tanque Verde Ridge trailhead.


The iconic Saguaro cactus towering above Chris

While this trail extends to the backcountry, you can turn around whenever you want. That's just what we did (to make it out before dark). If you need something concrete to aim for, just under 7 miles gets you to the Juniper Basin Campground. We turned around before the 6 mile mark.


Your ascent begins with the first step. It's pretty rocky but easy to follow. The views improve as you climb and you'll come face to face with the desert giants (see above).


Wildflowers line the trail and if you time your hike to catch the sunset (as we try to do), there's no better view on the east side.


Details

  • Length: up to 20 miles

  • Elevation gain: Starting elevation is around 3,100 ft. The peak, almost 9 miles in, is 7,000 ft.

  • Notes: no dogs; no shade; wildflowers; rocky path but easy to follow


12. Tanque Verde Falls

Tanque Verde Falls is one of the most beautiful, treacherous trails I have clambered along in Tucson. You'll drive along Reddington Pass—which divides the Catalinas from the Rincon mountains—to get to the trailhead at Tanque Verde Canyon.


If you haven't driven along Reddington Pass, you must go for sunset. Hike in the afternoon and catch the last ounces of warmth from the fading sun from one of the lots/pullouts there; it's an unobstructed view and the mountains seem to stretch forever.


Although the start of the trail is easy to follow, descending to a river, you must scramble and slide over rocks without a clear path to reach the waterfalls.


If you have children or dogs, the climb down to the river might be enough—the river is huge with sandy patches to hangout and play or you can swim.


All the way

If a thirst for adventure calls, try to find the falls upstream. We found multiple waterfalls, the last significantly bigger than the rest. If you keep climbing until you can climb no further, you'll get there. You'll need your hands to be free and might get your shoes wet if you're planning to go all the way to the end, just a head's up.


Remember, if you're being challenged beyond what you can handle, you can turn around at any time.

What I figured out on the return journey is that if you keep to the valley sides, there's a trace of path—look for footprints in the sand patches. The path was on our right getting there (left returning). It definitely worked our brains as much as our limbs trying to figure out the easiest route over the rocks to the next "landing."


Although it might be a challenge for some, the whole way up you'll be genuinely shocked at how beautiful it all is, wondering why it took you so long to visit.


Details

  • Length: 1.8 miles (it will take hours to get to the falls and back, it's challenging)

  • Elevation gain: 436 feet

  • Notes: dog-friendly trail; off trail rock scramble; will cross creek; waterfalls


And if you make it out in time for sunset, you won't be disappointed. The sky truly does light up.


Santa Ritas

At 9,453 feet, Mount Wrightson is not just the highest point in the Santa Ritas, but the highest point in the Tucson area, coming out ahead of Mount Lemmon. Madera Canyon, a world-renowned birding spot, lies to the north of the mountain range and offers breath-taking (literally), high altitude trails in riparian forest.


Madera Canyon

There are a number of trail options at this southern Tucson hiking spot. From 'how to get there' tips and trail maps, their website has it all.


Chris and I hiked a steep out-and-back trail, encountered some unexpected snow, and made it out for sunset on our first visit to Madera Canyon. We will be back to camp—watch this space.

13. Vault Mine Trail

One weekend, I stumbled upon Madera Canyon whilst looking at the map and saw that it was at a high altitude, which was a draw. Without any idea of what trail we'd hike, Chris and I went on a mission to explore this new-found trail area.


Upon entering, we drove to the last lot, number 5 on the map, parked and paid the $5 day fee in the lot—correct amount of cash/cheque required. It was colder than expected, but we always bring a jacket (just in case).


It was already the afternoon so we opted for a shorter trail rated as difficult: Vault Mine trail.


From the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area lot, walk up some stairs (to the right of the restrooms) towards the picnic area on the Old Baldy trail for .3 miles.


When you get to the first Baldy switchback, don't take it. Continue straight on the Vault Mine trail instead. Although there are a few rocks, the trail is pretty smooth but your legs and lungs will burn.


The Vault Mine trail is 1.5 miles. Just over a mile in, your path will be intercepted by the Carrie Nation trail. Ignore it and finish up the next .3 miles on the Vault Mine trail to your right. Cue the elevation gain.


The trail is steep with a capital S. It's short but severe.

We walked through patches of snow and I was slipping and sliding in my sneakers. If you're going close to winter and have hiking poles, take them.


While the switchbacks seem to never end, amuse yourself by looking out for the cave near the top. You'll get to the Agua Caliente Saddle and have options to complete the trail. We simply turned back the way we came, but it was hazardous.


Return options:

  • Go back the way you came

  • Turn it into a loop and take Agua Caliente towards Josephine Saddle and back along Old Baldy - 6.5 miles total

  • Take Agua Caliente towards Josephine Saddle and continue on to Mt. Wrightson and return down Old Baldy (highest peak, people) - 12.3 miles total


If you have the time, I'd recommend turning the hike into a loop trail. The out and back was hair raising going down, especially with snow on the ground (we did go in late winter, though). As many people commented in online reviews, it isn't for beginners.


Why it made the list

The views of Mt. Wrightson and the surrounding mountains are beautiful. It was refreshing to wander through the woodlands and pine forests and we loved the chill in the air. You can hear birds singing as you climb the trails and the sunsets are supreme.


Details

  • Length: 3.6 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 1,680 feet (5,609' - 7,289')

  • Notes: dog-friendly; part shade; high altitude; steep ascent


Other options

If you are concerned about the the ascent of this trail, there are many others to pick. Nature Trail and Bog Springs Trail are also highly rated and are for all skill levels.


Tucson Mountains

Saguaro National Park West

As far as I can drive from home and still remain in Tucson, I give you Saguaro National Park West. It's worth the trip. And if you're planning on stopping by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for one of their events, you can make a morning of it. If there was an apocalypse, all the saguaros would run and hide in Saguaro National Park West... or they did already, I'm not sure, it looks that way.


14. Wasson Peak

Saguaro National Park West

If you're looking for a sunset hike, don't skip 7.8 mile Wasson Peak via the King Canyon/Gould High Loop (as on the park map). At 4,687ft, Wasson Peak is the tallest peak in the Tucson Mountains and offers rewarding views for your climbing efforts.


One weekend in the spring of 2020, we hustled to Saguaro National Park West with a team in tow—the same team that hiked the Narrows in Zion National Park with us. It was a perfect spring day for a hike, wildflowers ready to greet us, and we timed it so that we were out at sunset.


While the trail begins along a gravel-filled wash, it escalates (pretty gradually but consistently) and you'll be heaving your pack all the way to Wasson Peak with only forced breaks to allow you to catch your breath. Take more water than you'll think you need, the mountain is a thirsty one.


Start along the the .9 mile King Canyon Wash trail and keep a lookout for wildlife. From the first junction, proceed up King Canyon trail for 1.4 miles.


Turn left along the Hugh Norris trail when it intercepts your path and curve around the mountain, which reveals city and backcountry views in all directions, for .9 miles. While the guys cringed as I took photos, it gave me the chance to soak it all in.


Once you reach the Wasson Peak trail, it is only .3 miles to the top. It will be windy—take a long-sleeved top/jacket as there isn't any cover. When we got there, we huddled between the rocks and refueled before heading back.


What are your hiking snacks of choice? We have clear favorites. ;)



The return: loop

This time, we opted for the 1.9 mile Hugh Norris trail down the ridge. When you reach the junction with the Sendero Esperanza trail, take that (you'll turn left) for a mile. There are a couple of options from there—either go back the way you came or choose the Gould Mine trail to the parking lot (at .8 miles, the latter is shorter).


Our legs were a little shaky at this point and we were making bets against the dying light. Anyone else always rushing to make it out before dark? I sometimes feel that it's only me.


Pro tip: The last stretch hides you from the sunset, so if you're planning to view it from the trail, you need to be higher up or in the lot.


Details

  • Length: 7.8 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 1,863 feet

  • Notes: no dogs; no shade; rated moderate; loop trail

Post hike, head downtown for a beer at Pueblo Vida and/or pizza at Empire Pizza, Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink or Time Market—all have epic choices for cheesy pies.



15. Hugh Norris Trail Big Loop

Saguaro National Park West

With over 40 miles of hiking in Saguaro National Park West, you can follow a trail on the map or make up your own route (I've done both) and still revel in desert beauty on Tucson's west side.


The route below can be easily adapted from 6.6 miles to 4.3, but you're still going to get the burn from the initial ascent along the Hugh Norris trail. If you can, hike early to catch the shade on the stairs.



Head to Red Hills Visitor Center within the park and get yourself a map. Exit the center, turn right and soon you'll come across Hohokkam road. Turn right up the road and you'll land on the Hugh Norris trailhead. Let's begin!


Climb the Hugh Norris trail for 2.6 miles. It's a well-carved staircase up into the mountains and you'll be heaving if you're hiking at a good pace. Don't let the stairs discourage you. Although they don't seem to end, you'll be grateful you stuck it out once you get to the top.


When you reach the junction with Hugh Norris and Sendero Esperanza, turn left up Sendero Esperanza—and breathe, it has finally flattened out. One mile in, turn left along the Dobe Wash trail and continue along this trail for 1.4 miles.


The trails are rocky and sandy with no shade but have beautiful views. Leave early in the morning for this one.

When you reach the Bajada Wash trail, turn left and walk for 1.9 miles. To get back to your car, take a short connector trail from the Bajada Wash to the Hugh Norris trailhead. And now, ice (ice, baby) those legs and feet.


Details

  • Length: 6.6 miles total

  • Elevation gain: 1,240 feet

  • Notes: no dogs; no shade; steep initial ascent; saguaro cacti as far as the eye can see



Make it shorter: Hugh Norris to Sendero Esperanza

My friend and I made up a route. Wait, before you ignore this one, let me explain. The trail exists, just not in the way we put it together. We didn't have all day to hike so we looked at the map, picked a couple of trails to stitch together, and went for it.

If you're looking for something shorter, this is it. You'll work your legs at the start though, let's be honest here, but at 4.3 miles, it's a quicker option and the views are still outstanding.

Hike along the steep Hugh Norris trail and left up Sendero Esperanza for the next 1.7 miles. Sendero Esperanza is much flatter, sandy, and allows you to breathe. Another trail (Dobe Wash trail) will intercept your path, just ignore it. Although there's nowhere to sit at the end, the views are cool—soak it up and make your way back.



As you can tell, I love to hike. Not all the trails I've hiked in Tucson made this list but I wanted to share the best ones I discovered with you.


I hope you are inspired to get out and explore. Let me know if you do in the comments or if any of the trails caught your eye... they definitely made mine sparkle.


Much love,

Kate x

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This is me

I am an explorer and avid travel enthusiast; I am energized by all things green and sun-kissed; I dabble in the creative and believe that in order to reach people, we need to be kind.

Hi. I go by Kate.

 

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