If you were desiring the quintessential desert adventure, the destination that tops the list is Tucson, Arizona. Stretched across the silty plains of the Sonoran Desert and enclosed by five distinct mountain ranges and home to the charming and biodiverse Saguaro National Park, Tucson is the exclusive destination for these impressive and iconic hiking trails.
Your Personal Guide to Hiking in Tucson
1. Seven Falls via Bear Canyon Road
From North Tucson, take W Grant Road east for 4.3 miles and take a left onto N Swan Road. Drive for 4.0 miles and take a right onto E Sunrise Drive. Continue for 4.1 miles and turn onto N Sabino Canyon Road and then an immediate right onto N Pantano Road and park at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center and Bookstore parking lot, the trailhead for this hike.
The payoff to this ultimate Tucson hike is the dramatic scenery of the final waterfall, a true oasis in all sense of the word. The multi-tier waterfall crashes down from the steep mountain cliffs and lands in a spacious and refreshing desert lake. If solitude is what you desire, begin your hike early, as this is a popular evening spot for happy hour parties and adventurous cliff jumpers.
Distance: 6.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 925 Feet
2. Sutherland Trail
From Oro Valley, drive northeast on N Oracle Road for 2.9 miles and turn right into Catalina State Park. Follow the signs and drive for 0.7 miles and take a right. Continue straight for 1.1 miles and turn left and make an immediate right. The road will end with a parking lot, your trailhead for this hike.
Reserved for experienced hikers and gluttons for punishment, the hike along Sutherland Trail is a grueling and will-testing battle of attrition. The hike through Catalina State Park offers fantastic natural diversity, passing through wonderful sections of unique rock formations and fields of towering cacti.
The beginning of the hike is a manageable trek through the desert before you begin the ascent towards the payoff of Sunderland Trail, summiting Mount Lemmon. The elevation profile will transform from a steady ascent to an arduous climb, to an unrelenting and unending set of harrowing switchbacks before reaching the peak, and stunning panoramic views of the entirety of Catalina State Park.
Difficulty: Very Strenuous
Distance: 17.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 5,679 Feet
3. Romero Pools Trail
From Oro Valley, drive northeast on N Oracle Road for 2.9 miles and turn right into Catalina State Park. Follow the signs and drive for 0.7 miles and take a right. Drive for another 1.1 miles and the parking lot for Romero Canyon will be on your right.
Tucked away in the marvelous Catalina State Park, Romero Pools is a beautiful canyon-lined pond that is fed by a high-cascading seasonal waterfall. The hike to Romero Pools is a moderate climb for the first mile or so before changing into a long dredge of switchbacks and rocky trail conditions before reaching a deep-water crossing.
Do not let this fool you, this is only the end of your climb. Continue along the trail until approaching the canyon and the rocky shores of this desert haven. Even during the warmest months, the waters remain quite cold – making Romero Pools an excellent place to cool off beneath the Tucson sun.
Difficulty: 5.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,322 Feet
4. Valley View Overlook Trail
From South Tucson, drive west on AZ-86 W for 4.8 miles and turn right on S Kinney Road. Continue for 9.0 miles and turn right on N Kinney Road. Stay on N Kinney Road for 2.6 miles and onto Hohokam Road. Drive for 1.4 miles and the trailhead will be on your left.
The hike to the overlook of Valley View in beautiful Saguaro National Park is a trail that is suitable for all skill levels. While the out-and-back trail is only 0.8 miles long, the gentle climb up the slow-ascending ridge is incredibly, and well-worth your efforts.
From here, you will reward yourself with panoramic views of Avra Valley – a desert landscape limitless with expansive views of towering saguaro cacti. On a cloudless day, you will have clear views of Picacho Peak, a grand mountain that overlooks the entire Tucson Valley.
Distance: 0.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 49 Feet
5. Tumamoc Hill Trail
From South Tucson, head north on I-10 W for 2.1 miles and take exit 258 towards Congress St. After 0.4 miles, use the left two lanes to turn left onto W Congress St. Drive for 0.8 miles and take a slight right onto N Silverbell Road. Continue for 0.6 miles and turn left onto W Anklam Road. Stay on W Anklam Road for 0.2 miles and turn left onto Tumamoc Hill Road and the trailhead will be on your right.
One of the most popular hikes in Tucson, the trail to Tumamoc Hill is an incredible journey for tourists and locals alike. The 3.1-mile hike is a well-maintained and beautifully scenic trail that leads to overlooking views of Tucson.
Locals gravitate towards Tumamoc Hill because of its proximity to the city as well as the steady elevation gain that makes this climb an ideal destination for some early morning exercise. Although busy, the sunset view atop Tumamoc Hill is the picture-perfect vantage point for amazing photos of the setting sun, painting Tucson with a dramatic and vivid burnt orange hue.
Distance: 3.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 738 Feet
6. Freeman Homestead Nature Trail
From Tucson, drive east on AZ-210 E for 3.6 miles and use the two left lanes to turn left onto Golf Links Road. Continue for 8.4 miles and make a left turn onto S Houghton Road. Drive for 0.3 miles and turn right onto E Old Spanish Trail. Stay on E Old Spanish Trail for 2.8 miles and make a left onto Cactus Forest Drive. After 0.2 miles, make a right to stay on Cactus Forest Drive. Continue for 1.4 miles and your trailhead will be on the right.
Located in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park, the Freeman Homestead Nature Trail is a family-friendly interpretive walk that is fun and educational for all ages.
This short loop trail has informational signage along the trail that assists in retelling ancient stories of the Sonoran Desert as well as identifying its unique and diverse desert fauna and wildlife. Some signs even have diagrams and activities listed that are kid-specific.
Before leaving, be sure to stop at the picnic area and enjoy a quiet lunch in the unique desert setting of Freeman Homestead.
Distance: 1.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 108 Feet
7. Yetman and Rock Wren Trail
From Tucson, drive west on W Congress Street for 1.1 miles and make a slight right onto N Silverbell Road. Drive for 0.6 miles and turn left onto W Anklam Road. Drive for 0.4 miles and turn left to stay on W Anklam Road and drive for another 3.4 miles and turn left onto W Speedway Boulevard. Continue for 0.2 miles and make a slight left onto W Gates Pass Road and then an immediate left onto N Camino De Oeste and the trail will be on your left.
The hike along the Yetman and Rock Wren Trail is one full of encapsulated beauty and wonder. This moderate path takes you through beautiful sections of blooming wildflowers and prickly pear cactus that will lead you through a breathtaking painted canyon.
The shallow canyon has brilliant streaks of deep red, burnt orange, and bright yellow natural walls formed by erosion and sedimentary river deposits many moons ago. In addition to the natural beauty of the canyon, the trail leads you to the hidden Bowen House – a stone house built by Sherry Bowen as his private desert escape in 1938.
Distance: 6.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 498 Feet
8. Linda Vista Trail
From Downtown Tucson, drive north on N Oracle Road for 9.9 miles and make a right onto E Linda Vista Boulevard. After turning onto E Linda Vista Boulevard, make an immediate right into the parking area for the Linda Vista Trail.
Linda Vista Trail is an enjoyable and challenging single-track route through the valleys and passes in Oro Valley. Although short, this 2-mile trail traverses the hills along the ridges before ultimately reaching several expansive overlooks.
The hiking surface alternates between loose, rocky surfaces and sections of thin sand – increasingly the effort just enough to get your legs burning. The desert loop is lined with saguaro and pear cacti, with sagebrush leading your path through Oro Valley. Linda Vista’s lack of notoriety and traffic makes this walk through the arid desert a peaceful and private Tucson adventure.
Distance: 2.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 426 Feet
9. Tanque Verde Falls Trail
From Tucson, drive east on AZ-210 E for 3.6 miles and use the two left lanes to turn left onto Golf Links Road. Continue for 8.4 miles and make a left turn onto S Houghton Road. Drive for another 4.1 miles and make a right onto E Tanque Verde Road. Keep driving for 6.7 miles until reaching the parking area for Tanque Verde Falls Trailhead.
Tanque Verde Falls is an incredible hiking trail just outside of Tucson. This out-and-back hike takes you on a short climb through a beautiful canyon that leads to a grand and powerfully cascading 80-foot waterfall!
The hike is a steady, steep, and sometimes slippery trek up a narrow canyon before reaching the payoff, a small pond that is fed by the mighty “Green Tank” Tanque Verde Waterfall. Be sure to monitor the weather before visiting – after rainfall, the rocks can become extremely slick, and the threat of flash flooding is common. Be smart and have fun!
Distance: 1.9 Miles
Elevation Gain: 462 Feet
10. Blackett’s Ridge Trail
From Tucson, head north on I-10 W for 1.7 miles and take exit 256 towards Grant Road. After exiting, take a right onto W Grant Road and drive for 5.9 miles and another right on N Swan Road. After 4.0 miles, make a right onto E Sunrise Drive and drive for 4.1 miles. Take a left onto N Sabino Canyon Road and then an immediate right onto N Pantano Road. After 0.2 miles, the parking area for the trail will be on your left.
The journey to Blackett’s Ridge is a beautifully taxing hike that leads to the best views in all of Arizona. This strenuous out-and-back hike takes you through a lush meadow of saguaro cacti and sagebrush before switch-backing your way over a thousand feet of rocky terrain in the heart of Sabino Canyon.
Though strenuous, the hike to the Blackett’s Ridge Overlook is beyond rewarding. After climbing over miles of rocky granite slabs, the trail takes you to a sharp climb that leads to an increasingly narrow ridge that gives incredible panoramic views of Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains, and both Sabino and Bear Canyon.
Distance: 5.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,778 Feet
11. Cactus Forest Trail
From Tucson, drive east on AZ-210 E for 3.6 miles and use the two left lanes to turn left onto Golf Links Road. Continue for 8.4 miles and make a left turn onto S Houghton Road. After 2.0 miles turn right onto E Broadway Boulevard. Drive for 2.8 miles and the parking area for this hike will be on your right.
The Cactus Forest Trail is a multi-purpose trail that follows along an old wash slowly snaking through the Sonoran Desert. With its wide and smooth pathway, the trail is popular among trail-runners and mountain bikers.
The slow hike through the desert is special due to its abundance of diverse desert fauna and wildlife. While adventuring through this arid region, keep an eye out for rare owls, gorgeous golden eagles, and the elusive desert bighorn sheep. Nature lovers will also enjoy the diversity among the plant life, with 10 miles of unique fauna that is a naturalist’s identification amusement park.
Distance: 10.0 Miles
Elevation Gain: 511 Feet
12. Mount Wrightson via Old Baldy Trail
From South Tucson, drive south on I-19 S for 22.4 miles and take exit 63 for Continental Road and take a left. Continue down Continental Road for 1.2 miles and take a right onto Madera Canyon Road. Drive for another 7.3 miles and take a slight right on S Madera Canyon Road. Drive for 5.8 miles and take a right back onto S Madera Canyon Road and after 0.1 miles, the trailhead will be on your right.
Summiting Mount Wrightson, the highest point in the Santa Rita Mountains, is a strenuous journey that amasses over 4,000 feet of elevation gain in just over 5 miles. The trail essentially circumnavigates the ridge of the mountain with a relentless series of switchbacks before reaching the summit, rising 9,453 feet above sea level.
With the difficult journey behind you, the views from the top of Mount Wrightson are nothing short of outstanding. From this mountaintop vantage point, you can see miles of rolling desert landscape that is truly one of a kind. To shorten your return trek, descend via the “Super Trail,” a very steep set of switchbacks that return you to the trailhead in less time than would Old Baldy Trail.
Distance: 11.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 4,002 Feet
13. Bridal Wreath Falls Trail
From Tucson, drive east on AZ-210 E for 3.6 miles and use the two left lanes to turn left onto Golf Links Road. Continue for 8.4 miles and make a left turn onto S Houghton Road. After 3.0 miles, turn right onto E Speedway Boulevard and drive another 5.0 miles. Make a right into the parking area for the Douglas Spring Trail, the trailhead for this hike.
Bridal Wreath Falls is a charming waterfall in the eastern portion of Saguaro National Park. Albeit small, the Bridal Wreath waterfall cascades and tumbles down tiers of river-shaped rock formations rushing down into a stunning canyon.
The hike moderately climbs through sand and loose rock through a wide desert canyon. The trail ends as you approach the waterfall and is an excellent place to take your shoes off and enjoy the relaxing and serene waters before your return trip.
T&T Tip: Due to its shallow waters, this trail is best visited after a decent rainfall.
Distance: 5.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,095 Feet
14. Catalina Canyon Loop Trail
From Oro Valley, drive northeast on N Oracle Road for 2.9 miles and turn right into Catalina State Park. Follow the signs and drive for 0.7 miles and take a right. Drive for another 1.1 miles and the parking lot for Romero Canyon will be on your right. This is your trailhead for the Catalina Canyon Loop Trail.
The Catalina Canyon Loop is a perfect trail for beginners. This trail is clearly marked and well-maintained. The hike follows a dry creek bed that wanders through dense and concentrated desert features of the beautiful Catalina State Park.
Follow along through meadows of sagebrush and wildflowers, flanked by towering saguaro cacti and with a background canvas of the Catalina Mountains. The accessibility and variety in diversity make the Catalina Canyon Loop one of the most popular hikes in and around Tucson.
Distance: 2.3 Miles
Elevation Gain: 173 Feet
15. Pima Canyon Trail
From Tucson, drive north on N Oracle Road for 6.8 miles and turn right onto W Ina Road. After 1.0 miles, turn left onto N Christie Drive and drive for another 1.4 miles. Turn right onto E Magee Road for 0.2 miles and turn left into the parking area for the Pima Canyon Trail.
Pima Canyon is a popular hiking destination in the Santa Catalina Mountains – and for good reason. The hike through the Pusch Wilderness is rich with saguaro cacti for miles and allows hikers to journey through a peaceful canyon, experiencing all the elements of hiking in this unique desert.
Pima Canyon trail is about the journey, not the destination. The hike is very popular for the first few miles until you reach the lower dam. After that, the difficulty increases, but the foot traffic alleviates. If you choose to continue, the trail will lead you to the rocky shores of Pima Spring and ultimately, the stunning panoramic views from the summit of Mount Kimball.
Distance: 10.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3,339 Feet