Five-Star Trails Tucson  by Rob Rachowiecki

Five-Star Trails: Tucson Guide Book

by Rob Rachowiecki (Menasha Ridge Press)
Five-Star Trails Tucson  by Rob Rachowiecki
Tucson lies in a saguaro-studded desert basin surrounded by four mountain ranges and book-ended by two national parks. In an hour you can drive from an arid canyon in the Arizona-Sonora desert to a pine-forested mountain at 9000 feet. Hiking trails are plentiful and as varied as the terrain. Five-Star Trails: Tucson by Rob Rachowiecki guides hikers to diverse trails suitable for anyone from wheelchair-using nature lovers to those looking for an all-day workout.

© 2014 Rob Rachowiecki/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Five-Star Trails: Tucson" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 35.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 35.

This trail starts from near the first parking area on General Hitchcock Highway, also known locally as Mount Lemmon Road. The trail climbs steadily but has no very steep sections, and the views of both the vegetation and the mountains are rewarding. The waterfall at the end is dry for most of the year; try to get there early on August mornings after the monsoons or in February and March during snowmelt to see water flowing.
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
Some Tucsonans take a masochistic pleasure in running up this steep trail and pride themselves on getting to the summit in well under an hour from the parking lot. Others claim to climb it most days of the week to stay in shape. I prefer to take my time to enjoy the best views in Sabino Canyon and keep an eye out for the fl ora and fauna.
Tucson, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.2
This loop takes you far from the desert and into thick and beautiful forests of sycamores, oaks, and pines. Th e Santa Rita Mountains are riddled with springs and streams that provide year-round moisture and support healthy woodlands. You pass three springs on this trail, at least two of which should have water year-round, but carry drinking water as the spring water is not clean. The streams are somewhat more intermittent, but they’re gorgeous when they flow after snowmelt and after monsoon rains.
Green Valley, AZ - Birding,Hiking - Trail Length: 5.8
This figure-eight trail combines two 1-mile-long loop trails that both leave from Catalina State Park’s main trailhead, so you can just do one if you’re pressed for time. Both are trails for slow hiking, reading the interpretive signs, and perhaps introducing small children to the wonders of the Arizona-Sonora desert. There are a few steepish sections, but they don’t last long. The mountain views are a bonus!
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
This rocky trail follows yet another of the many gorgeous canyons climbing into the Catalinas. Great mountain views and high desert flora characterize the hike, and wildlife ranging from skunks to deer has been reported, although most people will see only lizards and birds. The seasonal Romero Pools invite exploration and are a good turnaround point, although the trail continues high into the Catalinas, connecting with trails that lead to Mount Lemmon, Sabino Canyon, and other landmarks.
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.6
This lovely woodland trail is just far enough away from Tucson that it gets few hikers. Most stop at the lower spring, and those continuing to the upper spring will either get lost or fi nd solitude. (Audrey and I managed to do both!)
Green Valley, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.6
Finger Rock is a major landmark on Tucson’s mountainous northern horizon. Th is steep, diffi cult, but clear trail climbs Finger Rock Canyon almost a vertical mile up into the Catalinas, never getting close to the pinnacle it’s named after. Instead, it continues much higher, reaching a satisfying but uncomplicated summit from which you can see everything north of Tucson (but not the city itself). You’ll enjoy climbing through changing ecosystems, from stands of saguaro to a pine forest.
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.2
Hutch’s Pool comes a distinct second to Seven Falls as a destination for water-seeking hikers in the Sabino Canyon area, but it ranks first as a year-round water attraction—it doesn’t dry up completely. The first section from the trailhead, the only steep one, is rewarded with great views back down Sabino Canyon. Continuing on, the trail encounters a variety of landscapes, including a steep canyon and high desert grasslands.
Tucson, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.2
This short trail gives you a lot of bang for your shoe leather. There are excellent mountain, forest, and valley views all around (though you can’t see Tucson), and the rock slabs at the end of the trail are great for resting and picnicking. The main drawback is the dirt access road leading to a diminutive parking area. Cars can get there with care but may find nowhere to park. In that case, if you return along the access road, you’ll find a few spots where you can pull over and hike back up the road.
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 1.3
Linda Vista (Spanish for “lovely view”) is a fun, easy loop with attractive views of Pusch Peak at the western end of the Santa Catalina mountain range. The desert vegetation is thick, beautiful, and varied. Folks living in Tucson’s northwest sector will find this an easily reached backyard hike. Late afternoon provides photographers with the best light for the mountains. The trail is narrow, and children need to be careful of prickly plants that grow up to the trail’s edge.
Cortaro, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
These two loops are lovely. Folks in wheelchairs will definitely get a real outdoors experience with fine mountain views, bird-filled woodlands, and historical sites. The trails are also recommended for slower hikers who use a cane or don’t want to climb. Bird-watchers and visitors with limited time enjoy the easy hike and the informative signs along the trails. The Proctor Trailhead has an informative shaded ramada detailing the history and natural history of Madera Canyon, along with a visitor center that’s open most weekends. The Whitehouse Trailhead has a picnic area.
Green Valley, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.8
This is a very popular loop hike for Tucsonans looking to beat the summer heat. Combined with a picnic lunch or a visit to a Summerhaven restaurant (see Nearby Attractions), this hike completes a relaxing day in the mountains. Going counterclockwise, as described here, the trail follows an evergreen-forested stream and later emerges to yield rocky vistas, followed by a saddle and aspen groves. Other hikers may prefer the clockwise route, which starts off more steeply.
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.6
This lovely loop takes you through alpine meadows and conifer forests before reaching views of Tucson. The first section is flat and suitable for introducing pre-kindergarten youngsters to the high country. A gentle 300-foot descent loops around to a side trail that heads to a fire lookout with extensive views of southern Arizona—this view is the only reason the hike gets five stars for scenery. The final return is a slightly steep challenge for the young ones in your party.
Mount Lemmon, AZ - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 1.6
The upper section of the Nature Trail seems almost forgotten by hikers who are heading for the adjoining trailheads leading to the summit of Mount Wrightson, and there are relatively few people to be seen. Along the high trail, wooden benches are strategically placed for a relaxing rest and some of Madera Canyon’s best views of Mount Wrightson. After undulating high above the valley, the route plunges down to Madera Creek, where a very popular trail parallels both the creek and the road but is just far enough away from the latter for birdsong to be heard.
Green Valley, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.8
This is the oldest, shortest, and steepest route to ascend the 4,000 feet from the trailhead to summit. Desert dwellers can experience pleasing pine-forest smells, scenery, and shade while taking a break from the heat. The trail is very popular and occasionally becomes overrun with large hiking groups. With the exception of a few short, rocky sections near the summit, the trail is well maintained and makes the ascent surprisingly manageable, although the steep descent may take a toll on older knees. On a clear day, views stretch from northern Mexico to north of Tucson.
Green Valley, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.8
When I have out-of-town guests who want a fun hike where they can see plenty of saguaros and great desert and canyon scenery without taking up too much time and energy, I inevitably take them on the shortened loop of the Phoneline Link Trail. Everyone loves it. With a bit more time on one’s hands, the complete Phoneline Trail—hanging dramatically between cliff top and canyon bottom—makes a hiker feel like an eagle soaring in and out of gullies. Some hikers take the Sabino Canyon shuttle (see page 93) to the end of Sabino Canyon Road and hike the Phoneline Trail in reverse.
Tucson, AZ - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 4
This trail attracts many hikers on its lower part but fewer hikers in its difficult higher reaches than the more-iconic Finger Rock Trail or the ever-popular Sabino Canyon. Those who go high enjoy superb views, including the rarely seen back side of Finger Rock, before bagging the summit of Mount Kimball. Two small dams built to attract wildlife provide splashes of water, riparian plants, butterfles, and birds. I almost graded this hike a 2 for kids until I encountered a tough family group that included a 10-year-old boy, who told me it was “really, really hard, and we got lost, but Dad found the way.”
Tucson, AZ - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 14
This trail aff ords excellent views of Tucson and its surrounding mountains from diff erent angles—bring a city map and binoculars to pick out the streets and landmarks. Looking away from Tucson, you’ll have superb vistas of Finger Rock (see Hike 19, page 147) and Pontatoc Canyon in the front ranges of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The hike ends at an old mine that gives the trail its name.
Tucson, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.2
This paved road is closed to vehicles (except for limited bicycle and shuttle traffic) and provides walkers, joggers, parents with strollers, and folks in wheelchairs with a gorgeous hiking experience—it’s the best place in Tucson to get into the wilderness with a wheelchair. The tour shuttle has a flat fee that allows all-day on-and-off privileges at any of its nine stops, and can be used to access the Hutch’s Pool Trail or to hike the Phoneline Trail in reverse. Pools and a diminutive waterfall invite kids to play, but don’t feel that you need to stop here—plenty of other riparian areas are farther along the road.
Tucson, AZ - Hiking - Trail Length: 7.6
This gentle stroll crosses almost the entire girth of Saguaro National Park East from north to south. For a quick look at the desert, you can just take the Mica View Loop (1.9 miles). The northern part of the Cactus Forest Trail intersects several other short trails that can be explored with a map. The main trail intersects the Cactus Forest Loop Drive at two points; mountain bikes are allowed on the 2.6-mile-long section of trail between those points. The remains of late-19th-century lime kilns lie along this section.
Tucson, AZ - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 10.4