Five Places to Hike in Tucson Arizona

by | Apr 1, 2024 | Hiking and Travel Tips

Tucson Arizona is a college town with a world class restaurant scene. It is also home to a National Park (with two units), surrounded by four mountain ranges, and hosts several in-city hiking options. In this article I share five places to hike in Tucson Arizona! Come enjoy some Tucson Arizona hikes with us.

The Saguaro Cactus is the symbol of the American Southwest. But only grows in and around Tucson Arizona.
The beautiful Saguaro Cacti line most hiking trails in and around Tucson.

Tucson Arizona is truly a paradise for those who call hiking year-round a MUST. You can get low in the desert in the winter, high up in the mountains in the summer, and have access of less than a 30 minute drive to one of several preserves, parks, or wilderness land that you have to drive several hours to reach from most cities. In the city there are parks abound as well. I’ve visited Tucson a few times and lived there as a nomad for 10 weeks. Outside of section hiking the Arizona Trail here are five Tucson Arizona hikes and places I love.

First things first…

It’s a privilege to go hiking on public lands. Especially while you are taking a trip, on vacation, or on a holiday somewhere you don’t live. Giving love and respect to the culture is vital and while we are at it…Leave No Trace and Pack Your 10 Essentials :)!

Now onto the fun stuff…

Five Places Tucson Arizona Hikes and Places to Hike.

  1. Saguaro National Park.
    West and East Units. Favorite Hike: Hugh Norris Trail.
    Dogs only allowed on dirt roads.
  2. Tucson Mountain Park.
    Favorite Hike: Brown Mountain or Starr Pass.
    Dogs not permitted on most trails, some trails open to equestrians, hunters, and/or mountain bikers.
  3. Painted Hills Trails Park and Sweetwater Preserve.
    Favorite Hike: Painted Hills Loop.
    Dogs permitted, best locations from Central living in the city to hike with your dog.
  4. Catalina State Park.
    Favorite Hike: Romero Canyon.
    Dog friendly, horse friendly, camping options, and more.
  5. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.
    Favorite Hike: All of them :). Sabino Canyon if I have to pick but it’s tough!
    No dogs, shuttle system to enter most trails, Part of the Coronado National Forest.

Tucson is home to much more hiking than just Saguaro National Park.

The first time I came to Tucson it was to explore Saguaro National Park. I was in Phoenix for work and came down to Tucson (about 90 minutes without traffic) to hike in the park for the day. Fell in love I did, but assuming that the only place to hike near the city was the National Park made me grossly underestimate the hiking in this city. Four mountain ranges surround Tucson Arizona and no matter which way you want to go there’s a trail with your name on it.

Tucson Arizona Hiking Areas:

Tucson is home to the Saguaro Cactus, all its cacti cousins, and several mountain ranges that allow you to jump from hiking area to hiking area depending on the day.

The Tucson Mountains, Rincon Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Santa Rita Mountains, and a bit farther off but reachable with a longer drive are the Tortolita Mountains.

I quickly discovered while living in Tucson that going to the National Park (which is a lovely place) was often unnecessary. I would be driving PAST a half dozen perfectly lovely hiking trails or a different mountain range to get to the National Park. What it’s shown me is that you could live here your whole life and never get through the trails.

Should you visit Saguaro National Park? Absolutely!

Would it surprise me if you lived in Tucson, loved to hike, and rarely or ever went to the National Park? Not in the least!

The Hikes on the List and more:

Hugh Norris Trail: This hike was my welcome to Tucson Arizona hiking and it didn’t disappoint. It leads you several different ways through the desert and offers a plethora of add-on options. I spent the whole day hiking this trail during my first hike in Tucson and I think it’s as good as any to begin with.

Brown Mountain/Starr Pass: These hikes are just on the side of the road in Tucson Mountain Park as you head out of town. I discovered them by simply figuring out I didn’t have to drive all the way up to Mount Lemmon (an incredible skiing and hiking area that didn’t even make the list because it’s a bit farther away) to find a good hike. You get treated to all the delights Tucson hikes offer on these trails (cacti, flowers, lizards, diverse plant life, sweeping desert views) but they are close to Tucson and you can hike more than you have to drive.

Painted Hills: This is my go to hike with my dog. It’s close to town (15 minutes) and while you see homes and hear cars you are in the desert wilderness more or less. At least in terms of the scenery and the crowds.
I don’t want to drive an hour to hike an hour. And my doggo is a 3-4 mile kinda hiker so this one is perfect.

Sabino Canyon and its trail system are second to none for hiking near Tucson Arizona.

My new favorite hiking area:

Meet Sabino Canyon and the neighboring National Forest and Arizona National Scenic Trail. This tops my list of Tucson Arizona hikes.

The dog stays home with my partner for these long day hikes (15-20 miles). Don’t worry we go for a walk and play in the yard for an hour before I leave and they go on their own walks while I am gone ;).

Sabino Canyon is an oasis in the summer for locals with natural swimming holes, higher elevations for cooler temperatures, and just simply awe inspiring views everywhere you look. This and the Santa Catalina range have become my favorite spots to hike without my partner and my dog. Sabino can get busy with the shuttle system but you can also enter via the Arizona Trail through the wilderness. Which is my preference.

Catalina State Park is about just as good. I haven’t met a trail that I didn’t fall in love with there. I could finish my years hiking and backpacking these places and dissolved into the desert dust with a smile I think.

Cactus buds blooming on a Tucson Arizona Hike.
Spring cacti in bloom.

Final Thoughts on Tucson Arizona Hiking

I’ve lived in LA and Seattle and they have excellent hiking both in the cities and a few hours away. However the trails can be packed (which is not a bad thing) and traffic can be TOUGH depending on when you are able to go hiking.

What I’ve found about Tucson is you can get in and out of the city quickly (it’s MUCH smaller than LA and Seattle) but there’s also so many trails that they are hard to get overly crowded. While it’s much smaller than those two HUGE cities I’ve found that they have everything you could desire in a city.

If you want to place a high priority on endless hiking options and a world class diverse cuisine scene then Tucson should be at the top of your list. Whether it’s for a vacation, short term living arrangement like us, or for a longer term place to throw down your roots. I probably won’t be a Tucsonian forever, and that’s unfortunate!

Tucson has much more hiking than this, but hopefully this gives you a taste!

I feel at home in Tucson, and it happened immediately. The people, the desert, the food, and the trails have made it a place I will love forever.

Thanks for reading and supporting Happy People Hike, comment below with any questions about hikes in and near Tucson Arizona!

Happy Hiking,
Mike R

Mike Rudd

Mike Rudd

Nomad, Dood Dad, Planet Lover. Hashtag59 & Happy People Hike Lead Intern. Freelance Writer and Content Creator. Health and Wellness Curator.

Learn More about this author

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This