Eric and I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert during our stay in Tucson, Arizona. We loved the beauty of this unique desert, and the endless opportunities to hike and be out in nature. By the end of our stay, we were even testing each other to see if we could remember the various cacti and plant names. I actually have an article in mind that’s entirely devoted to all the things I love about the saguaro cactus.
For those who love exploring the outdoors, I think it would take multiple lifetimes for you to experience the many trails and nature areas available in the Tucson area. We tried to make the most of the time we had, but please comment with anything we missed. We’ll definitely be returning in the future.
–> If you’re looking for more things to do in Tucson, check out “Our Spontaneous Afternoon in Downtown Tucson, AZ” <–
Sabino Canyon was one of the last places we visited, but it ended up being our favorite activity in the whole city. Upon arrival, we bought our $10/person tickets and hopped on the tram, which runs from 9-4:30 p.m.
It’s a quick, 1.8-mile drive to the end of the road, where the tram turns around and returns to the visitor’s center. On the way, there are nine stops where people can get on or off.
For those who aren’t able to hike, Sabino Canyon offers access to the breath-taking beauty of the Sonoran Desert. We ended up riding to stop #9, then getting out around stop #5 and walking back to our car.
5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road – Website
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Our second favorite place in Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We visited on a Saturday and spent about four hours there, including a short break in the shade with the picnic lunch we packed. This is the place where we were able to learn the names of the plants and animals we had been spotting on our daily walks.
When you go, don’t miss the Raptor Free Flight, which usually runs from October to March. They’ve designed the show so that the birds fly directly over visitors’ heads. You can feel their wind, and sometimes even their feather tips!
Another don’t-miss exhibit is the hummingbird aviary. I’ve never been so close to so many hummingbirds, and they are amazing birds!
2021 N. Kinney Road – Website
Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park
It took me a while to suss out the difference between Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park, since they’re co-located. As it turns out, Tucson Mountain Park is county-run. Notably, it holds Gilbert Ray Campground, where many of our friends have stayed. We met Matthew, Celeste and their two sons–of Wandering Nation–at their campsite there, and it was absolutely gorgeous.
Of course we had to visit the national park and get our passport stamp. Since we had already been doing a lot of exploring and hiking in Tucson, the park didn’t seem exceptional. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing.
The most unique thing we saw were the petroglyphs. There were so many and they were well-defined. I couldn’t help but pause and consider the people who left their mark there.
Brown Mountain Loop Trail
One afternoon, I ventured back into Tucson Mountain Park to hike Brown Mountain Loop Trail. This is a relatively easy, 4.1-mile loop that gives a delightful view of the surrounding desert. It also takes you right into the back yard of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
This is a helpful review of the trail from Tucson Weekly.
Sonoran Desert Trails Behind Our RV Park
We stayed at Justin’s Diamond J RV Park, which is located just south of Tucson Mountain Park. Every day, we walked the trail system behind our park, which eventually reaches the county land. Our very first hike ever, we saw a coyote just a few yards away! Having these trails so close was a real treat for us.
3451 S. San Joaquin Road – Website
I can’t express my admiration for the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Photos really don’t do it justice.
What are your favorite things to do outside in Tucson?