By most definitions, Agua Caliente Hill is more of a mountain than a hill. Situated between the Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains, it rises 3,000 feet from the valley floor to an elevation of 5,377 feet, which is significantly lower than the summits that surround it. Perhaps that is why it is called a hill.
The route to the top begins at Agua Caliente Hill South Trailhead, east of Tucson at the edge of a subdivision. There is a parking lot here with spots for 15 vehicles.
To reach the summit, follow the trail 3 miles to a junction marked by a sign. At the sign, bear right to complete the last 1.5 miles. Most of the hike is steep, but this final section averages a strenuous 16% grade.
- Distance: 8.8 miles out and back
- Hike Time: 4 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,588 feet
- Fee: Free
- Dogs: Yes
- Difficulty: Hard
The hike to Agua Caliente Hill begins at the bottom of a ravine that features an imposing grove of large saguaros. Interspersed between these elderly monoliths are ocotillo, prickly pear, cholla, mesquite, and palo verde.
The trail begins with a gradual incline, but becomes steeper as it follows switchbacks to the top of a ridge. One of the best things about Agua Caliente Hill is you don’t have to go far to get views. After about a mile, panoramic vistas open up of Tucson and the mountain ranges that encircle it.
1.7 miles from the parking lot, the trail descends to a small, grassy basin. There is a cattle pond here called Cat Track Tank. During dry periods, its water disappears completely. When pressed for time, I like to turn around and head back at this point.
From Cat Track Tank, it is another 1.3 miles to the junction with Forest Road #4445. The elevation here is about 4,000 feet and there is a noticeable change in the flora. As you continue up the ridge line, the Sonoran Desert biome changes to grassland.
As you continue, the saguaros thin out until they are replaced by the occasional alligator juniper and scrub live oak. From the junction, it is only 1.5 miles to the summit, but the elevation gain is 1,377 feet. Less than a mile from the junction, the trail skirts around a false summit.
The next half-mile is flat and easy. Enjoy this while it lasts, because the last half-mile is the toughest stretch of the entire hike. The final push ascends 640 feet to Agua Caliente Summit, where your hard work is rewarded with 360 degree views of Tucson, Mount Wrightson, the Rincon Mountains, Redington Pass, and the Santa Catalina Mountains.
To get to Agua Caliente Hill South Trailhead from Tucson, head east on Speedway Boulevard then turn left onto Tanque Verde Road. After nine miles, turn left onto Soldier Trail then right onto Fort Lowell Road. Turn left onto Cam Remuda and follow it to the trailhead parking lot.
- Water: Carry 3-4 liters of water.
- Heat Stroke: The trail is on a southwest facing slope and receives direct sunlight for most of the day. Get an early start to beat the heat and reduce sun exposure.
- Best Time to Travel: November through March.
- Safety: Check flash flood warnings and know the forecast before you go. Watch for rattlesnakes.