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Category: Arizona

For people that don’t know better, Arizona is thought to be a brown, lifeless desert that is so hot that the Devil summers there.

Don’t believe everything you hear. Arizona’s landscape is one of extreme diversity. The “Grand Canyon State” has everything from lush green oases, watering holes and waterfalls, to coniferous forests, high-elevation peaks, and of course, deserts (but not the ugly kind).

For three years, Kim and I (Max) lived in Tucson and had the chance to hike and explore all over the state. We wrote these guides to help you fall in love with Arizona the way we did.

Trip Report: The Escalante Route of the Grand Canyon

Trip Data

  • Dates: Thu, Oct 21, 2021 to Sun, Oct 24, 2021
  • Route: Lipan Point > Grandview Point
  • Weather: Sunny, with partly cloudy afternoons. Highs in the 60s and 70s, lows in the 30s and 40s.
  • Distance Hiked: 33 miles
  • Time: 4 days

Map

Background

In June of 2021, Max attained permits for an October descent into the Grand Canyon on the Escalante Trail, a relatively unpopular route that has a reputation for being more treacherous and difficult than the average Grand Canyon trek.

Although the standard trip length for this route is 4 nights, Max requested a 3-night permit to make it more likely our friends could get the time off to do it with us. The park rangers cautioned him against this due to the strenuous nature of the trail, but Max held his ground and they gave in.

We were surprised and amused when we received the permit, which said in large red letters, “AGGRESSIVE ITINERARY! HIKER INSISTED ON ITINERARY.”

Despite this delightful warning, our friends Jason and Dana still decided to join us. Max has extensive experience in the Grand Canyon, having worked there as a guide and completed multiple hikes, including the R2R in a day, Havasupai, and Salt Trail Canyon to LCR Gorge. Jason and I also have quite a bit of experience in desert backpacking, and Dana is a kick-ass rock climber, so we were all feeling a bit cavalier about our odds of success on this trek.

By the end of our 3 nights, we were rightfully humbled by the Grand Canyon, and Max had earned the cheeky nickname “Aggressive Itinerary.”

From left to right: Kim (the author), Max, Jason, Dana
From left to right: Kim (the author), Max, Jason, Dana

Summary

We embarked out of Grand Junction and drove to Utah to drop our daughter off with her grandparents. Max had all of his meals and snacks provided by Right on Trek, which made preparation for the trip very easy.

Jason and Dana flew in from Chicago. We picked them up at the Las Vegas airport, and headed to Arizona. We spent the night before our trek camping on a forest road outside of the park. It was freezing cold, and we were grateful for the beer and pizza we had consumed in Williams to keep us warm.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast at the Foodie Club restaurant in Tusayan, blithely ignorant of the ass kicking we would receive in the canyon. We headed into the park that afternoon and left our vehicle at Lipan Point at about 2 PM on October 21st to begin our descent.

Day 1

Distance: 10.7 mi
Ascent: 475 ft
Descent: 5,123 ft

The trail drops steeply in the first 2 miles, with lots of scree scrambling and boulder hopping. I was grateful for my trekking pole, and immediately began to lament that I had not done more squats and lunges to prepare.

After mile 2, the trail was less rocky, with flat sections to break it up. We were shaded from the warm autumn sun through all of it, and there were breathtaking views and geological wonders to entertain us as we descended down further.

Photo op on our first sighting of the Colorado River!
Photo op on our first sighting of the Colorado River!

Within a few hours, the setting sun painted a crimson streak on the cliff walls across from us, and we began to wish we had started a bit earlier. We passed a group of hikers who had to stop and make camp early after one of them had sustained an injury. It was a good reminder not to underestimate the canyon.

The setting sun's last rays cast on the cliffs above us
The setting sun’s last rays cast on the cliffs above us

It was full dark when the temperature noticeably rose, and we began smelling the sweet, reedy aroma of the Colorado River. After four hours of hiking, we had reached the bottom at last!

We heard the roar of the Tanner Rapids in front of us and felt a moment of relief. Unfortunately, thanks to our “aggressive itinerary,” we had another 4 miles of hiking to do before we could stop and camp.

We took advantage of the pit toilet at Tanner – which was a godsend as my legs were jelly and I couldn’t squat even if I wanted to – and then continued downriver with our headlamps on.

The trail was well marked with small cairns, and squirreled up and down the rocky hills that make up the toes of the canyon walls. The almost full moon crept over the south rim, lighting up the splendor around us.

Despite the beauty, it was a grueling two and half hours, and we were grateful when we heard the whoops and greetings of the rafters camping at Cardenas, our night’s destination.

The rafters invited us to drink some beer with them, but we were spent after the day’s exertion. Dana had already developed bad blisters, and we were all aching and exhausted.

We found a sandy grove a few hundred feet from the river and collapsed into our tents. We had to take precautions to keep the mice from our food while we slept, and I was grateful for the earplugs I had brought to tune out the sounds of revelry from the rafting camp, but we all had a great night of sleep in the warm riparian air.

Kim poses in the Grand Canyon

Day 2

Distance: 8.1 mi
Ascent: 1,744 ft
Descent: 1,828 ft

We slept in and broke camp slowly, limping on our stiff legs. I discovered that my water reservoir had sprung a big leak and was useless, and so I made my way down to the rafters to see if they could help me out.

The view from Cardenas Camp
The view from Cardenas Camp

They were a large group out of Aspen, CO. They were incredibly kind to us, offering to take our garbage, supply us with beer and seltzer, and gave me a large jug to carry my water in. We were floored by their generosity!

We filled our water bottles in the Colorado, which was clear enough to require very little filtration, then started on the trail at about 11 AM.

Looking back toward Cardenas Camp from above
Looking back toward Cardenas Camp from above

It was warm and sunny with very little wind. We climbed about 1300 feet onto a mesa several hundred yards away from the river. The trail was narrow and exposed, with sheer scree slopes on the side. It seemed like it was created for bighorn sheep rather than people. Any misstep would have been disastrous.

Kim (the author) makes her way over a talus slope
Kim (the author) makes her way over a talus slope

As we hiked, we were wildly entertained by the rainbow of geography we passed through. Black lava slopes, green flaky layers, deep red cliffs, and rocks with polka dots, stripes, and swirls surrounded us.

Dana’s feet were rapidly deteriorating, forcing our pace to slow. She was suffering from a multitude of bad blisters and beginning to lose sensation in part of her foot. She joked that her feet were made of “puff pastry.”

We encountered Escalante Creek at about 3:30. It was dry, but fortunately we were still carrying plenty of water and were able to continue on.

Escalante Creek was dry as a bone
Escalante Creek was dry as a bone
Max poses in front of one of many grand views on the route
Max poses in front of one of many grand views on the route

At about dusk, we skirted along the yawning abyss of Seventyfive Mile Canyon. There is a steep scramble where you descend into the canyon, and then continue back toward the river.

We took a brief moment to enjoy sunset on the river
We took a brief moment to enjoy sunset on the river

It was a shame we didn’t get to pass through the canyon in the daylight, but the sheer walls around us were impressive even in the dark. We were also able to enjoy the performance of the many bats that careen through the canyon at night. There were still a few datura blooming in the sand at our feet.

We arrived back at the river, and began to ascend back onto the steep, arduous trail toward the Papago Wall. We quickly realized that it was too dangerous to continue in the dark and turned around at about 7 PM.

We found several sandy camping spots on the beach upriver of Nevills Rapids. We had the area to ourselves, and moonrise lit up the whole canyon at 9 PM. I took advantage of the moonlight and solitude to take a bath in the cold river. The water was still clear, but the taste was a bit siltier here.

The view from our camp upriver from Nevills Rapids
The view from our camp upriver from Nevills Rapids

Day 3

Distance: 9.0 mi
Ascent: 2,072 ft
Descent: 962 ft

After vowing to get an earlier start, we broke camp and started on the trail at 8:30 AM.

There are few "cruiser" miles on The Escalante Route
There are few “cruiser” miles on The Escalante Route

The terrain was quite difficult approaching the Papago Wall, and I was grateful we hadn’t attempted it in the dark. The scramble itself was straightforward, albeit exposed. None of us struggled with it.

Dana in her element on the Papago Scramble
Dana in her element on the Papago Wall

The trail immediately after it was rocky, exposed, and difficult to follow. We cliffed out, had to backtrack, and climb higher up another sandstone scramble.

We waved at our rafter friends from above
We waved at our rafter friends from above

After enjoying some stunning vistas, we had to follow a steep, shifting boulder field dropping 200 feet. We split up to avoid hitting each other with rockfall. I found it much scarier than the Papago, and was glad to have it behind us.

The view from the top of Papgao Wall
The view from the top of Papago Wall
The somewhat dicey scree slope we descended after Papago Wall
The somewhat dicey scree slope we descended after Papago Wall

We encountered another group of rafters just upstream from Hance Rapids. This group was from Tennessee, and was even more welcoming than the last, if that were possible. We were laden down with plenty of beer and supplies when we walked out of their camp after lunch time.

Dana and Jason share a romantic moment in the canyon
Dana and Jason share a romantic moment in the canyon
Max and Kim (the author) having a good time
Max and Kim (the author) having a good time

Their generosity put us all in a fabulous mood for the next several miles, which was aided by the uncharacteristically easy trail we followed. We found a bag of garbage near the river, and gathered up as much as we could to take with us before photographing it to notify the park rangers.

Garbage left in the canyon 😢 We gathered some and notified the NPS
Garbage left in the canyon 😢 We gathered some and notified the NPS

After that, Max and I decided to split off and book it to the next campsite to ensure we could find a spot before dark. We stopped only once to enjoy the sunset and inhale some of the delicious snacks provided by Right on Trek.

We arrived at Hance Creek around 6:30 PM and found a pleasant, sandy campsite surrounded by trees. We were delighted to find that the water bubbling out from the creek rocks was crystal clear, delicious, and warm!

Jason and Dana hiked in around 8, following the light of our headlamps to find our site. Dana’s feet were in terrible shape, but she maintained a smile and a positive attitude.

We had a great view of Vishnu Temple from the trail
We had a great view of Vishnu Temple from the trail

Day 4

Distance: 5.3 mi
Ascent: 3,793 ft
Descent: 125 ft

We got another early start and began the steep ascent toward the canyon rim.

The trail was a lot more simple and straightforward than what we had been traversing, and we enjoyed a relatively easy day despite the elevation gain.

We saw more Indian paintbrush as we gained elevation
We saw more Indian paintbrush as we gained elevation

We stopped to check out an old mine and and the rusted equipment around it, a great reminder of the Canyon’s history as a site for uranium mining.

There were thousands of colorful rocks scattered below the mine sites
There were thousands of colorful rocks scattered below the mine sites

As we neared the top, we made a short detour to investigate a crumbling old mess hall with a large rusty cauldron in the fireplace. Signs warning of radiation decorated the land around it.

We continued on, reaching Grand View trailhead at about 4:00 PM. The air was frigid compared to the balmy temps at the canyon bottom, and we immediately dropped our packs and donned several layers of winter gear. We had hiked into a different climate zone!

The trailhead was packed with tourists who had come from all over the world to look into the canyon. None of them were backpackers, and many of them stared at us, congratulated us, or asked us about our trip. We felt a bit like minor celebrities and laughed as we realized we had become part of the tourist attraction.

Max grabbed a ride back to Lipan with one of the couples who had stopped to talk to us, and I was able to kick back, relax, and contemplate the magnitude of the canyon.

As I watched the crowds of tourists come and go and surveyed the incredible views, I realized that the Grand Canyon is a land with many competing claims upon it – miners, tourists, indigenous peoples, rafters, and hikers like me. All of us are insignificant compared to the scale of the canyon walls, and none of us can truly claim it. It has been around long before all of us and will be there long after we are gone.

I was just grateful to be able to pass through it, marvel at its wonders, and come out unscathed – despite our “aggressive itinerary.”

We enjoyed "summit" beers at Grandview Point
We enjoyed “summit” beers at Grandview Point

Food

This year, RightOnTrek brought Max on board as an ambassador and offered to support our hikes and outdoor activities with custom meal plans.

On their website, you can order backpacking meals with fresh ingredients, shipped directly to you.

For the Escalante Trail, Max customized a plan that provided him with 3000 calories per day.

RightOnTrek’s meals are way tastier than the competition, and a great way to nourish your adventures without the hassle of shopping.

Use code BackOBeyond50 for 50% off your first order

View at RightOnTrek

Hiking Guide: Bear Mountain

Overview

This Sedona hike takes you to the top of Bear Mountain, which rises to 6,447 feet above sea level.

From the summit, you will get 360 degree views of the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see as far as the San Francisco Peaks, 50 miles to the north and Mingus Mountain, 30 miles to the south.

The hike is strenuous but not overwhelmingly so. From the Bear Mountain Trailhead, the grade is evenly spread throughout the 2.5 mile hike to the peak’s high point.

You will gain 1,800 feet in total and be treated with imposing views of red rock spires, pinnacles, and canyons for the entire hike.

Arrow and I pose in front of Fay Canyon, below the Bear Mountain Trail
Arrow and I pose in front of Fay Canyon, below the Bear Mountain Trail

Quick Facts

Hiking the Bear Mountain Trail

In December 2020, Kim, Arrow, and I hiked the Bear Mountain Trail.

Note: There is a pit toilet at the trailhead

Kim in front of the Bear Mountain Trail sign
Kim in front of the Bear Mountain Trail sign

We parked in the shared lot between Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain, off Boynton Canyon Road.

At 11:25 a.m. on a Wednesday, there were plenty of spaces available and the trail was not too busy.

There was only one other group at the summit when we arrived.

From the parking lot, you will cross Boynton Pass Road and go through a gate to access the trail.

The only flat portion of Bear Mountain Trail is at the very beginning
The only flat portion of Bear Mountain Trail is at the very beginning

The first 0.25 miles are flat but the rest of the hike is a somewhat steep climb all the way to the top.

On a cool day, if you pace yourself and take small breaks to eat and drink, you should waltz right up with no issues.

Navigating the trail is pretty straightforward and there are white marks on the rock to guide the way in more confusing areas.

On Sedona trails, routes are usually marked by cairns. These are 3-foot pillars of rock bound with chicken wire. This hike does not have those so keep that in mind.

The Bear Mountain Trail does not have any junctions with other trails, so as long as you stay on trail you will not get lost.

Before our hike, we stopped at Sedonuts and bought a pink “Homer Simpson” donut to share halfway up Bear Mountain. It was a good decision.

Views from the trail
Views from the trail

Map

Location

From Highway 89A in Sedona, turn onto Dry Creek Road and follow it 2 miles, then turn left onto Boynton Pass Road.

Continue on Boynton Pass Road for 3.7 miles then turn left into the Doe Mountain and Bear Mountain shared parking lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Photos

Looking north from the Bear Mountain summit
Looking north from the Bear Mountain summit
The end of the trail is marked by this sign
The end of the trail is marked by this sign
A few hoodoos along the trail
A few hoodoos along the trail

Want to hike Sedona’s best trails? Check out our other Sedona Hiking Guides.

Hiking Guide: Doe Mountain

Overview

If you are looking for a short but steep hike near Sedona with great views, then Doe Mountain is the perfect option. The trail takes you to the top of a mesa with 400 feet of relief from the valley floor.

From the main overlook on the eastern side of the mesa, you will look out across a vast valley to Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, and Soldier Heights. To the northeast, you will see the red and white cliffs that surround Boynton Canyon.

Be prepared to ascend 400 feet in 0.7 miles. This one will get your heart pumping but remember, it is over fast!

Max (the author) and Maia pose at the western edge of Doe Mountain
Max (the author) and Maia pose at the western edge of Doe Mountain

Quick Facts

Hiking the Doe Mountain Trail

In December 2020, Kim, Maia, Arrow, and I hiked the Doe Mountain Trail.

Note: There is a pit toilet at the trailhead

Max (the author) next to the Doe Mountain Trailhead sign
Max (the author) next to the Doe Mountain Trailhead sign

We parked in the shared lot between Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain, off Boynton Canyon Road.

At 2:45 p.m. on a Friday, there were a few spaces available but the trail was somewhat busy.

Still, we had the main overlook area to ourselves for 30 minutes or so.

Looking east from the top of Doe Mountain. High points from right to left: Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, Soldier Heights
Looking east from the top of Doe Mountain. High points from right to left: Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, Soldier Heights

From the top, I noticed a hodgepodge of narrow paths all over the mesa, leading in every direction. Maia was in the mood to stay put and explore her immediate surroundings, so we did not explore these.

I think it would be fun to loop around the whole mesa and soak in views from every angle.

After a very pleasant break, we turned around and went back the way we came. On the way down, the sun sank low in the sky, the lighting softened, and the cliffs turned a coppery red.

Looking west from the top of Doe Mountain
Looking west from the top of Doe Mountain

Map

Location

From Highway 89A in Sedona, turn onto Dry Creek Road and follow it 2 miles, then turn left onto Boynton Pass Road.

Continue on Boynton Pass Road for 3.7 miles then turn left into the Doe Mountain and Bear Mountain shared parking lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Photos

Kim and Arrow on the western edge of Doe Mountain
Kim and Arrow on the western edge of Doe Mountain

Maia presents one of many interesting rocks she found on the trail
Maia presents one of many interesting rocks she found on the trail
Arrow the Aussie Cattle Dog
Arrow the Aussie Cattle Dog

Want to hike Sedona’s best trails? Check out our other Sedona Hiking Guides.

Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site Hiking Guide

Overview

Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site is an easy, short hike near St. George on the Arizona Strip. The BLM-managed site contains 500 petroglyphs that date back 6,000 years.

The petroglyphs are found scattered on sandstone boulders (Moenkopi Formation) that have fallen from Little Black Mountain, a heavily eroded mesa that looms 500 feet above.

This is a sacred and unique site that provides a window into the past Native American cultures that lived here. Please enjoy responsibly.

The BLM sign at Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site
The BLM sign at Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 1 mile out and back
  • Hike Time: 1-2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: < 100 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site

This hardly qualifies as a hike. It’s more of a saunter at the base of Little Black Mountain. It makes for a great family-friendly adventure. Our toddler had a blast stomping around the petroglyphs!

Arrow (left) and Maia (right) had a great time exploring the petroglyphs
Arrow (left) and Maia (right) had a great time exploring the petroglyphs

A few paces northeast from the parking lot, the trail splits into two directions. You can bear left or right first, but both sides are worth seeing. The jumbled boulders are chock full of petroglyphs all along the trail.

Map

Location

The trailhead for Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site is off of BLM 1124, a 2WD dirt road. To access it, get on the Southern Parkway and take Utah exit 7. Head east on Warner Valley Road and take the first right onto 4700 east, a 2WD dirt road. Continue for 3.1 miles then turn onto Uzona Ave (another 2WD dirt road). Follow it another 1.2 miles to a dirt parking lot on the right.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

A goat petroglyph with Kim and Maia in the background
A goat petroglyph with Kim and Maia in the background
The site has some excellent bighorn sheep petroglyphs
The site has some excellent bighorn sheep petroglyphs
One of the petroglyphs on this boulder looks like a bear paw with claws
One of the petroglyphs on this boulder looks like a bear paw with claws
Another petroglyph panel at the site
Another petroglyph panel at the site

More Great Hikes Near St. George


Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.

Liberty Bell Arch Hiking Guide

Overview

South of Hoover Dam (on the Arizona side), there is a natural arch called Liberty Bell Arch, perched high on a barren butte. The name comes from its resemblance to the iconic Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. If you can’t make out the bell, make sure you’re looking at the negative space formed by the arch.

Just past the arch, the trail winds up to the top of a cliff that overlooks the Colorado River, 1000 feet below.

Liberty Bell Arch

Liberty Bell Arch

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 5 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 3 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 850 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to Liberty Bell Arch

The hike begins at White Rock Canyon Trailhead, which is also the starting point for Arizona Hot Spring. I’ve wanted to check out the hot spring for awhile, but we had our dog and 2-year-old daughter with us, and that route has a slippery 20-foot ladder.

As it happens, Liberty Bell Arch is a great alternative to the not-so-kid-friendly Arizona Hot Spring. If you find yourself in the Las Vegas area, I highly recommend this hike.

From the parking lot, walk to the east end and you’ll see a trailhead sign. It has a beautiful photo of Liberty Bell Arch in the springtime with desert marigolds in the foreground.

From here, follow footprints down to the wash and continue underneath the highway. Around 0.5 miles from the trailhead, there are three paths exiting the wash. Ignore these, and continue down the wash. Soon, it starts to narrow.

About 1 mile from the trailhead, turn right at the signed junction. Another 0.5 miles up the trail, sits a dilapidated ore cart from a World War II-era magnesium mine.

The turnoff to Liberty Bell Arch
The turnoff to Liberty Bell Arch
Kim takes a look at the ore cart
Kim takes a look at the ore cart

The ore cart near Liberty Bell Arch

2 miles from where you started, Liberty Bell Arch comes into full view from below. Continue 0.5 miles uphill to get an outstanding view of the Colorado River from the canyon rim. Nearby, there is an ammo box that has a notebook and pen in it. If you care to, sign in and leave a message!

The Colorado River from the viewpoint above Liberty Bell Arch
The Colorado River from the viewpoint above Liberty Bell Arch
An ammo box at the Colorado River viewpoint
An ammo box at the Colorado River viewpoint

Map

Location

The trailhead is found at a paved parking lot next to U.S. Route 93. It’s 46 min east of the Las Vegas Strip, NV and 1 hour north of Kingman, AZ.

Get Directions

Resources

Topographic Maps

Links

Photos

Liberty Bell Arch

The ore cart near Liberty Bell Arch

On the approach to Liberty Bell Arch
On the approach to Liberty Bell Arch

The Colorado River from the viewpoint above Liberty Bell Arch

 

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North) Hiking Guide

Overview

The Wave is a geologic wonder in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of Northern Arizona, formed by Navajo Sandstone. Over millions of years, forces of wind and erosion have shaped the rock here into the remarkable patterns we see today.

As recently as the 1960s, the Wave was only known to local cowboys and ranchers, but it is no longer a secret – the Wave’s popularity has exploded and continues to rise.

To help protect it, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) enforces a strict day-use permit system that allows 10 walk-in permits and 10 online permits per day.

How to Get a Permit for the Wave

Online Permits

You can apply for a permit online, four months in advance of the date you wish to visit. There are two types of online applications:

  1. A non-refundable and non-transferable lottery application. This does not guarantee that you will obtain a permit to hike the Wave. However, it does submit your name(s) to a random drawing. 48 lucky winners are chosen for each date.
  2. A cancellation or open date. Although rare, you can obtain a permit four months in advance of an “available entry space”. The Coyote Buttes North permit website has a calendar where you can select these.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Tip: If you are unable to get a permit for The Wave, The Fire Wave in Nevada is a comparable hike that does not require permits.

Walk-In Permits

The other way to apply for a permit is visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT and try your luck in the walk-in permit lottery.

These take place at 9 a.m. every day (except for federal holidays). It’s advisable to show up early. That way, you have time to fill out paperwork and learn about the process.

In late October 2019, Kim and I spent a few days parked at the Kanab RV Corral. I figured I’d enter the lottery each morning and if we didn’t get a permit, explore somewhere else. There is no shortage of spectacular hikes in the area.

As luck would have it, my name was drawn on the second morning. I couldn’t believe it! If you win, you are only able to get a permit for the following day. For us, that was Halloween. We didn’t have costumes but one guy was dressed as Spiderman. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Try During the Offseason for Better Chances

Your chances of securing a permit are much greater during the offseason, between December and February when the weather is colder. During this time of year, average highs are in the 40s, with lows in the 20s.

Winter snowfall is infrequent but it does occur. The Wave’s climate is comparable to Page, Arizona so I recommend referencing climate data here.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 6.4 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 4-5 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 740 feet
  • Fee: $7 per person
  • Dogs: Yes, but you must also pay $7 per dog
  • Difficulty: Not a difficult hike, but there are no established trails and lots of sand

Hiking to the Wave

The hike starts at Wire Pass Trailhead, off of the unpaved House Rock Valley Road. The trailhead is 8.3 miles south of the dirt road’s intersection with US Highway 89.

Your permit has two parts: One goes in your vehicle (make sure it’s visible from the dashboard), and the other gets attached to your daypack. There is also a register box at the trailhead. Be sure to write in the time when you arrive and do it again when you leave so the rangers don’t think you’re lost.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

From the trailhead, follow the wash for about 1/2 mile then bear right onto a sandy path to leave it. Continue uphill then across a flat section toward a small saddle. When you reach the top, continue south atop the slick rock, then look for Twin Buttes.

As you get closer to Twin Buttes, look for a large cairn (pile of rocks) below the formation. Head toward it, then skirt around the right side of the buttes.

When you reach the other side of Twin Buttes, look to the south for a white rock formation in the distance. The Wave is located at the bottom and center of this blob of sandstone.

Twin Buttes from the south
Twin Buttes from the south

As you get closer to the Wave, you’ll drop down from the slick rock and cross Sand Cove Wash. On the other side, ascend a steep sandy hill then follow the drainage to the Wave’s mind-blowing entrance.

Me (the author) and Arrow walking the Wave
Me (the author) and Arrow walking in the Wave

What to Bring to the Wave

Your pack list is going to look a bit different depending on what time of year you hike to the Wave. Summertime highs often exceed 100° F and wintertime lows can drop to the teens.

No matter when you go, sun exposure and dehydration are going to be primary concerns. Each person in your group should carry 3-4 liters of water. SPF 50 sunscreen, a wide-brim hat, and hydration salts are also advisable.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Leave No Trace

The Wave itself, the rock formations you encounter on the way to it, and the high desert environment are all quite fragile. Take special care to minimize your impact.

Pack out ALL trash, food scraps, and toilet paper. There are no toilets at the trailhead. If you have to poop, dig a 4-6 inch deep cathole at least 200 feet away from where people walk. I recommend this ultralight shovel for that.

If you use trekking poles on this hike, make sure to use rubber tips instead of carbide ones. It’s unbelievable how soft and brittle the sandstone is and you don’t want to mark it up.

Because the route is off trail and unestablished, it can be difficult to achieve this, but do your best to follow existing footprints. This helps to reduce damage to cryptobiotic soil crusts that support the ecosystem.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Map

Location

From Kanab, UT

From US Highway 89, drive 38 miles east of Kanab, UT and turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. Continue south, 8.3 miles to Wire Pass Trailhead.

Get Directions

From Page, AZ

From US Highway 89, drive 36 miles west of Page, AZ and turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. Continue south, 8.3 miles to Wire Pass Trailhead.

Get Directions

Note: House Rock Valley Road is 2WD but may be impassable when wet. High clearance and AWD are preferable but not required.

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Resources

Guidebooks

Topographic Maps

Links

Photos

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Looking north from the entrance to the Wave
Looking north from the entrance to the Wave
Arrow the Cattle Dog at the Wave
Arrow the Cattle Dog at the Wave
View of Melody Arch from just above the Wave
A view of Top Rock Arch from just above the Wave

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

Another interesting rock formation next to the Wave
Another interesting rock formation next to the Wave
Another close-by formation that resembles the Wave
Another close-by formation that resembles the Wave

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

More Great Hikes Near Kanab


Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hiking Guide

Overview

On any given weekend during May, September, and October, thousands of zealots pour out of vehicles, shuttles, and even busses to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim.

The park rangers have long discouraged this practice, because they have to rescue all of the unlucky ones that don’t make it. On average, 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. That hasn’t made it any less popular though, because the payoff is enormous.

It’s a huge accomplishment to complete the rim to rim hike – a notable feat even for fit athletes. The 23.5 mile hike offers a full tour of the canyon’s grandiosity, from its chilly pine-covered rims to its sweltering sunbaked bottom, where the mighty Colorado River continues to carve and erode the chasm deeper and deeper.

I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, I can’t talk you out of hiking the canyon rim to rim. However, I’d urge you to consider doing it as a multi-day hike if possible. You can apply for a permit on the 1st of the month, four months prior to the date you’d like to start.

Request a Backcountry Permit

The Colorado River from where the suspension bridge meets up with Bright Angel Trail
The Colorado River from where the suspension bridge meets up with Bright Angel Trail

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 23.5 miles
  • Hike Time: 12-15 hours if you’re Speedy Gonzales. 18+ if you’re Sid the Sloth
  • Elevation Loss: 5,850 feet (North Rim to South Rim)
  • Elevation Gain: 4,380 feet (North Rim to South Rim)
  • Fee: $20 per person or $35 per vehicle to enter the park
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Herculean

Rim to Rim in a Day

Logistics

If you’re still dead-set on hiking rim to rim in a day, and your group size is over 12 people, the park requires that you obtain a Special Use Permit.

Otherwise, you can arrange for someone to drop you off at the North or South Rim, drive four hours to the other side, and pick you up when you finish. Another option is to hire a shuttle service to pick you up and transport you back. Trans-Canyon Shuttle is the only one I know of. They’ve been operating since 1989, and you can make a reservation on their website.

Start as early as humanly possible to give yourself plenty of time to hike across the canyon safely. When we hiked it in October 2019, our group was on the trail by 5:15 a.m.

When we started at North Kaibab Trail, it was dark and bitterly cold at 12° F. At the bottom of the Canyon, it was a toasty 80° F. We finished in the dark and it was in the 40s, with bone-chilling wind atop the South Rim.

The Grand Canyon is a geologist's wet dream, with almost 40 sedimentary layers exposed by erosion
The Grand Canyon is a geologist’s wet dream, with plenty of sedimentary rock layers exposed by erosion

Distance and Elevation

There’s no easy way to hike across the Grand Canyon, but the least challenging route is to hike from the North Rim to South Rim, because it involves more descent than ascent. From this direction, you’ll start at North Kaibab Trailhead, elevation 8,060 feet, then follow Bright Angel Creek down Roaring Springs Canyon, 14.2 miles to the Colorado River.

After descending 5,850 feet, your legs are going to feel tired! Hopefully, you’ve still got some bounce in your step for the 9.3-mile, 4,380-foot climb up Bright Angel Trail.

Alternatively, you can ascend South Kaibab Trail. This route adds 400 feet of elevation gain, but it shaves off a few miles. From Bright Angel Campground, it’s just 7 miles to the top of the South Rim via South Kaibab.

Roaring Springs spills out of the earth below a cliff (lower right)
Roaring Springs spills out of the earth below a cliff (lower right)

What to Expect

Best Time to Hike Rim to Rim

At over 8,000 feet above sea level, the North Rim sits 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and gets 130+ inches of snow in the winter. Roads to the North Rim are closed between December 1st and May 15th, but services are reduced starting October 16th.

The temperature variation between the North Rim and the Colorado River is vast. As I mentioned earlier, when we did it in October 2019, it was 12° F at the start, 80° F at the bottom, and 40s at the finish.

It’s unwise to attempt a rim to rim in the summer months, because daytime highs often soar to over 100° F at the bottom of the canyon. This increases the likelihood of life-threatening conditions such as hyperthermia, hyponatremia, and dehydration.

For this reason, the best time to hike it is in late May or early October, when it’s not too hot at the bottom and not too cold at the top.

Weather Forecast for the North Rim

Weather Forecast for Phantom Ranch

Weather Forecast for the South Rim

Bright Angel Trail winds its way up endlessly toward the South Rim
Bright Angel Trail winds its way up endlessly toward the South Rim

What to Bring

In terms of clothing, the key to comfortably hiking rim to rim is to use a bulletproof layering system. You’ll want a system that keeps you warm for the freezing cold start and chilly end, but also allows you to strip down and stay cool at the sizzling bottom.

Gear List

Backpack: Black Diamond Sonar

Water: Start the hike with at least 3 liters. There is often potable water at Roaring Springs, about 4.5 miles from North Kaibab Trailhead. You can also treat the water from Bright Angel Creek. There is potable water at Phantom Ranch. There should also be some at Indian Garden Campground, but be sure to check current conditions with the rangers.

Hydration Salts: I dropped the recommended amount of Nuun Sport tablets in my Nalgene bottles to keep up my electrolytes and minerals. Hydration salts are a game changer!

Footwear: I hiked in Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 trail runners.

Headlamp: I used a Black Diamond Spot Headlamp. Take extra batteries!

Food: I brought around 5,000 calories worth of fuel and ate as much as I could stomach. I had flour tortillas, a small block of sharp cheddar cheese, a couple pouches of tuna fish, 6 cereal bars, Haribo peaches, dark chocolate, and beef jerky.

Clothing:

Map: I used the Gaia GPS app. For a paper topographic map, get Grand Canyon North and South Rims by Nat Geo.

First Aid Kit: Before every trip, Kim (my ICU nurse wife) assembles a kit for me. If you don’t have the time or knowledge to make your own, I recommend buying this one.

Sunscreen: Bring high SPF sunscreen and wear it.

Other Stuff: 

Tip: Accidents happen. Learn how to treat cuts and wounds in the backcountry.

The Grand Canyon's scenery is captivating from rim to rim
The Grand Canyon’s scenery is extremely captivating

Training for the Hike

This is not a hike that you should waltz into willy nilly. You’ll want to find and stick to a proven training regimen in the weeks, months, and perhaps years leading to it.

I don’t have a background in coaching people on how to train for a hike of this magnitude. All I can tell you is what I did to get myself in shape. I felt completely prepared for the endeavor and although it was hard, my body handled it great and I never found myself outside of my comfort zone.

The number one suggestion I have is to make sure your diet is in check and that you’re not overweight. Those extra pounds will be taxing for you to get down and back out with.

I may or may not be stating the obvious here, but you should be putting a lot of miles in on foot every week. Walks, day hikes, and runs are the main way I keep myself in good condition for these types of things.

Train Below Your Aerobic Threshold

In the months leading up to our hike, I did most of my activity below my aerobic threshold. This means I kept my heart rate 30 beats per minute less than my lactate threshold when exercising.

You can calculate your maximum heart rate by taking your age and subtracting it from 220. I’m 30 years old, so mine is 190.

To get your lactate threshold, take 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can get this number by multiplying .85 times your maximum heart rate. Mine looks like this: (.85 * 190 = 161.5).

Next, to find your aerobic threshold subtract 30 from your lactate threshold. So, for me it’s (161.5 – 30 = 131.5). My aerobic threshold is 131.5 beats per minute.

If you’re not a math person, you can calculate your aerobic threshold by walking on a treadmill at a comfortable pace. Pay attention to your breathing and slowly increase the incline over a few minutes. The point at which you find yourself breathing from your mouth instead of your nose is when you’ve surpassed your aerobic threshold.

You’re probably wondering why any of this matters, and I’m here to explain. When you’re working out below your aerobic threshold, your body has plenty of oxygen and can use fat, protein, and carbs for fuel.

When you go above your aerobic threshold, your muscles start producing lactic acid to assist with heightened energy requirements. The problem is, this state is unsustainable and you’ll eventually tire out/bonk.

Hiking across the Grand Canyon takes a long time and also requires a lot of effort, especially during the ascent. By frequently training at or below your aerobic threshold, you will increase your aerobic threshold. This means that you will be able to increase your heart rate without producing lactic acid. This is why it’s such a crucial part of your training.

As a baseline routine, I like to walk or hike almost every day for 30-60 minutes. I also sprinkle in 2-3 longer hikes with 1,000 feet or more elevation gain/loss every week. Every 1-2 months, I go on a multi-day backpacking trip where I cover 15-20 miles a day with anywhere from 2000 to 5000 feet of elevation each day.

I sprinkle in some yoga, calisthenics, and barbell strength training into my routine too, but I’m not that serious about any of it. Between all of these workouts and maintaining a healthy body weight, I was fit enough to tackle the hike without any problems.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23921084
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28745473
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23620244

A scarlet monkey-flower and Ribbon Falls, a worthwhile side trip from North Kaibab Trail
A scarlet monkey-flower and Ribbon Falls, a worthwhile side trip from North Kaibab Trail

Map

Location

Directions to North Kaibab Trailhead

Directions to Bright Angel Trailhead

Resources

Guidebooks

Topographic Maps

Links

Photos

My dad and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim at age 60 and 30. October 2019
My dad and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim at age 60 and 30. October 2019
Ribbon Falls adds another 1-2 miles to a rim to rim hike, but it's worth the effort!
Ribbon Falls adds another 1-2 miles to a rim to rim hike, but it’s worth the effort!

Ribbon Falls. October 2019

Ribbon Falls. October 2019

Ribbon Falls. October 2019

This suspension bridge allows hikers to cross the mighty Colorado River
This suspension bridge allows hikers to cross the mighty Colorado River
It’s always a treat to see The Colorado River, especially at the bottom of the Grand Canyon
Desert Primrose near the Colorado River, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon
Desert Primrose near the Colorado River, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Video

Upper Tanque Verde Falls Hiking Guide

This article is part of a two part hiking guide on Upper and Lower Tanque Verde Falls.

Overview

While not as tall as the lower falls, Upper Tanque Verde Falls are easier to get to and still beautiful. The upper falls plunge over a 25-foot drop below a gravelly-sand beach that’s perfect for swimming and clothing optional. Both falls are located in Tanque Verde Canyon.

It’s been said that this is the most dangerous hike in Southern Arizona. At least 30 people have died here in the last 50 years. Be cautious and know the forecast before you go! Flash floods can occur at short or a moment’s notice, especially during the monsoon season (June – September).

The Sonoran Desert routinely goes through long stretches without precipitation and during these periods, the falls dry up. Your best bet for seeing the falls run is soon after rain events or during Rincon Mountain snowmelt.

Get the Forecast

Upper Tanque Verde Falls is a scenic waterfall near Tucson with a clothing optional beach
Upper Tanque Verde Falls is a scenic waterfall near Tucson with a clothing optional beach

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 1 mile out and back
  • Hike Time: 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 91 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking to Upper Tanque Verde Falls

There are two approaches to Upper Tanque Verde Falls and they both start from Redington Road.

If you’re driving from Tucson, the first and westernmost trailhead is the more challenging option. It’s only 0.6 miles, but once the trail enters the canyon, you have to wade and scramble over boulders to reach the base of the falls.

When Upper Tanque Verde Falls are raging, take extra precautions to not get swept away
When the falls are raging, take extra precautions to not get swept away

To the right, there are footholds and a rope to aid if you want to climb above the falls and enjoy the beach. Be forewarned – the rope does not appear to be properly anchored. Use it at your own risk!

The less demanding route is to start from Redington Road at the second trailhead, which is a few hundred feet northeast of the first starting point.

Follow the narrow, well-trodden path downhill for 0.4 miles to reach the beach above the falls.

Note: 0.1 miles above the falls, there is a junction with another trail confusingly marked “upper”. This takes you over a ridgeline and down to more water features.

Golden sunset colors and reflections in Tanque Verde Canyon
Golden sunset colors and reflections in Tanque Verde Canyon

Location

To get to Upper Tanque Verde Falls Trailhead from Tucson, drive east on Tanque Verde Road until it turns into a dirt road called Redington Road.

Drive on the dirt road for 0.9 miles until you reach a parking area to the right. Park here to hike the more difficult route to the base of the falls.

Continue a few hundred feet and park to the left across from the other trailhead to hike the easier route.

Get Directions

Map

Gear to Bring

This may be a short hike, but don’t show up underprepared. People frequently have to get rescued from this canyon. The route is rugged and the rocks are slippery. Bring hiking shoes or sandals that provide good traction and trekking poles to help with stability.

Kim’s Picks

Max’s Picks

Photos

Sunset from a waterlogged Tanque Verde Canyon
Sunset from a waterlogged Tanque Verde Canyon. January 2019
Desert reflections above Upper Tanque Verde Falls
Desert reflections above Upper Tanque Verde Falls. September 2019
Sunset from Tanque Verde Canyon
Sunset from Tanque Verde Canyon. September 2019
There is a clothing-optional beach above Upper Tanque Verde Falls
There is a clothing optional beach above the falls. September 2019

More Must-Do Waterfall Hikes near Tucson


Want to hike Tucson’s best trails? Read my Best Hikes in Tucson article or check out our individual Tucson Hiking Guides.

The 15 Best Hikes in Tucson

The natural landscape that surrounds Tucson is far more than a hot, dry, and dusty desert. It is truly a hiker’s paradise, with endless trails and variety. The area is known for its cacti, like the iconic saguaro, but it’s also home to coniferous forests, hoodoo speckled ridgelines, and high-altitude “sky islands”.

Next to the city, five mountain ranges rise to elevations as high as 9,000+ feet. This means in the middle of summer, when temps regularly top 100° F in Tucson, it’s around 70° F on top of Mount Lemmon, Mount Wrightson, or Mica Mountain.

In the winter, you can build a snowman next to a trail in the Santa Catalina Mountains, drive 45 minutes down the Catalina Highway, then get a sun tan hiking in the 60-70 degree wintertime highs that Tucson is known for.

Because Tucson’s trails are so diverse, there is something for every type of hiker. If you want a challenge, you can have it. The area’s two biggest peaks have about 5,000 feet of prominence for you to get after.

If you’re trying to cool off on a hot day, there are numerous desert oases to hike to with beautiful pools and waterfalls. And if you want something easy yet scenic, Tucson has that too.

I’ve lived in the Old Pueblo for three years and I’ve hiked or ran a lot of the trails here. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you. Whether you’re visiting the area or a local looking to get outside, below are 15 of the best hikes in Tucson, organized by type.

Tip: If you’re not convinced that Tucson is worth visiting, Kim gives a few reasons why she loves the place.

Waterfall Hikes

Seven Falls

Seven Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Tucson, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it. Even on busier days, the crowds aren’t overwhelming and the payoff makes it all worthwhile.

The hike starts at Sabino Canyon Visitor Center, and gives you a great feel for what Sonoran Desert hiking is all about. It’s 8.7 miles out and back with minimal elevation gain. Make sure to carry plenty of water and bring your swimming suit!

Hiking Guide

Seven Falls Tucson Arizona

Romero Pools

If you love water, Romero Pools is another must-do hike found in Catalina State Park near Oro Valley. After ascending 1,217 feet over 3.1 miles, you’re sure to work up a sweat. To cool off, jump in one of several pools or shower underneath a small waterfall. Also, keep your eyes peeled for red spotted toads on the granite rocks. They are extremely well-camouflaged.

Hiking Guide

Romero Pools Tucson Arizona

Lower Tanque Verde Falls

Lower Tanque Verde Falls is only 2 miles out and back, but don’t underestimate it, this is a tough hike! Boulder hop, scramble, and wade your way to the end and you’ll be rewarded by several waterfalls, the last of which is the most impressive. You can bring your dog, but the route is treacherous so don’t push beyond your furry friend’s limits.

Hiking Guide

Tanque Verde Falls Tucson Arizona

Bridal Wreath Falls

While it’s not the world’s biggest waterfall and has a tendency to dry up, Bridal Wreath Falls is lovely when it’s flowing. The hike is 5.8 miles out and back from Douglas Spring Trailhead in Saguaro National Park East. It has 1,025 feet of elevation gain, lots of saguaros, and tremendous views.

Tip: I highly recommend timing this one so you get back to the trailhead around sunset. Some of the most magical sunsets I’ve ever seen have been from this spot.

Hiking Guide

Bridal Wreath Falls

Hutch’s Pool

Nestled deep within the West Fork of Sabino Canyon, there is a Sonoran Desert oasis with a swimming hole called Hutch’s Pool. It has water year round, but you’d be wise not to hike there in the summer heat. Spring or Fall are the best times to do it.

To get to Hutch’s, walk 3.8 miles up Sabino’s paved canyon bottom, then hike another 4 miles from the trailhead there. At 15.6 miles out and back, this can make for a long day of hiking! You can shorten it however, by taking the tram. This bypasses 7.6 miles, which reduces your hike total to 8 miles out and back.

Hutch's Pool. January 2019

Hikes with a View

Blackett’s Ridge

If views are what you’re after, then look no further than Blackett’s Ridge. This sun-scorched ridgeline divides Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon. The trail to its highpoint ascends 1,700 feet over 3 miles. There are some steep sections that will tire you out, but it’s worth it! Persevere to the end and enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery of Tucson’s mountains.

Hiking Guide

Blackett's Ridge Trail

Lemmon Rock Lookout to Wilderness of Rocks to Mount Lemmon Trail Loop

No trip to Tucson would be complete without driving up the Catalina Highway (aka Sky Island Scenic Byway) to the top of Mount Lemmon. Next to the observatory and near the summit, there is a parking lot labelled “Mount Lemmon Trailhead Entrance” on Google Maps.

At first, the trail splits off in many directions. Stay to the left and follow the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail past the fire lookout (closed to the public), 2 miles to its junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. Bear left here and continue another 2 miles to the next junction. From here, bear right onto the Mount Lemmon Trail and hike 4 miles uphill back to where you started.

This hike is 8 miles roundtrip with 2,000 feet elevation gain. It has unbelievable views of the entire Tucson region, temps are a lot cooler, the air smells like pine trees, and most of the trail is shaded. As an added bonus, it takes you to the Wilderness of Rocks, an interesting amalgamation of boulders and rock formations.

Mount Lemmon in the Winter

Mount Wrightson

There are a few different approaches to the top of Mount Wrightson, which offers expansive views of Southern Arizona and the northernmost edge of Mexico. At 9,456 feet, it’s the tallest peak near Tucson. To summit, you’ll gain nearly 4,000 feet elevation over 5-6 miles and get up close and personal with Madera Canyon, a sanctuary for migrating birds and other wildlife.

Hiking Guide

Mount Wrightson From Below

Agua Caliente Hill

Agua Caliente Hill is probably my favorite dog friendly hike in Tucson. I hike it a lot, but most of the time I turnaround at Cat Track Tank or the saddle above it. If you have the time and energy, the 8.8 mile out and back to the summit is worth doing. You’ll gain 2,588 feet and be recompensed with great views throughout the entire hike.

Hiking Guide

Sunset on Agua Caliente Hill

Wasson Peak

Wasson Peak has a similar elevation to Blackett’s Ridge, but it’s on the opposite side of the valley and provides a completely different perspective. Via the Kings Canyon Trail, it’s 7 miles out and back with 1,700 feet elevation gain. You can also summit Wasson from the other side via Sweetwater Trail, but the approach is longer with more elevation.

Tip: This would be a great hike to do in tandem with a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is across the road from the trailhead. Be sure to finish out the day by watching the sunset at nearby Gates Pass.

Wasson Peak

 

Short Hikes

Mica View to Cactus Forest Trail Loop

When mine or Kim’s folks visit from Utah, we like to take them on easier hikes with little to no elevation gain/loss. Broadway Trailhead in Saguaro National Park East is one of our go-tos.

Tip: You simply can’t visit Tucson without going to Saguaro National Park. Just do it!

The first 0.6 miles on Mica View are paved with compressed mud. Once you reach the picnic area, continue to the other side where Mica View picks back up. After 0.3 miles, bear left at the junction with Cactus Forest Trail. Follow it 1.1 miles back to where you started.

Mica View to Cactus Forest Trail Loop Saguaro National Park East

Sabino Canyon Dam

If you’ve got your heart set on a short but scenic walk, the Sabino Canyon Dam is a great option. During Tucson’s driest months (April – June), the water tends to disappear, but otherwise this is a good place to picnic and swim.

From the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center, walk eastward and follow signs for “Hiking Trails”. Once you reach the pavement, turn right and continue until you reach a cul de sac with restrooms. At this point, walk down to Sabino Creek and follow it up until you reach the overflowing dam.

Sabino Canyon Dam

Sweetwater Preserve

On the westside of town, at the foot of the Tucson Mountains, sits Sweetwater Preserve. It is a protected natural area that has a hodgepodge of dog friendly hiking trails. The trails are well-marked and easy to navigate, so I suggest parking in the lot and choosing your own route.

Sweetwater Preserve Tucson Arizona

Gates Pass

West of town, Gates Pass Road winds up and over a saddle in the Tucson Mountains with stunning views of Avra Valley and the mountains beyond it. This is arguably one of the best, if not the best places to view the sunset in the Desert Southwest.

From the parking lot, walk westward to reach Gates Pass Trail. Once you have descended to the valley, this trail connects to a myriad of others in Tucson Mountain Park.

Golden Gate Mountain from Gates Pass Tucson Arizona

Marshall Gulch to Aspen Trail Loop

Thanks to hoards of Tucsonans seeking a break from the heat, I can’t recommend doing this hike on a summer weekend. If you can swing a weekday, the Marshall Gulch to Aspen Trail Loop is a sublime retreat to high elevation, cooler weather, and shaded trails.

Starting from Marshall Gulch Picnic Area, bear right onto the Marshall Gulch Trail and follow it until you reach a junction with four other trails. Here, bear left and follow Aspen Trail back to where you started. The loop is 4 miles with 800 feet elevation gain/loss.

Tip: After your hike, head over to the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven for giant homemade cookies topped with ice cream. You’ve earned it!

Marshall Gulch to Aspen Trail Loop Mount Lemmon Tucson Arizona


Want to hike Tucson’s best trails? Read my Best Hikes in Tucson article or check out our individual Tucson Hiking Guides.

Blackett’s Ridge Hiking Guide

Overview

This hike takes you to the top of Blackett’s Ridge, a prominent ridgeline that sits between two major drainages: Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon.

From either Sabino Canyon Visitor Center or Bear Canyon Trailhead, you must make the 1,700 foot ascent to reach the end of Blackett’s Ridge Trail. This highpoint is labelled “Saddleback” on most maps.

From here, your hard efforts are rewarded by 360 degree views of Tucson and its surrounding mountains. You’ll get to see Thimble Peak, Mount Lemmon, and Cathedral Rock up close, along with more distant views of the Rincon, Santa Rita, and Tucson Mountains.

Sabino Canyon from Blackett's Ridge
Sabino Canyon from Blackett’s Ridge. April 2019

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 6 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 4 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,700 feet
  • Fee: No
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Hard

Hiking Blackett’s Ridge

From Sabino Canyon

From the parking lot, walk eastward until you reach the start of Bear Canyon Loop. This is the trail you use to get to Seven Falls. However, instead of continuing after crossing Sabino Creek, bear left onto Phoneline Trail. This is where the trail begins going uphill, but you ain’t seen nothing yet!

After a 1/2 mile, bear right onto Blackett’s Ridge Trail. This is where the real climbing begins. Over the next 11/2 miles, you’ll gain around 1,500 feet. The trail is steep but its strenuous switchbacks are punctuated by beautiful views of the valley.

The mouth of Sabino Canyon from the junction with Blackett's Ridge Trail
The mouth of Sabino Canyon from the start of Blackett’s Ridge Trail. March 2018

You’ll know you’ve reached the top when you see a sign that reads “END OF THE BLACKETT’S RIDGE TRAIL”. Take a break, you’ve earned it! Sit back, relax, eat a snack, and enjoy the awesome perspective from high above Tucson.

The end of the Blackett's Ridge Trail
Seeing this sign will feel like an accomplishment, even if you’re in shape. April 2019

From Bear Canyon

From the dirt parking lot, walk north onto the unmistakable trail. After 1/4 mile you’ll reach a crossing. This is Bear Creek and its water flow is highly variable. Proceed with caution.

A 1/2 mile after the crossing, you’ll reach a paved access road. If you prefer to walk on pavement, bear left here. Otherwise, walk across to the other side and you’ll reach a junction with Bear Canyon Trail. Bear left here and continue 1/2 mile, then bear right onto Phoneline Trail. From this point, the route is the same as the one described above for Sabino Canyon.

The Bear Creek crossing with low water
The Bear Creek crossing with low water. Sep 2017

Location

From Tucson, drive east on Speedway Boulevard then turn left onto Sabino Canyon Road. After 2.9 miles, turn right to continue on Sabino Canyon Road (going straight puts you on Kolb Road). Continue 2.4 miles, then turn right onto Pantano Road. Pay your fee at the kiosk then park in the lot.

Get Directions

Map

Resources

Links

Photos

An ocotillo bloom along the trail. April 2019
Brittlebush flowers along the Blackett's Ridge Trail
Brittlebush flowers along the trail. April 2019
Views of the Rincon Mountains from the switchbacks. April 2019
An agave sending up its giant stock
An agave sending up its giant stock. April 2019

Want to hike Tucson’s best trails? Read my Best Hikes in Tucson article or check out our individual Tucson Hiking Guides.