Lower Tanque Verde Falls is a short hike near Tucson, Arizona that rewards its visitors with several waterfalls set in a narrow canyon. The final waterfall is the largest and most picturesque of them all.
Although the route is only one mile each way, it presents some difficult challenges. For about two-thirds of the distance there is no trail. Instead, hikers must scramble up the stream bed. This requires one to wade through water, boulder hop, and locate narrow paths to avoid impassable obstacles.
Note: Hike statistics were recorded with Gaia GPS app.
- Distance: 2 miles out and back
- Hike Time: 3 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 347 feet
- Fee: Free
- Dogs: Yes
- Difficulty: Hard
The hike begins at Lower Tanque Verde Falls Trailhead. If you are headed east on Redington Road, look for a parking area on the left. The trailhead is marked by a sign. There are no bathrooms here, so make sure to plan for that.
Follow the switchbacks down to the bottom of Tanque Verde Canyon and bear left. This is where the fun begins. Unless you go after a dry spell, you will be greeted by a series of pools interspersed among granite boulders.
Continue up the wash, but make sure to use caution and take it slow. Both the wet and dry rock surfaces can be deceivingly slick. There are plentiful opportunities to turn an ankle, slip, fall, and get hurt.
Also, be mindful of the weather forecast. During and after significant rain events, this drainage is the last place you want to be. Over 30 people have died here from drowning or falling.
There is no right or wrong way to go, so you will have to use route finding skills to navigate your way through the canyon. Once you have journeyed about a mile from the trailhead, you will reach a 30-foot waterfall. There is a large chockstone above it.
To reach the final, largest, and most grandiose waterfall, you can either climb up a ledge found to the right or take a steep, narrow footpath up and around the obstacle. To slip and fall here would be catastrophic, so I prefer to take the narrow footpath. It is far less exposed and makes it possible to take my dog with me.
If you choose to bypass the waterfall this way, watch out for thorny bushes, cactus, and cholla. Also, earlier on you might be tempted to ditch your shoes and go barefoot for better traction on the rocks. Make sure you bring them with you because they will come in handy on this particular section.
To get to Lower 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 one-third of a mile until you reach a prominent parking area to the left. There is a sign at the trailhead.
- Best Time to Travel: March through November.
- Safety: Check flash flood warnings and know the forecast before you go.