When you think about hiking in Arizona, it’s likely that Sedona, Flagstaff, and the Grand Canyon first come to mind. But, what you may not know is that the southern part of the state near Tucson, also has endless adventures awaiting the entire family. Just remember, as summer approaches, hiking here becomes a battle against the elements. Temperatures skyrocket, leaving many popular off-season hikes too exposed for leisurely daytime walks. Luckily, there are plenty of options to head outdoors and explore, no matter what the weather may be. All you need is the right gear and the right trail.
To ensure that you have both, head to Summit Hut in Tucson. Started in 1967, Summit Hut was founded by two fifteen-year-olds who wanted locals to get out and explore the beauty of the region. To this day, the shop encourages the masses to head outdoors with the best gear. Summit Hut has two retail spaces to choose from, and is a proud distributor of Osprey backpacks for hikers of all ages and abilities, which is great if you are looking to get out with your family.
If you’ve got the little ones in tow, make sure to check out Osprey’s line of kids packs. The Jet and Moki are great for youngsters who want to carry their own gear and are big enough to hold a 1.5 liter reservoir, snacks and an extra layer in case the weather changes. For older kids, you should think about hooking them up with an Osprey Hydrajet. Whether they’re out for a hike or a bike ride, these packs are perfect for kids on the go . The staff at Summit Hut is more than happy to fit you and/or your child for a pack, as well as answer any questions you may have before heading out on the trails.
Here are a handful of must-do hikes recommended by Summit Hut staff to get you started:
The first hike recommended by Summit Hut staff is a jaunt out to explore the heights of the Santa Catalina Mountains. This is a great spot for escaping the heat of the valley, and offers you a wide variety activities for different skill levels.
If you are looking for a relatively easy family-friendly hike, be sure to check out the Marshall Gulch/Aspen Loop. This 3.4-mile trail is best done counter-clockwise. It’ll bring you up to 8,150 feet above sea level so having a lot of water with you in the summer heat is a must—carrying an Osprey hydration pack with you is a great way to enjoy this hike safely. And when you are done, make sure you stop by the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven, just a half mile north of the trailhead, for an amazingly delicious post-hike treat.
If you are in love with jaw-dropping panoramas— let’s be honest, who isn’t—the Mount Lemmon Trail #5 on Mount Lemmon will take you to one of the best views in all of the Catalinas. Start near the summit of the 9,157-foot peak before dropping down a prominent ridge. This trail leads to overlooks with expansive views of Tucson, as well as a great view and access to the Wilderness of Rocks, home to giant boulders and impressive rock formations. If you decide to hike into the Wilderness of Rocks, you will be stunned by the beauty of the picturesque area, but be sure to slather on a lot of sunscreen before you head in as there is no shade to hide from the direct sun.
Closer to Tucson, the trails at Sabino Canyon are an ideal early morning or evening hike. Going out during the day in the summer heat can be a challenge in the valley, but the folks at Summit Hut strongly recommend this region for nighttime hikes or trail runs. If you are heading out with your family, remember to bring flashlights and stick close to the main desert road. Once you reach a good spot, turn off the lights and let your eyes adjust to the impressive starry night sky expanding above you.
If you are up for an amazingly difficult trail run or a tough hike that will get your quads burning then consider the classic, heart-pumping Blackett’s Ridge Trail. This is an insane trail with some serious elevation gain during the second half. The first 1.5 miles of this hike gains just 350 feet, but the next 1.7 miles gains 1,400 feet. While it’s a challenge, the panoramic views are the payoff. This is a must-hike trail for anyone in the Tucson area.
A short 20-minute drive from town, Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains is perfect if you are looking to just relax and take in a sunset. Head up a few hours before sunset and enjoy the drive up. The area features an incredibly dense Saguaro cactus population, which makes it a very photogenic spot. Make sure to bring your camera!
Finally, if you are looking to #FindYourPark in southern Arizona, take a trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument or Saguaro National Park. Organ Pipe Cactus is the perfect destination for camping under the Milky Way, exploring the rocks from amazing trails, and taking in the sights and sounds of a thriving community of plants and animals at this international biosphere reserve.
Saguaro National Park is home to the giant cacti that have become the universal symbol of the American West. The wilderness hiking opportunities, established campgrounds, and stunning natural wonders make this area an ideal spot for falling in love with outdoor life in Tucson.
Wherever you decide to hike, the beauty and unique landscape of Tucson become evident with every giant cacti you pass, each breathtaking rock formation you navigate around, and every sweeping summit you reach. Grab your hydration packs and explore one of the country’s most beautiful areas to hike.