As a Tucson native, I have several favorite, magical spots in the Old Pueblo. With 350+ days of sunshine, there are many outdoor sites to discover. Whether you are visiting Tucson, new to Tucson, or have lived here for years, I invite you to discover some of these gems that our city has to offer.
If you are looking for a refreshing change of climate, Mt. Lemmon is your spot! The temperature is typically 20-30 degrees cooler than the city. It is the highest point of the Santa Catalina Mountains with an elevation of over 9,000 feet. It is located in the Coronado National Forest, just north of Tucson. A short 45-60 minute drive on the scenic Catalina Highway takes you through several climate zones and you will experience desert to forest in less than 30 minutes. There are several pull-out spots along the way where you can experience views of the city below (beautiful for star gazing or enjoying the city lights), as well as hiking trails and picnic spots. Rose Canyon Lake, located between mile posts 17 and 18 on the Catalina Highway, is a favorite spot for trout fishing. Camping is also a favorite activity on Mt. Lemmon. Relaxing in a hammock among the cool breeze and majestic pine trees is about as good as it gets. At the top of the mountain in Summerhaven, you will find the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin, which is a must-visit for some delicious pizza or a giant homemade cookie; don’t forget the ice cream! You will also find a general store with amazing homemade fudge! At the top of the mountain is Ski Valley, which offers skiing and snowboarding in the winter months and a year-long sky ride when it is not ski season. You will also find dining and a gift shop in Ski Valley. Whether you visit for an afternoon or spend a few days camping in the cool mountain air, you will experience Mother Nature at her best! Mt. Lemmon is truly one of Tucson’s greatest gems.
Sabino Canyon recreation area is located in the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, found at the northeast corner of Sunrise Boulevard and Sabino Canyon Road. Sabino Canyon boasts majestic mountains, hiking trails, and refreshing swimming pools. There are several hiking trails that wander throughout the Sonoran desert with some trails ranging up to 20.8 miles long! If you prefer more of a relaxing day, I recommend taking a ride on one of the two trams. The Sabino Canyon tram is a 45 minute, 3.8 mile ride with nine stops along the way. The Bear Canyon tram is a 2 mile long ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Falls with three stops along the way. It is always a fun-filled day to ride the tram, exit at one of the stops for a picnic, hiking, and a little swimming and then board the tram back to the visitor’s center. The Sabino Canyon Visitor’s Center is located north of the parking lot. The staff is always very helpful and informative and can provide detailed information about the hiking trails, points of interest, and plants and animals common to the canyon. You do not want to miss the panoramic mountains and commanding saguaros in this beautiful canyon!
“A” Mountain, also known as Sentinel Peak, is a timeless landmark in T-Town. Every year, UofA students and alumni kick-off homecoming week by lighting of the “A”. It is located in the Tucson Mountains just west of downtown. “A” Mountain is known for its steep hike and as a breathtaking spot to watch the sunsets and city lights. The elevation of the mountain is 2,897 feet to be exact and the trail is a 1.7 mile loop. Each day you will find the mountain busy with many people who hike, bike, and drive on Sentinel Peak Road. Grab a Sonoran hot dog and head up the mountain to watch one of Tucson’s spectacular sunsets from this classic landmark.
This blissful destination is perfectly described by its name. Located on the northwest side of town at 8001 N Scenic Drive, Sanctuary Cove is one of my favorite spots in the desert. I have been visiting here since it was in the middle of nowhere. You will now find lots of growth built-up around it but the magic still remains. Gracing the grounds is a rock, open-air chapel built in 1964. Enjoy the walking trails or the one mile hiking loop that takes you to the top of Safford Peak. Sanctuary Cove is truly the perfect spot to relax, breathe in the fresh desert air, and experience nature’s beauty.
Patagonia Lake is a state park that is located 48 miles southeast of Tucson. The park offers an abundance of activities, such as fishing, swimming, water skiing, camping, boating, picknicikng, and hiking. The 2.5 mile long, 250 acre lake has a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The nearby Lakeside Market offers boat rentals and supplies. In addition to boats the Market also rents canoes, rowboats, and paddle boats. One of my favorite ways to explore the lake is in a canoe, paddling through the marshes while keeping an eye out for white tail deer and wildlife along the way!