5 Under the Radar Adventures in Tucson

Find the wild side of Tucson.

Tucson, Arizona is an adventurer's paradise. When the rest of the country is bundled up for winter, Tucson opens its arms wide with sunny skies and t-shirt temperatures. Plus, pretty much any direction you look, you'll be face-to-face with the wild. 

There are five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, each with a stunning landscape just waiting to be explored. Tucson also happens to be the center of Arizona's foodie scene and was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. From Sonoran Hot Dogs to excellent farm-to-table dining, you'll find every type of food to fuel your adventure.

We've put together a list of five under the radar adventures to help you discover the wilder side of Tucson.

Adventure by Danny McGee

With all the sunny days in Tucson, there is ample opportunity to catch a fantastic sunset. The parking area at the top of Gates Pass offers one of the most spectacular views in town. After navigating the winding drive up Gates Pass Road, you'll have a front-row seat to the best show in the city. As the sun dips low, the surrounding hills and cactus will be bathed in golden light. Get up there early and hike along one of the trails for a more secluded experience. 

Adventure by Chema Domenech

Go deep into a classic desert landscape on this 7-mile out and back hike. Starting from the Javelina Rock parking area in Saguaro National Park, you'll walk through a forest of thousands of Saguaro cacti. 

Though the cactus may be the most charismatic plants on this hike, take time to look around at the other desert residents. Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert, also known as the green desert. You'll be amazed at the diversity in this seemingly desolate landscape. 

Once you hit the road at the end of the Cactus Forest Trail, turn around and head back the way you came. Climbing up the no-technical Javelina Rock is a great way to end your hike and a fantastic place to catch the sunset.

Adventure by Danny McGee

A waterfall in the desert makes for one spectacular sight. The 2.5-mile trail winds through the depths of Bear Canyon's cactus, sycamore, and cottonwood trees. At the end, you'll come to an oasis in the desert. Water cascades down the granite hillside into a set of welcoming pools, perfect for relaxing and wading on a hot day. This hike is accessed by catching a tram from the main parking lot at Sabino Canyon. 

During the winter months, the walk in Bear Canyon is partially shaded, making this an ideal adventure for a hot Tucson day.

Adventure by  Nick Tort

A trip up to the Mount Lemmon in the Coronado National Forest is a reminder of how close Tucson is to big mountain scenery. Mount Lemmon stands at 9,171 feet and is often 30 degrees cooler than the surround lowlands. There's even skiing up there!

A trip up to the high elevation is just the ticket on a stifling day in town. The Incinerator Ridge to Leopold Point Trail will take you up 800 feet to a panoramic view of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Leopold Point is a perfect place for lunch with a view that can't be beaten.

Adventure by Jeremy Meek

Kitt Peak National Observatory should be on every stargazer's list of must-visit places. Located 56 miles from Tucson, Kitt Peak is a great day or overnight trip. The National Observatory offers several tours, including the night observer program, where you will join an astronomer guide for a few hours of viewing the night sky. Make reservations for the night observer programs 2-4 weeks in advance. 

For the most exclusive experience, book a small group overnight exploration. You'll have dinner at the visitor's center and then proceed to your group's own telescope for a private tour of the heavens.

No matter which way you turn in Tucson, there is an adventure waiting. Whether you go on a short drive for sunset or an overnight journey to the stars, you'll never run out of possibilities in this desert city.

Cover photo by Simon Asher

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Sara SheehyAdmin

Writer | Nomad