Prime touring time around Southern Arizona prompts group bike rides through the Sonoran Desert and the city’s cultural high points, gazing into the starry sky, and inspecting caves formed before the dinosaur age or mines used by early settlers.
Organized tours allow participants to focus on having fun while guides worry about the details. Hop on a cruiser bike and explore downtown’s historic sites during a relaxed daytime ride, or sign up for the nighttime ride that includes stops at a food trucks.
Get out of the city and take to the trails on a mountain bike adventure with Southwest Trekking. A “living” cave—Kartchner Caverns—and a “non-living” cave—Colossal Cave—with each housing magnificent formations that can be inspected along underground tours. Peer through telescopes in the astronomy capitol of the world at Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Wanting to explore the area on your own instead of taking part in a pre-scheduled tour? Hike the nearby mountain ranges, rent a bike and navigate your own route, or stroll along a self-guided city tour.
Urban Rides & Off-Road Adventure
Tucson Bike Tours provides full cultural immersion along its daytime tours, operating October through May. Explore streets lined with colorful adobe homes in Barrio Viejo and some of the community’s first structures in El Presidio, ride past “A” Mountain, and admire the city’s many sculptures and murals during the 3.5-hour tour.
If you’re craving a rowdier experience, hop on a glowing bike at sunset for the night tour, not available December-January. Ride through trendy 4th Avenue and downtown’s nightlife district, pass the legendary diving-woman neon sign at Armory Park and spin your wheels along Miracle Mile; stops at local Vietnamese and Mexican food trucks offer pedaling fuel.
Southwest Trekking explores Tucson’s scenic desert landscapes and mountain ranges far removed from urban sprawl. Customized routes catered to experience level take riders along four-hour treks, which may include technical cross-country paths through the Rincon Mountains and challenging climbs with hair-raising descents in the Catalina Mountains.
Trail Dust Adventures’ guides rumble passenger-filled Jeeps through the rocky Sonoran Desert terrain, up the side of steep mountain ranges and along tree-covered creeks. Opt to join a cattle-drive excursion or a dinner in the desert, or compete in a team-based challenge with navigational, trivial and physical obstacles.
Tour the Night Sky
Atop Tucson’s highest peak at Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, visitors view galaxies and planets through Arizona’s largest public telescope during nightly SkyNights tours. The five-hour stargazing show includes a light meal, the use of binoculars and sky charts, and guided explanations and instructions. Lucky visitors may even glimpse meteorites and satellites in the early hours of nightfall.
At Kitt Peak National Observatory, small groups attend nightly viewing sessions to peer through three optical telescopes. Arrive 60-75 minutes before sunset and, following the orientation, observe spectacular star clusters, galaxies and planets while interacting with knowledgeable guides.
Stargazers yearning for an off-the-beaten-track experience relish Arizona Star Tours, where computerized telescopes are transported to a location of choice including resorts and local state parks for a private tour of the sky.
Go Underground into Southern Arizona’s Caves and Mines
Colossal Cave at Colossal Cave Mountain Park: Stalagmites and stalactites may not grow in this “dry” cave anymore, but the formations remain an impressive sight. The cave was first used by American Indian tribes long ago and was rediscovered by Western settlers in the late 1800s. Learn of the cave’s geological history, the train-robbing bandits who used it as a getaway route, and the efforts to modify accessways for tours by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. General 50-minute tours are held throughout the day year-round, and longer-lasting ladder, advanced and candlelight tours are available by reservation. 16721 E. Old Spanish Tr., Vail, 520.647.7275
Kartchner Caverns was discovered by two spelunkers in 1974. The area was kept secret until 1978 and officially opened to the public as a state park in 1999. Visitors admire the stunning, living limestone formations sprouting from the cave’s ceilings and floors during three half-mile tours inside the Rotunda/Throne and Big Room, including a Saturday-only helmet and headlamp option. 2980 S. Hwy. 90, Benson, 520.856.2283
Good Enough Mine: Those who ever wondered why Western settlers fell upon Tombstone find assurance in the town’s beginnings along this silver mine tour. Discovered in 1878, the Good Enough Mine was among several silver mines contributing to Tombstone’s heyday. Tours began in 2007 and include daily, no-reservation-needed 45-minute strolls through the mine. The more advanced Saturday-morning Toughnut Mine Tour Adventure will have you on your knees and climbing ladders at times throughout the 2.5-hour excursion below ground, and the reservation-required Girard System Extreme Tour takes guests 550 feet below ground through tight and challenging spaces. 501 Toughnut St., Tombstone, 520.255.5553
Queen Mine Tour: Strap on a yellow jacket, leather belt, mining helmet and flashlight, board the open-sided mini train and enter into a Phelps Dodge copper mine. Throughout the tour, which is often led by a former miner, learn about the systems, equipment and workers that helped extract enormous amounts of high-grade ore between 1880 and 1975. Anecdotal stories about the jokes miners played with the shift supervisor’s bike, the way in which the elevator shafts operated and the story behind the term “talking timber” create lasting memories beyond the photos. 478 Dart Rd., Bisbee, 520.432.2071
Walking Tours for Food Lovers
Walk, talk and taste along group tours with Tucson Food Tours and Taste of Tucson Downtown. Learn about Tucson’s downtown historical sites while working up an appetite along three- to four-hour walking routes, and stop into local eateries for tastes and chats with the chefs.
Tour the Turquoise Trail
Follow the turquoise-colored line along 2.5 miles of Tucson’s downtown sidewalks as it passes 23 stopping points including Fox Tucson Theatre, Hotel Congress and Armory Park. Begin the self-guided tour at the northeast corner of Presidio San Agustín del Tucson.
Go for a Hike
Five mountain ranges surround the city, each offering miles of hiking trails. Start out small with a 3.1-mile hike to scenic views of the city along the Tumamoc Hill Trail in the Tucson Mountains, opt for the rugged and steep 6.4-mile Ventana Canyon Trail in the Santa Catalinas, or challenge your endurance on the strenuous 16-mile Rincon Peak/Miller Peak Trail in the Rincon Mountains. Trails of varying distances, difficulty level and landscapes are nearly endless—just be sure to choose one fit to your ability level, and pack plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. For trail information, go to Visit Tucson.
Rent a Bike
There are plenty more sights to see and mountain bike trails to explore beyond the guided routes. Rent a bike from one of Tucson’s many bike shops and create your own adventure. Most rentals are based on a 24-hour period, and week-long rentals are available. Some shops deliver; call for details.
Fair Wheel Bikes (Specialized, Trek): 1110 E. 6th St., 520.623.3761
RC Bikes (Felt, Cannondale): 428 N. Fremont Ave., 520.624.2285
Broadway Bicycles (Trek): 140 S. Sarnoff Dr., 520.296.7819
Roadrunner Bikes (Giant): 6177 E. Broadway Blvd., 520.790.9394
Pro Bikes (Giant): 6540 E. Tanque Verde, 520.722.2453