Things to Do in Tucson: Outdoor Adventures

Surrounded by two national forests filled with peaks high and low, Tucson is a mecca for outdoor activities. Trail runners, mountain- and road-bike riders, rock climbers, horseback riders, hikers, spelunkers and even skiers enjoy days filled with endless adventure. 

Pre-planned outdoor experiences include tours through Colossal Cave, off-roading with Trail Dust Adventures and horseback rides through the mountain ranges that lie within Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest. Spontaneous adventure is readily accessible for eager hikers along the many miles of mountain trails and, south of Tucson, Parker Canyon Lake and Patagonia Lake offer lush desert settings for water activities.

Many of these majestic desert sights are accessible via automobile, too. The Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive takes visitors through Chiricahua National Monument and the Catalina Highway winds up Mount Lemmon where, when winter brings snowy weather, skiers are seen carving back down. For more extreme adventure seekers, test leg muscles pedaling a road bike up grueling Catalina Highway, try the Hunter Trail to reach the summit of Picacho Peak, or join a rock-climbing class.

When exploring southern Arizona's outdoors, be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat! Though beautiful, the desert can be especially merciless in summer months!

Saguaro National Park

This sprawling expanse of protected land filled with stately saguaro cacti flanks Tucson to the east and west. Separated by the city, the eastern Rincon and western Tucson mountain ranges are about an hour drive apart. Both offer hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails, as well as loop roads for motorized expeditions.

Catalina State Park

More than 1,500 years ago, a small Hohokam village was established on a ridge above Sutherland Wash, now within this 5,500-acre high desert park north of Tucson.

Sabino Canyon

Easily accessed recreation area on the northern edge of Tucson in the Coronado National Forest. Trails, picnic areas, self-guided walking tours and shuttle buses.

Chiricahua National Monument

An otherworldly forest of rock spires eroded from layers of ash deposited by a volcano eruption 27 million years ago. Paved scenic drive and 17 miles of day-use hiking trails.

Picacho Peak

Spiking nearly 2,000 feet into the air, Picacho Peak marks the halfway point between Phoenix and Tucson and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Southern Arizona.

Mount Lemmon

The great Mount Lemmon is named after one of its first recorded conquerors: Sara Plummer Lemmon, a botanist who in 1881 became the first woman to reach its summit. Nowadays, you don’t have to be a pioneer to reach the 9,157-foot peak, but a daredevil streak doesn’t hurt.

Sentinel Peak Park

Nicknamed “A” mountain, this peak has been sporting an enlarged “A” for University of Arizona since 1915 and provides a great view of downtown Tucson. 

Rillito River Park Trail

Cyclists, runners and walkers are seen along the 12-mile paved path that runs east to west along East River Road, between I-10 and North Craycroft Road. Several parks, water fountains and restrooms are within easy access. 

Trail Dust Adventures

Four-wheel-drive tours of Tucson and its outlying areas. Tour themes include desert ecology, cattle driving and competitive team-building.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Southeast of Tucson, the 2,000-acre park showcases pristine Sonoran desert as well as the crystal-laden Colossal Cave and historic La Posta Quemada Ranch, which houses exhibits on the human and natural history of the area.

Parker Canyon Lake

Kayak, boat, fish, camp, hike and bike around the 130-acre lake within Coronado National Forest. Water-activity rentals available.

Patagonia Lake

Rent a boat from the marina to navigate along the 2.5-mile-long lake. Set up camp and fish for dinner.