Tucson offers something for everyone due to its fantastic Downtown area, its close proximity to the hustle and bustle of its sister city — Phoenix, and the surrounding mountains and foothills that offer a myriad of recreational opportunities. Tucson is known for its spectacular weather, which is why residents and visitors alike enjoy getting out and love the natural beauty of the Tucson landscape and Santa Catalina Mountains. Since there are numerous mountains and mountain ranges situated around the city of Tucson, you’ll find that there are also an array of hiking trails available for you to go hiking, biking, or horseback riding.
Among the best aspects of living in Tucson is that you’ll have easy access to the Catalina Foothills and Pima Canyon, both of which are comprised of some amazing trails that you won’t want to miss. Likely the best trail in this area is the Pima Canyon Trail, which residents love because of its beautiful scenery and animal sightings of mountain lions, sheep, and Gila monsters! If you’re thinking about planning a trip to the Pima Canyon hiking trail, there are many things you should know before you head out on your trip, below we’ve outlined a guide for visitor’s and residents alike to help you on your journey!
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Starting Your Adventure
When you’re looking to start your journey at the Pima Canyon hiking trail, there are some general pieces of information and guidelines that you should keep in mind to ensure that you make the most out of your time at this trail. The trail is open each day from dawn to dusk, which means that you shouldn’t need to move too much around to fit a visit to the Pima Canyon Trail into your schedule. Admission to the trail is entirely free, which makes this the perfect place to visit when you want to save some money while still enjoying the outdoors. When you’re searching for a place to park at this trail, the main Pima Canyon trailhead comes with a vast parking lot that accommodates up to 50 vehicles.
When you step out of your vehicle, you’ll notice that there are some drinking fountains right before you enter the trail, which is perfect for getting hydrated before you head out on your hike. Keep in mind that there are no available restrooms at this trail.
The trail itself extends for right around 3.9 miles, which includes the distance that you will travel when returning from the end of the trail. While this can be a lengthy distance for younger children if you happen to be visiting with your family, there are numerous stops and rest areas along the way that will allow you to take several breaks throughout your hike. The trail is considered to be moderately difficult, which means that you should be able to hike it without too much trouble.
There are some spots towards the end of the trail that are somewhat steep and rocky, which is why caution is advised as you’re nearing the conclusion of the hike. While the trail is mainly used for hiking, you can also go horseback riding during your visit. Neither mountain bikes or motorized bikes can be used on the trail. If you want to avoid crowds and make sure that you get a parking spot when you visit this trail, the weekdays are considered to be the least crowded.
The Pima Canyon Trailhead
When you’re getting ready to head over to the Pima Canyon Trail, you will need to know how to get to the trailhead, which is fairly straightforward. If you’re traveling to the hiking trail from Tucson, you should drive north on the Oracle Road, which is also known as US 89. Eventually, you will come to Magee Road on the right, which you should turn onto. From here, drive until you reach the end of the road, which is where you’ll find the trailhead and parking lot. There are several signs surrounding the trailhead that will point you in the right direction. Once you arrive at the trailhead, it’s very easy to understand where to go.
Because of the lack of trees in the nearby vicinity, all of the signs are easy to discern, which should keep you from going in the wrong direction. Magee Road leads directly into the sizable parking lot. Once you’ve parked, the entrance to the main trail is located to the west of the parking lot. There are also some drinking fountains and shaded seating areas right at the north of the parking lot, which ensures that all of your needs are met before you get started on the hike.
Click here to view the Pima Canyon trailhead on a map
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The Pima Canyon Hike & What to Expect
While there are a range of hiking opportunities that extend from the main trailhead of Pima Canyon, the main Pima Canyon Trail goes from the trailhead to the first dam, which is when most hikers turn back. If you wish to travel further, the Pima Canyon Trail officially ends at the junction of the Finger Rock Trail, which is another popular hiking trail that lasts for upwards of 8.8 miles.
When you pass through the main Pima Canyon trailhead, the first portion of the hike will take place along a rocky path that’s situated nearby some wire fences that mark private property. After the first half-mile of the trail, the path will turn to the north, which is where you’ll climb a small hill that marks the first signs of oncoming elevation.
Once you’ve traveled over the first hill, you’ll notice a horse barrier, which served as the original trailhead for the Pima Canyon Trail. While dogs and bicycles can travel along the first half-mile of this trail, they are forbidden to go beyond the horse barrier. From here, the track will yet again turn north where you’ll have some steep climbing to do. While this portion of the trail can be pretty steep, the rest of the hike is relatively flat with little elevation gain. You’ll also be rewarded at this time with some of the best views along the trail.
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With the elevation that you’ve made so far, you’ll be able to see the city lights of Tucson below along with many distant valleys and mountains. If you want to see some wildlife during your hike, this area is likely the best place to do so. Sightings of Gila monsters are particularly prevalent during the spring months.
You’ll travel along a ridge for close to a mile before the track turns south and you reach the first stream crossing. This is a great place to rest if your feet are tired or you want to admire the scenery. The trail follows along the stream for some time before another stream crossing becomes necessary. It’s in these areas that the wildflowers are in full bloom, which is perfect if you want to take some pictures of your trip to the Pima Canyon Trail. When you reach the floor of the canyon, you’ll be in a beautiful riparian zone that serves as another great resting point if you want to take a break. In fact, the second stream crossing in this area is considered to be an ideal spot for having a picnic. There are many large trees in this area, which means that you can get in some much-needed shade before moving on to the rest of the trail.
After you’ve left the riparian zone, the track climbs somewhat before following the south bank of the canyon for quite some time. From here on, the track is a winding one that will take you through streams, boulders, and bedrock. It’s at this point that a tiny trail breaks off to the north, which will lead you to the first dam and the natural end point of the Pima Canyon Trail. This dam was created in the 1960’s as a means of providing local bighorn sheep and similar types of wildlife with water. Today, it’s a fantastic place to have a picnic. There’s an ample amount of water in the area as well as large flat stones that can double as seats while you have a picnic.
Once you’ve reached the end of the trail, you can head back to the trailhead or continue beyond Pima Spring and into the upper slopes of Mt. Kimball. Over the entire trail, the elevation gain is around 666 feet. If you travel further along the Finger Rock Trail, you’ll encounter elevation gains of as high as 4,000 feet. As such, it’s important that you don’t automatically attempt other hiking trails beyond Pima Canyon Trail unless you’re fully prepared for the difficulty that comes with these hikes. Every trail that extends from the Pima Canyon Trail has much higher elevation gains.
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What to Do After Your Hike
Once the hike is finished, you likely won’t want to go straight home. If you were planning on spending an entire day out and about, the trail takes around 2-3 hours to complete, which leaves you with an ample amount of time to explore the surrounding areas. Fortunately, there are many things to do in the immediate vicinity of the trail when you want to unwind and relax after a long morning or afternoon of hiking. Some of the most popular local spots to grab a bite or drink include Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Tavolino, and the Tohono Chul Garden Bistro, which are 2.8, 3.0, and 4.1 miles away from the Pima Canyon Trail respectively.
Firebirds Wood Fire Grill is a delectable restaurant that mainly serves steaks, seafood, and delicious cocktails in a stylish and upscale setting. Their service is personalized, while their doors are open for both lunch and dinner. As for Tavolino, this is a simple Italian eatery that specializes in signature pizzas and handmade pasta, the latter of which includes such favorites as Parmesan pasta with zucchini and a tagliatelle pasta with a bolognese-style meat ragu. If you want to enjoy the fantastic Tucson scenery and lovely weather, there’s a spacious patio just outside of the main eating area at Tavolino.
When you want to grab a quick bite to eat, consider stopping by the Tohono Chul Garden Bistro. Located within a delightful garden setting, this cafe comes with a casual menu for breakfast, lunch, or dinner that’s based entirely on local and organic ingredients. No matter which of these restaurants you choose to dine at, you’re sure to have a spectacular time as you relax after a tiring yet fulfilling day of hiking!