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5 Ways To Reap the Benefits of the Great Outdoors in Tucson

From year-round birdwatching in mild weather to skiing down one of its highest mountains, Tucson boasts the most diverse options for getting outside and being active of any Southwest city.

Saguaro National Park at sunset

The majestic saguaro and other cacti of Saguaro National Park at sunset

There’s nothing quite like the crisp desert air of Tucson—and there’s an abundance of opportunities to breathe it in deeply and enjoy it to the fullest. Whether you’re after leisurely nature walks on paved paths, more vigorous hikes and biking, or other more strenuous physical outings, there are outdoor activities for all fitness levels, most of which are easily accessible anytime of the year. Communing with Mother Nature is perhaps one of the best ways to invigorate your spirit, plus you’ll get the proven health boost for your body too, so head outside in this Arizona area for the ultimate in Southwest-style renewal.

Hiking in Sabino Canyon

Hiking in Sabino Canyon

Hike in unspoiled nature

Tucson offers hikes and nature walks for multiple skill levels, and the scenery is distinctive, even among other regions of the Southwest. The popular Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains is a stunner. You can do the full paved, moderate-level hike or catch a tram ride that can shave 7.6 miles off the 16.4-mile trip. In addition to the divine natural setting—expect a peaceful stream and desert wildflowers—there’s a rich reward at the peak. Hutch’s Pool is as refreshing as it sounds, so pack a swimsuit.

In the Rincon Mountains, you’ll find the great Saguaro National Park and (yup) many a majestic saguaro cactus. Ascend Wasson Peak, the highest point on the Tucson Mountain District side (at 4,687 feet) for serious wow-factor views.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Checking out the vistas at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

See art in an outdoor setting

The Sonoran Desert has become famous as the home to Tucson and learning about the ecology of the surroundings can make any outdoor activity you do in the area that much more meaningful. So head to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a mostly outdoor excursion, as educational as it is meditative where you can browse the exhibits as you breathe in that famous dry desert air.

A “fusion” experience, the museum houses a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium. Wandering through the garden, you’ll learn why the Sonoran Desert is considered the lushest desert in the world—with more than 2,000 species of plants—and you’ll view stratified rocks that date back to the dinosaur era at the Geology Overlook.

Birdwatching in Tucson

A Tucson feathered friend

Keep your eyes open in this birder’s paradise

Tucson is one of the best places in the country for birdwatching, thanks to its temperate climate and other geographical factors—so if you have even a mild interest, or especially if you’re a dedicated birder, you’ll want to make time in your itinerary for a day at Madera Canyon. As a resting spot for migrating birds, it attracts birders from far and wide and ample trails provide hiking opportunities. It’s easy to spend an entire day birding here or at any of the other popular Tucson bird-watching locales, like the 5,500-acre Catalina State Park. For a quick loop, jump on the mile-long Catalina Nature Trail or the even quieter (and aptly named) 2.3-mile Birding Trail to Alamo Loop Trail.

Also consider Florida Wash and Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. Upwards of 500 species have been spotted in the Tucson area, so your chances of finding a vibrant vermilion flycatcher, any of many awe-inspiring hawk varieties, or your favorite species of colorful hummingbird are as good as it gets.

Oro Valley/Tucson Loop Bike Path

Biking, walking, running, and horseback riding are all available along The Loop.

Pedal through stunning desert landscapes

Visitors to Tucson who enjoy a good bike ride absolutely must hit the Oro Valley/Tucson Loop Bike Path (“The Loop” to locals). This paved, car-free path stretches more than 130 miles long, is family friendly (walking works, too), and offers different experiences for different types of biking.

Head to the ridge line for 35 miles of more intense mountain biking or to Honeybee Canyon Loop for an easy albeit longer ride. The nearly 20-mile path features a gradual ascent followed by downhill fun for the second half. You’ll see a windmill and historic rock dam along the hard-packed dirt trail that winds its way through the desert landscape. And checking out the petroglyphs is also a worthy adventure in Honeybee Canyon Park. Just visiting and didn’t bring your bike? No worries—it’s easy to find rental spots all over town.

Mount Lemmon

Take a drive up Mount Lemmon for unforgettable views.

Switch it up with an excursion to Mount Lemmon

Some peak visits are accessible without the hike of a lifetime—if a scenic drive is what you’re craving, take a leisurely (yet curvy) ride up the 9,000-foot Mount Lemmon for a relaxing summer picnic-in-the-pines. Bring a jacket, just in case; this mountain in the Santa Catalina range is 30 degrees cooler than metropolitan Tucson.

Its verdant pine forests make for a lovely change from the neutral colors of the surrounding desert scenery in the summer—and turn into a snowy wonderland come winter. Can’t resist one last, postcard-worthy hike? You’ve got 38 trail options, covering all skill levels, for reaching one of the “Sky Islands” of the Coronado National Forest, plus Ski Valley to ski or snowboard as soon as it snows—the resort famously doesn’t make snow, leaving this sport in the hands of the same glorious Mother Nature that makes this part of the world so incredible.

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