December 09, 2016

13 Best Peak Hikes in Tucson, Arizona

Hikers that live in Tucson, Arizona enjoy some of the best hiking around. The city is surrounded by 5 mountain ranges, each with their own unique look and feel. That many mountains means there are a lot of peaks to climb.

Anyone who has looked up at a rocky summit and felt the inexplicable urge to be on top of it can appreciate the dilemma posed by so many choices. 

We aim to solve that problem with this post by identifying the best peak hikes in the Tucson area. If you haven't felt that urge to climb a mountain before, we hope you will by the end of this list.

13. Brown Mountain - Level 2

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum
Out West of town by the Desert Museum, there is a solitary peak that doesn't get a ton of foot traffic despite offering outstanding views from a loop hike that traverses the top of it.

What makes it great:
  • Unique 360 degree views at the top of the valley West of town
  • A loop hike that won't be very crowded
  • It's right next to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
View the Hike Profile

12. "Sombrero" Peak - Level 3

tucson sunset
Sitting to the West of Tucson and Oro Valley, the signature silhouette of Safford Peak, which is more commonly known as "Sombrero" Peak, has made it an iconic landmark for locals. Like most such peaks, it calls out to the adventurous to be summitted.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views at the top
  • The highest point at the North end of the Tucson Mountains
  • Knowing that you've stood on top of the icon
View the Hike Profile

11. Bushmaster Peak - Level 2

Tucson Mountain Park, Arizona
Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains West of town is the most popular place to watch the sunset. But if you want to venture away from the parking lot more than a few hundred feet, you can take the unofficial trail to the top of this nearby peak for great views in every direction.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views at the top
  • Stellar view of Gates Pass
  • Panoramic ridge walks leading to the summit
View the Hike Profile

10. Tanque Verde Peak - Level 6

Tanque Verde Peak - 7,049 feet
Of the 3 peaks in the Rincon Mountains, Tanque Verde Peak is the closest and most accessible from Tucson. It's a long day hike up Tanque Verde Ridge, but well worth it.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views at the top
  • The peak is often covered in ladybugs
  • You'll hike through several different ecosystems from atop a ridge with sweeping views
View the Hike Profile

9. The Cathedral - Level 6

Santa Catalina Sunrise
The last mile or so to the top can be tricky as you follow any number of cairned routes to the supreme spire, where you'll have to use a rope to help you get on top of it, but many would argue that it's all well worth it.

What makes it great:
  • Amazing 360 degree views at the top of the highest point in the front range
  • Hiking from saguaros to pines in a single day - tremendous variety
  • The adventure
View the Hike Profile

8. Finger Guard - Level 6

Although it's nearly impossible to get on top of the iconic Finger without climbing gear, you can reach the summit of the Guard that sits just to the East (right) with only your hands and feet. This hike is off limits from January 1st through April 30th to protect the bighorn lambing season.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views at the top
  • Being able to look down on the Finger and the namesake trail
  • Feeling like a kid again as you climb up to the rocky summit
View the Hike Profile

7. Rincon Peak - Level 6

Rincon Peak Backpacking
In the Rincon Mountains East of town, there is a triangular peak that shares its name with the range itself. It provides some of the best views for those that are willing to make the long hike to the top.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views from the second highest peak in the range
  • A giant cairn marking the summit
  • Passing through multiple ecosystems on the trail to the top
View the Hike Profile

6. Elephant Head - Level 3

Elephant Head at sunset
It requires more imagination for some people than others to see the stone pachyderm poking out from the West end of the Santa Rita Mountains, but everyone who makes it to the top is rewarded with a consistently spectacular sight, no imagination required.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views at the top
  • Being able to say to you stood on top of the elephant's head
  • The tradition of leaving a porcelain elephant at the summit
View the Hike Profile

5. Agua Caliente Hill - Level 5

1312 Alison on the Summit of Agua Caliente Hill
To the Northeast of Tucson, right in between the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Rincons, sits "Hot Water" Hill. It's something of a hidden gem since the summit is both more beautiful and less popular than many others around town.

What makes it great:
  • Near 360 degree views at the top
  • Dog friendly trail all of the way to the top
  • Amazing views of the Catalinas, Agua Caliente Canyon and Redington Pass
  • Picture perfect ridge walk through tall grass leading to the summit
View the Hike Profile

4. Wasson Peak - Level 5

The highest peak in the Tucson Mountains to the West of town, Wasson Peak offers outstanding views of the entire area.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views from the highest peak in the range
  • Well maintained and gradual trail (Hugh Norris) to the summit
  • Petroglyphs, mines, and other ruins of the past
  • Unique vantage point on the Tucson basin and surrounding mountains
View the Hike Profile

3. Picacho Peak - Level 3

Picacho Peak Poppies
It's hard to miss the distinct shape of Picacho's spire as you drive between Tucson and Phoenix on the interstate. Sticking up from the desert like a giant shard of stone, this peak beckons hikers from miles away.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views at the top
  • Unique trail where you'll have to use cables at times to aid your climb
  • One of the best places to experience the desert blooms in Spring
  • It's not unheard of to find yourself in the clouds at the summit
View the Hike Profile

2. Pusch Peak - Level 6

1311 Near the Linda Vista Trailhead
The trail to the top is unofficial and it's actually off limits from January 1st through April 30th to protect the bighorn lambing season, but if you can make it up the steep and slippery trail, the views at the top will be well worth it.

What makes it great:
  • Stunning 360 degree views of the city and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness
  • Horizontally speaking, it's a short hike
  • Fantastic views all along the way of the canyons and cliffs in the area
View the Hike Profile

Honorable Mentions
Being surrounded by 5 different mountain ranges means that there are a ton of great peaks around Tucson to hike to, but we can't put all of them on the list or it would cease to be meaningful. However, there are 3 hikes that are good enough to at least earn an honorable mention. They are Mount Lemmon, Tumamoc, and Mount Kimball.
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Mount Kimball trail
Mount Kimball
Mount Lemmon hike on August 5 2015
Mount Lemmon
Tumamoc Hill Hike

1. Mount Wrightson - Level 6

Mount Wrightson, AZ
Standing at over 9,400 feet high, Mount Wrightson is the tallest peak in the Tucson area. It's summit is above the tree line, which is why it used to be called "Mount Baldy". That also means that you have phenomenal unobstructed views in every direction.

What makes it great:
  • 360 degree views from the tallest peak around Tucson
  • 4,000 feet of elevation gain through several different ecosystems
  • Ruins of of a fire lookout on top, with a sign telling the history
  • See down into another county (Mexico)
View the Hike Profile

What do you think?

Do you agree with our list? Did we miss an awesome mountain top? Which one of these is your favorite? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.


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