February 28, 2018

21 Best Scenic Vista Hikes near Tucson, Arizona

Blackett's Sunset Hike
When you're hiking out into the wilderness on the trails around Tucson, you're bound to see amazing scenery regardless of which hike you choose. It's hard not to be captivated by the deep canyons, tall mountains, and changing foliage of the surprisingly lush Sonoran Desert.

However, there are several hikes where you'll come to either a point or a section of trail where you'll want to stop right in your tracks and enjoy a particularly stunning view.

Of course, great views are almost certain from the tops of the many mountains in the area, but we've already posted our picks for the best peak hikes around Tucson. This list is your guide to the best views that can be had on the trails around the Old Pueblo without having to summit a mountain.

If you're wondering about what hikes have the best views in Tucson, look no further.

21. Romero Canyon Loop

Lonely Bench
It would be impossible for us not to mention a hike where the views are good enough that benches have been installed at various points so that you can comfortably sit and enjoy the scenery for awhile. The fine folks of Catalina State Park have installed two such benches along this loop, so take advantage of them. Both are on the edge of the plateau above the stream and are particularly enjoyable at sunset.

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20. Tanque Verde Dome

This hike appeared in our list of the best rock formation hikes because it's a giant dome made of solid rock. Since it's not the high point on Tanque Verde Ridge though, it's first-rate views are best recognized here instead of our picks for the best peak hikes in Tucson. At any rate, this hike shows up on a couple of our "best of" lists for good reason.

The 360 degree views from this bubble of rock offer a vantage point that not many people experience. From atop the dome, you can see down into the "corner" of the Rincon Mountains where the town of Vail sits. And you can scope out the entirety of the Tucson basin as well. Bring a pair of binoculars for this one!

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19. Soldier Trail

The steepness of Soldier Trail tends to be what most people talk about, but chances are good that people keep doing it anyway because the views are just that spectacular. There are several vista points along the hike that will afford you the chance to check out the city of Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the transitions in ecosystems as you increase your elevation. The hike ends on the top of a small hill with plenty of seating to rest and enjoy some stellar views.

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18. Box Camp

1401 Looking down from the Box Camp Trail
This out-and-back hike high up in the Santa Catalinas features old growth trees, lush ferns, a seasonal stream, and one of the best views in the whole range. Not long after you leave the pine trees and descend into junipers and manzanitas, you'll come across a large rocky area on your right. Take a break and enjoy the view from there. Not only will you appreciate the views of the Sabino Basin below, but you'll also be grateful for the break before you have to turn around for the hike back up and out.

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17. Cardiac Hill

Esperero Canyon
"Cardiac Hill" earns its name from the heart pounding workout that you'll get hiking up the switchbacks getting there, but it could easily have been named for its outstanding views. On one side of the ridge, you've got a waterfall flowing down from the springs at the base of Cathedral Peak. On the other, you've got the beautiful desert canyon which you trekked through to get there. Anywhere you look, you're sure to see something cool.

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16. Babad Do'ag

1402 Point 4780 East of Babad Do'ag
The hike up Babad Do'ag, which means "Frog Mountain" in the native O'odham language, is one of the few that exists in the high desert grasslands that make up the midsection of the Santa Catalinas. Although you can find a small waterfall at the very end of the trail after a good rain or snow, the typical stopping spot is a small hill in the middle of a ridge. From there, you can see the Catalina Highway below the trail and take in the gorgeous Milagrosa and Agua Caliente canyons to the southeast.
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15. Agua Caliente Vista

Although the view from the top of Agua Caliente hill is what put it on our list of the best peak hikes in Tucson, you don't need to hike all 10 miles of the trail to get an exquisite view. A mere mile from the trailhead, the trail runs on top of a small ridge. When you spot a few rocks that look like they were almost perfectly made for sitting, feel free to grab a seat. In the early morning hours, especially when it's partly cloudy, you'll be treated to golden rays of sunshine pouring over the Rincon Mountains. The way the light showers Redington pass and the homes scattered throughout the area is truly magnificent.

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14. Milagrosa Loop

1412 Looking Down into Agua Caliente Canyon from near the Milagrosa Trail
Even though Milagrosa doesn't gain a ton of altitude, it is a hike filled with incredible vistas. The first two are on either side of Milagrosa Pools, only a little ways into the hike. Then there's another awesome spot just before you descend into Agua Caliente Canyon. All along the way you'll want to lift your eyes up off of the trail to take in the scenery as you walk along the edge of deep canyons and down the spine of narrow ridges between them.

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13. Maiden Pools Hill

Ventana Canyon, Tucson AZ [OC] [4280x2828]
The two main reasons to hike up Ventana Canyon are 1) Maiden Pools and 2) the Window. While both are well worth the trip, there is another spot in the canyon that is worth the journey as well.
Just before you reach Maiden Pools, you'll have to ascend a series of switchbacks to the top of a hill in the middle of the canyon. At the top, you'll find a couple of small clearings where you can take a quick breather. Do yourself a favor and look back down the canyon to check out the rocky maze of spires and canyons that you hiked through to get to where you are. The view is especially dramatic at either end of the day when the shadows are longest.

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12. Butterfly Loop

1408 Looking down into Peck Basin from the Butterfly Trail
Throughout much of the Butterfly Loop hike, you'll see distant landscapes occasionally peak through the dense trees. Once you reach some of the areas that were burned in the last few decades, you'll be able to take in some stunning views. There are a few choice spots in particular just below the Mount Bigelow radio towers where you can look out across the San Pedro River Valley to the Galliuro Mountains and beyond.

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11. Finger Rock Middle Vista

Hiking Finger Rock Trail
The lower vista on the Finger Rock Trail is small and easy to miss. The upper vista has a stellar view of the canyon, but you can't see Finger Rock from there. That means the middle vista earns the Goldilocks award for being just right. The spot is only about 50 feet to the left of the trail, right as you start to hit more grasses than cacti, and there's plenty of exposed bedrock where you can grab a seat. Look down the canyon to see the city of Tucson, or turn your gaze up the canyon to see Finger Rock and Mount Kimball above.

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10. Incinerator Ridge

Foggy Catalina's
If you have a vehicle that you feel comfortable taking up the dirt road to the trailhead, this hike can be super short. It's only a little over a mile long, but you'll be able to see for dozens of miles in almost every direction from Leopold Point at the end of it. That gives Incinerator Ridge one of the best reward to effort ratios of any hike on this list.

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9. Phoneline

The Phoneline trail runs along the East wall of Sabino Canyon, high above the tram road at the bottom. Deep in the canyon, back above Stop #9, there's a small hill made of rocky spires where you can take in a spectacular view. From there, you'll be able to look all of the way down the canyon to Tucson, as well as up into it where you'll spot Mount Lemmon.

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8. Pontatoc Ridge

1211 Pontatoc Ridge Sunset
By nature of being on top of a ridge, the hike up Pontatoc is full of breathtaking views. Almost every 50 feet it seems like you've got an exceptional view of something. Perhaps one of the best views on the hike though is found down near the bottom. Just as the trail pulls a U-turn from a brief southward flat section to heading north up the ridge, there's a large area of exposed bedrock where you'll catch your first great view of many on the trail.

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7. Mount Lemmon Meadow Loop

Mount Lemmon Lookout
If you're looking for a hike with an extraordinary view, why not go somewhere that requires it? Up at the top of Mount Lemmon, there is a short loop hike with a small spur trail out to a fire lookout building. Although the stairway to the hut is off limits during fire season (Summer and Fall) so that the spotter can do his job, if you can manage to get there when access is permitted, you'll get one of the best views of the Catalina Mountains.

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6. Aspen Loop

Credit: Doug Kreutz / Arizona Daily Star 2011

About halfway through the popular Aspen Loop hike out of Marshall Gulch, there's a faint spur trail leading out to an impressive vista point. The small ridge ends with a rocky point where you can make yourself comfortable while you grab a snack and check out the view of Mount Lemmon and the Wilderness of Rocks.

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5. Palisades

1410 Looking out from the Palisade Trail high above Pine Canyon
Not far from the Box Camp hike, and running roughly parallel to it, is another awesome vista hike. Palisades descends a bit further than Box Camp, but doing so gives you an even better view. When you reach the open vista among the desert grasses above the long series of switchbacks, you'll have an unhindered view of Sabino Basin.

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4. Linda Vista Saddle

1310 Point 5391 On Pontatoc Ridge
When most people talk about hiking the Finger Rock trail, the destination tends to be either the upper vista, Mount Kimball at the end of the trail, or Finger Rock itself. However, there is an sweet little spot just beyond the upper vista where you can catch a top-notch view of the Tucson Basin.

Since most people only stop there on the way to Kimball, there's no official hike profile, but you can build your own hike to it on Trailvoyant. Once there, you'll find a small fire ring, which is an obvious indicator that at least a few people think the view is worth sticking around for awhile to enjoy for more than a few moments.

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3. Pusch Overlook

Near the top of Pusch Peak
If you think of the Santa Catalina Mountains as a triangle on a map, the lower left corner is an area called Pusch Ridge. Although the hike to the top of Pusch Peak is fantastic, you need only ascend about a third of the way to reach a stunning vista overlooking the town of Oro Valley. The spot can be found to the right of the trail, about half way up the climb through the steep canyon, where the trail forks. There's a large flat area with plenty of superb places to watch the sunset and see the city lights below begin to twinkle.

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2. Romero Rock

1502 Looking down to Romero Pass
The Wilderness of Rocks up near the top of Mount Lemmon is something of a surreal plateau. The area is covered with pine trees and hoodoos, which are a stark contrast from the desert landscape below. At the southern end of the Mount Lemmon Trail, just before it descends down to Romero Pass, there is a huge slab of exposed bedrock that makes for a striking vista point. From it, you can see Cathedral Peak in the front range and all of the way down Romero Canyon below. It's a marvelous place to take in a view from the edge of two worlds.

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Honorable Mentions

Two of the most popular places to enjoy a stunning view around Tucson are Gates Pass and Windy Point. Although we wholeheartedly recommend checking them both out, neither require much of a hike. In both places, you need only walk 50 yards past the pavement to find a spot to watch the sunset. Since this list is focused more on the vistas that require at least a small hike to get to, neither of the famous spots seemed right to include. If you haven't visited them though, you owe it to yourself to change that.

1. Blackett's Ridge

Blackett's Ridge
Ask anyone who's been to the end of the Blackett's Ridge trail, and they'll probably tell you that it was a workout to get to. They'll also say it is well worth it. If you should take the hike up there, you'll be rewarded with 360 degree views of the area. Some of the things you'll be able to spot include Cathedral Peak, Sabino Canyon, Mount Lemmon, Thimble Peak, and Bear Canyon. Not to mention all of Tucson to the South. No matter the time of day or the conditions, you're virtually guaranteed to have a magnificent view at the end of Blackett's Ridge.

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What do you think?

Did your favorite vista make our list or did we overlook (pun absolutely intended) something? Tell us your thoughts in the comments, whether you've been to all of these or if we just gave you a new to-do list.

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