Top Trail Towns: Tucson, Arizona
A desert paradise
In the middle of southeastern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert lies the oasis of Tucson, with its metro area of nearly one-million inhabitants, adobe-style buildings, xeriscaped lawns, diverse population and the University of Arizona. Says Wendy Roberts, a 30-year-old writer, Pima Community College writing instructor and trail runner, “Tucson is an artsy, sporty, college town blended with a backwoods, pickup-truck vibe. There’s something here for everyone—even humidity during the summer monsoon!”
Beyond the pancake-flat valley containing Tucson, which sits at about 2300 feet, a trail-running paradise emerges via the quiet desert mountains surrounding town. North and northeast of town rise Coronado National Forest’s Catalina Mountains. The Rincon Mountains lie to the east as part of both Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest. To the south are the Santa Rita Mountains, also in Coronado National Forest. The Tucson Mountains and their “fairy-tale spikes,” as Roberts calls them, hold court over the city’s west side in Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park.
> GET THERE / arrive via Tucson International Airport, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited or Texas Eagle Lines or Greyhound bus from multiple points, and then rent a car. Tucson is bike-friendly, too, with commuter lanes, wide shoulders and friendly drivers, so consider renting a bike for your in-town explorations (you’ll still need a rental car for most trailheads).
> BE A TOURIST / Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert museum to learn about the animals, plants and human history that make up this unique ecosystem. Most Tucson folks say you’ve got to grub up at the Guadalajara Original Grill, which is best known for its tableside salsa service, made to order per your request.
> TAKE NOTE / Extreme heat is a serious summer consideration, says Roberts. “My rule of thumb in summer is, if I’m not out the door—or better yet done—running by 7 a.m., I wait until evening. An alternative is to go to a higher, more temperate altitude, but there you beware afternoon thunderstorms.” And rattlesnakes are common trail sightings, so pay attention.
BY THE NUMBERS
60 Miles from downtown Tucson to the Mexico border.
350 The close-to-miraculous number of days of sunshine that Tucson experiences each year.
200 Number of years a saguaro cactus can live.