This guidebook features 10 of the very best trail runs in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona. In these selections, you’ll find everything from moderate loops with gorgeous views to brutal climbs in the Catalinas.Less
Located in the eastern portion of Tuscon Mountain Park, this trail run is one of the best ways to experience the trails around Starr Pass. The views around this loop are endless, and massive saguaro cacti line the way. Smaller teddy bear cholla (named for their fuzzy appearance), and prickly pear cactus are also abundant. A wide array of desert wildlife also reside here including countless snakes, lizards, tortoises, and even roadrunners.
The 50-Year Trail is a classic Tucson singletrack route that’s long been popular with mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians. While shorter loop options are available by starting at Golder Ranch, if you want to experience the entire 50-Year Trail, you’ll have to start further south at Catalina State Park.
While the Tucson Mountains don't soar nearly as high as the Santa Catalinas on the opposite side of the city, the moderate elevations mean that the trails here generally stay snow-free all year long. Wasson Peak, featured here, is the tallest of the peaks in the Tucson Mountains and the highest point in Saguaro National Park, rising to an elevation of 4,687 feet above sea level.
Sweetwater Preserve protects an 880-acre parcel of the Sonoran Desert that’s filled to bursting with towering saguaro cacti. This open space area is located just half a mile from Saguaro National Park “and a biological research preserve owned by the University of Arizona,” according to PIMA.gov. Tucson Mountain Park is also located just to the south. With so much protected space surrounding this small preserve, after running a short distance, you can feel like you’re in the middle of the desert.
The popular Romero Pools Trail begins in Catalina State Park and heads steeply uphill. On this trail you'll be able to run to a seasonal collection of beautiful pools and waterfalls.
Also beginning in Catalina State Park, the lower stretches of the Sutherland Trail provide a mellow out-and-back route with very little climbing and stupendous views! During the springtime, this is one of the very best places near Tucson to experience the poppies and other wildflowers during their brief period of brilliance.
On Brown Mountain, you can run along a gorgeous ridge with stupendous views of the Tucson Mountains and Saguaro National Park.
While it would be a huge day out, you can attempt to run all the way from Sabino Canyon to the top of Mount Lemmon on this route.
For one final, brutally-difficult route, try running from Sabino Canyon to the top of Window Peak and back on this 16-mile route with over a vertical mile of climbing and descending.