As Flagstaff gets ready for colder, snowy weather, it’s time to haul out the day hike maps for warmer climes to the south.
If your travels take you to Tucson, here are some favorite trails that can be hiked by the entire family. Let me know if you have other favorites.
—Seven Falls: This trip starts in Sabino Canyon, but rather than boarding the tram for Sabino, catch a different one for the trailhead to Seven Falls, a 2-mile ride up adjacent Bear Canyon.
From there, it is a moderate hike of about 2 1/2 miles to the first of the seven falls. Along the way, the trail crosses over the creek several times, and side trails provide access to quiet pools hidden among big boulders.
Once you are at the falls, all peace and quiet vanishes. Hikers who arrive early in the day tend to stay, and by 1 p.m., most of flat rocks around the lower pools are occupied.
The pools are great places to splash around on a hot day, although this year they will be smaller than usual because of the extremely dry fall un Tucson. The falls themselves get progressively smaller and harder to reach safely — I climbed to No. 4 without a rope, but dared go no higher.
— Romero Pools: These are the reward for climbing the Romero Canyon Trail above Catalina State Park. Most guidebooks list this as an easy, 5-mile round trip, but our hike came in late spring when temperatures were already into the 80s. We weren't (and still aren't) heat-hardened hikers, and the family album has images of our entire party sprawled at the edge of the pools trying to cool off.
The trail is lined with saguaro and has fine views to the southwest. It is not particularly steep, but it offers little shade, so hike it before the afternoon sun gets too hot.
— Ventana Canyon: This is a close-by alternative to more crowded Sabino Canyon.
The trailhead starts in a rear parking lot of one of Tucson's most exclusive resorts, Lowe's Ventana Canyon. The first mile is along a narrow corridor through developed property, but after that the trail enters a narrow canyon and crosses a streambed several times. Occasionally, it climbs to a ridge above the stream, offering scenic views of Tucson far below. Because this is bighorn sheep habitat, dogs are strongly discouraged.
After 2.5 miles, you will reach the Maiden Pools, which have flat rocks for sunbathing and picnicking. These are a pleasant turnaround point and much less crowded than the more famous Seven Falls of Bear Canyon (see above).
— Finger Rock Spring: Like the Romero Pools and Maiden Pools, this spring is in the Catalina foothills and flows only in the spring. The trailhead starts at the end of Alvernon Way a mile off Skyline Drive, which at nightfall offers stunning views of the city below. It starts out fairly level for a half-mile, but then begins to rise gently, offering spectacular views of the city of Tucson and its surrounding mountains. On our early-winter hike, the spring and creekbed were dry, but the saguaro and cholla were plentiful. This round-trip hike is just 2 miles and is less crowded than popular Pima Canyon farther to the west.
— Cactus Forest Trail: This is a level trail in the eastern portion of Saguaro National Park and full of very large, very old saguaros. It runs in a loop off the paved road from the Rincon Visitor Center, and some of it is open to mountain bikes. Side loops allow for hikes of varying lengths, from two miles to eight. We hiked a portion of it just ahead of a spectacular lightning storm and were glad for the early exit option.
— King Canyon Trail: This trail in the western portion of Saguaro National Park is a good diversion for hikers who want a break from the crowds at the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s an alternative to the Sendero Esperanzo Trail, which leads up the same ridge but is a steeper climb. Get a map at the national park's Red Hills Visitor Center — it's a drive of two miles on Kinney Road to the trailhead. The trail climbs for about two miles through a saguaro forest to a saddle on the main ridge of the Tucson Mountains with sweeping views to the south and west. For those who want to summit Wasson Peak, it’s another mile, but much more strenuous than the first two.