The many desert and mountain trails in the Tucson valley offers hikers an array of choices, challenges and sights.

It can be your penance for a Thanksgiving pig-out.

It can be a clever way to get holiday visitors out of the house for a few hours.

It can be a wondrous on-foot entree into the beauty of this place where we live.

There’s so much to like about taking a hike. And Thanksgiving weekend — with summer snuffed out and winter still in the wings — can be a perfect time to hike in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson.

Dozens of routes beckon. Today, to get you started, we’ll tell you about three trails to try. One is on the northwest side and quite easy — great for kids and inexperienced hikers. Another is on the southwest side and moderate. The third is in Saguaro National Park East and poses a challenging trek for those who tackle its entire distance.

Slather on the sunscreen. Grab your gear. Go.


Tale of the trail

The first thing to know is that the trail lives up to its name — which means “beautiful view” or “lovely vista” in Spanish.

Next thing: The trail, on the western edge of the Catalina Mountains, is an easygoing kind of route with only a bit of uphill here and there. It’s a good place for a family hike and people just getting the hang of hiking.

The Linda Vista Trail lends itself to short out-and-back jaunts on a main segment that’s a little more than a half-mile in length. Linking that segment with others — which range from about a third of a mile to 1.5 miles in length — allows hikers to concoct custom-designed loop routes with the help of a map posted at the trailhead.

Sights to see

Lush Sonoran Desert vegetation — everything from huge patches of prickly pear to tall saguaros stabbing at the sky — would be enough scenic bounty in its own right to recommend the trail.

Add the fact that it’s set against the backdrop of rugged Pusch Ridge and you’ve got a “don’t forget the camera” destination.

Try a trek in the hour or two before sunset to get the best of low-angled light painting the ridge in hues of gold.

Get to the trailhead

Take North Oracle Road to Linda Vista Boulevard in Oro Valley. Turn east on Linda Vista and drive 0.2 of a mile to a trailhead and parking area on the right.


Tale of the trail

The 5.4-mile route connects two trailheads in the rocky, cactus-studded Tucson Mountains west of the city.

Some hikers trek out and back from one of the trailheads. Others arrange a vehicle shuttle between trailheads to accommodate a one-way hike.

It’s a generally moderate ramble through a comely expanse of Tucson Mountain Park, but you’ll encounter some ups and downs along the way.

The route is named for David Yetman, an author, social scientist, environmentalist and former Pima County supervisor.

Sights to see

Cactus forests along some segments of the trail rival those in nearby Saguaro National Park West. Dense stands of saguaros on hillsides above the trail include plenty of shapely, gargantuan specimens.

The craggy ridges of the Tucson Mountains manage to make that little range, so near the city, seem somehow imposing, faintly remote, a bit mysterious.

Elsewhere — a little over a mile into the hike from the eastern trailhead — hikers pass a site known as the Stone House.

What was once a large home, with two fireplaces and big picture windows, is now a roofless ruin.

Author Betty Leavengood, in a book called the “Tucson Hiking Guide,” writes that the house was built in the 1930s by a onetime editor at the Arizona Daily Star.

Get to the trailhead

For the eastern trailhead, take West Speedway past the Speedway-Anklam Road intersection to Camino de Oeste. Turn left (south) on Camino de Oeste and drive 0.6 of a mile to a parking area at the trailhead.

For the western trailhead, go west on Speedway, which becomes Gates Pass Road. Cross the pass and drive nearly to the bottom of the mountain, where you’ll find a parking lot and trailhead on the left.


Tale of the trail

Tracing a long, grandly scenic ridge at Saguaro National Park East, the trail can be a bit of a fitness test for those who hike it to its farthest reaches.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to bite off the whole thing.

Hike just the first two or three miles from the trailhead before turning around and you’ll get a good dose of desert splendor and big views across the Tucson valley.

On the other hand, if you chug up the ridge for 6.9 sometimes steep miles to Juniper Basin, you’re looking at a 13.8-mile round-trip hike.

Too easy?

Follow the trail for 9 miles to 7,049-foot Tanque Verde Peak and you have signed on for an 18-mile round-trip march with an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet.

Many of us who have done this as a day hike aren’t inclined to repeat it often.

Sights to see

Saguaro Park’s signature superstar cacti dominate the landscape in lower reaches of the trail — with rock formations and other desert plants in a supporting role.

Farther up the way, with an increase in elevation, the trail passes through zones of oaks, piñon pines and junipers at Juniper Basin.

If you have enough energy to look around when you make it to the top of Tanque Verde Peak, the views will be almost worth it.

Get to the trailhead

Take East 22nd Street to Old Spanish Trail and continue southeast to the Saguaro Park entrance at 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail. Fees are $15 per vehicle.

Just past the entrance station, turn right on a road leading to the Javelina Picnic Area. It’s 1.2 miles to the picnic-area turnoff. Follow a short road to the picnic area, where the trail begins.

Pets aren’t allowed on the trail.

Sabino Canyon Trails

Here’s one way to work off some Thanksgiving feast calories while sharing a flash of desert color with your holiday visitors: Go for a hike on one of several trails near the creek in Sabino Canyon.

Trees there often show autumn hues of yellow and gold, and the leaves usually remain colorful into December.

“Velvet ashes light up Sabino Canyon in the fall when their leaves turn brilliant gold,” says David Lazaroff, author of “Sabino Canyon: The Life of a Southwestern Oasis” and other books.

Cottonwood and sycamore trees and some shrubby plants add their hues along the creek. The colorful deciduous trees stand out in contrast to the saguaro cacti, mesquite trees and other desert vegetation on slopes above the watercourse.


Here are some routes to the color:

The canyon road — Walking or taking a shuttle up the paved canyon road offers an easygoing look at the scenery. After passing through desert terrain in its first mile, the road parallels the creek for much of the rest of its length.

Bluff Trail — This very short, very scenic 0.2-mile trail winds along bluffs above Sabino Creek. It begins along the canyon road about three-quarters of a mile northeast of the canyon visitor center and connects with the Sabino Lake Trail and the Creek Trail.

Phoneline Trail — A somewhat challenging 4.2-mile trail, the Phoneline climbs high above the creek and provides an overview of stream-side vegetation. Reach it from the visitor center via the Bear Canyon Trail. Check in the center for maps and other information.

Madera Canyon Soothing sights and sounds greet visitors in mile-high Madera Canyon 40 miles south of Tucson.

Because of its altitude, the canyon is cooler than Tucson but can still be quite pleasant in November.

Bird-watchers spot an array of winged wildlife.


The 0.8-mile Accessible Trail begins at the Proctor parking area near the entrance to the canyon and offers excellent access for people with physical limitations.

The 1.8-mile Nature Trail, which begins at a parking area at the upper end of the main canyon road, offers an introduction to the area’s sights.

If you go

From Tucson, drive south on Interstate 19 to Green Valley and get off at the Continental Road exit. Continue southeast 13 miles to the canyon. Signs show the way.

Expect to pay a $5 per vehicle day-use fee.