Southern Arizona, as a destination, evokes specific images, especially for those who haven’t yet spent time here and tend to gravitate toward the usual iconography bandied about in mass media. A lone saguaro in shadow against a blazing orange and purple sunset. A mariachi band strumming out a romantic song. A sprawling mountain range with a tumbleweed passing by.
But once you set foot somewhere like Gates Pass or Sabino Canyon – being immersed in that colorful, yet rugged beauty while experiencing the warmth of the sun – it can be a life-changing experience. It’s often a sensory overload in the best possible way. The scents of Sonoran Desert plant life, particularly the creosote after it rains, is something you never forget. The calls of the many native bird species – chittering and warbling to greet the sunrise – or the boom from a rapidly approaching monsoon thunderstorm, these sounds stay with you forever.
Explore the Outdoors in Tucson
These phenomena take place across a truly large variety of potential outdoor excursions one can have in and around Tucson, given the rich depth of available locations for whatever activity you’re into. Cyclists and mountain bikers of all skill levels have an endless array of options, from the steep wooded slopes of Mt. Lemmon to the wonderfully engineered Loop that encircles Tucson’s urban perimeter.
Hikers and fitness walkers can exercise on paths of multiple lengths and degrees of difficulty at Saguaro National Park East. Or they can also take on the short-but-challenging aerobic test of tolerance on Tumamoc Hill, which affords a stunning view of Tucson’s skyline from the top and is a favorite of locals.
Tucson is surrounded by mountains that make up one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet. This makes it a tremendous draw for fitness enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers and wildlife aficionados alike. It isn’t so much what there is to do, but rather what will you choose to do on a specific trek.
Guest Ranches of Tucson
Of course, one of the best ways you can immerse yourself in Tucson’s natural splendor is to anchor your stay at a unique guest ranch. For more than 50 years, the True family has owned and operated White Stallion Ranch. It has ranked number 1 out of 129 on TripAdvisor’s list of Tucson-area hotels for the last six years. Attention to personalized service is at the top of their list, and they pride themselves on having the right horse for every guest – from someone who has never seen a horse in person, to the most experienced rider. White Stallion not only offers horseback riding, it also offers a full spate of modern-day resort amenities, not the least of which are pillow-top beds and an indoor redwood hot tub – the perfect way to unwind from a long day in the saddle.
Stargazing in Tucson
Perhaps you’re interested in an outdoor-focused stay, but you have no interest in reliving the Old West. You might be more of a scientifically oriented person with an interest in astronomy, with your gaze pointed straight toward the heavens. Tucson – and its University of Arizona (UA) – is an internationally recognized hotbed of scientific inquiry, with a world-leading program in optical sciences and a record of participation in a list of notable NASA missions deeper than the Grand Canyon. Tucson is also home to the International Dark Sky Association, whose mission is to get communities worldwide to actively address light pollution to maximize visibility of the stars above.
For your own Southern Arizona star trek, the options here are stellar. Kitt Peak National Observatory makes for a compelling day trip with the world’s greatest concentration of telescopes and a year-round visitors center with guided tours available.
If you want a taste of the intergalactic but wish to remain close to the city, the UA’s acclaimed Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium will knock your socks off with its full-dome digital projection system and cutting-edge interactive science exhibits.
For another terrific blend of nature and science, the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter makes for a wonderful daylong adventure, with multiple telescopes situated right in the forest in a gorgeously elevated setting. They offer an all-inclusive five-hour program, which includes a light dinner, time set aside to take in the sunset above 9,000 feet and a rare look at the deep cosmos through Schulman and Philips telescopes, revealing treasures like Saturn’s rings, spiral galaxies and distant nebulae.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Of course, this outdoor odyssey wouldn’t be complete without addressing a popular Southern Arizona attraction, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Regardless of what your interests may be, every visitor comes away having seen something astounding here. Much more than a fusion of botanical garden, wildlife park and interactive exhibits, this internationally celebrated living museum will not only enlighten and entertain but consistently surprise, delight and possibly alter what your expectations from an experience like this should be. You can touch a stingray in the aquarium, explore a replica limestone cave, experience a hummingbird aviary and so much more. Plan an all-day excursion to this incredible institution early on in your stay here, as any additional time spent in this corner of the world will only be enriched by your newfound knowledge of the Southwest and its inhabitants.
Again, this only scratches the surface in terms of outdoorsy escapades to be had in Tucson, but with such a variety of potential to-dos for everyone, you’re sure to come away with a newfound appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the region.
Brought to you by VisitTucson.org