Hiking with Kids in Tucson: Five Great Trails

By Kindle Rising, East Tucson Macaroni Kid Publisher January 4, 2018

When it comes to hiking in Tucson and Southern Arizona, there really is something for everyone, even families with very young children! There are short loop trails for little legs (and parents wearing heavy carriers), paved routes for strollers, and lots of scenic, clearly marked, fun paths to get the whole family motivated to get outdoors. 

A few tips before you head out: Although the weather is perfect right now for hiking, remember, regardless of the season or the length of time you plan to be out, slather those kiddos with sunscreen, pop on hats, and take plenty of water on your hike. My daughters have children’s sized hydration backpacks that they love and that free up their hands…and mine…from carrying cumbersome water bottles.  You may want to bring a snack, too. I find my children get hungry even on the shortest hikes! Also, on nearly any southern Arizona trail you’ll want to be on the lookout for prickly cacti and snakes that may be out warming up in the sun, especially with the current weather we’ve been having. Be alert, and be sure to remind your littles that wild animals are wild, and not to get too close!

Cienega Creek-Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead (Vail): This is a beautiful, riparian area with shady cottonwood and willow trees and a very child-friendly, easy trail. The trailhead and parking lot are off of Marsh Station Road in Vail. The trail is easy to spot from the parking lot, and just a quick walk down into the canyon. Babies in carriers, toddlers, preschoolers and big kids will all enjoy hiking under the shade of the trees, exploring the perennial creek, and watching for wildlife. There aren’t any bathrooms or garbage cans, but there is a small ramada and picnic table at the trailhead. There is no admission fee, but a permit is required to hike in this Natural Preserve, so you have to plan ahead a little bit. You can apply for a permit on-line and have it e-mailed to you. 

Linda Vista Trail (Oro Valley).  This loop is around 2 miles long and offers beautiful desert views. It is not too difficult, but it is rocky and narrow in parts, and the first half is a bit of a climb. Because of this, it’s probably best for babies in carriers and older children who can manage the rock steps and easily avoid prickly things along the sides of the trail. If you go in the morning, you will have the shade of Pusch Ridge, and you may see some wildlife! You can access the trailhead by turning east onto Linda Vista Drive from Oracle Road. There is a small parking lot and the trail is well marked. There is no fee.

Madera Canyon Nature Trail (South of Tucson on I-19)  Madera Canyon is at a higher elevation than Tucson, so it can be a nice escape from the heat during warmer months. The nature trail is a lovely, well-maintained, easy trail with interpretive signs along the way. There is beautiful scenery all along the trail, including bird watching and chances to view other wildlife, too. It is a good place to hike with babies in carriers and little walkers, easy enough for toddlers and interesting for older children as well. The trail is about 2 miles long, but is not a loop, so plan your round-trip accordingly. There are several entrance points along the trail, and picnic areas and restrooms at various points. There is a $5 entrance fee to the canyon.

Mica View Trail/Broadway Trailhead (East side): This 2-mile loop can be accessed from the very east end of Broadway Blvd. It’s a wide, level (but not paved) trail with great desert scenery, nice views of the Catalina Mountains, and a picnic area and restroom about half-way around the loop at the Mica View Trailhead. This trail is great for a fall or winter hike with babies in carriers, young walkers, and older kids. There is no fee to enter from the Broadway trailhead, but parking there is somewhat limited. If you enter the trail from the Mica View Trailhead/picnic area within Saguaro National Park East, there is fee of $20/vehicle, good for 7 days.

Sabino Canyon (Northeast Side) The great thing about Sabino Canyon is there is truly something for everyone. There are miles of hiking trails branching off of the two main trails: Bear Canyon and Sabino Canyon. You can take a stroller on the paved road up the canyon, combine hiking and riding the tram to give little legs (and big ones!) a rest, or do full hike on one of the many trails, which range from easy (like the straighforward jaunt to the Sabino Canyon Dam) to more challenging (such as the 8 mile round trip hike to 7 Falls). If you are unsure about choosing a trail or chartering your own path, the Sabino Canyon Naturalists host occasional family hikes and are available with information about the canyon on Saturday mornings. Sabino Canyon is located at the east end of Sunrise Drive and the north end of Sabino Canyon Road. The day use fee is $5, and there is an additional fee if you choose to take the tram. There is ample parking, and the Visitor's Center has restrooms, water fountains, vending machines, and lots of information about the canyon’s geology and wildlife.

Have you hiked these areas with kids? What was your experience? Do you have other favorite places to hike with children in Tucson? Please share on the East Tucson Macaroni Kid facebook page! 

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