Part of the reason I moved to the desert was for the abundance of outdoor recreation and the dry climate. There is no shortage of great hiking in Southern Arizona, however I was surprised to learn that a lot of the hiking trails around Tucson are not dog friendly! Many of Tucson’s best hikes are in Saguaro National Park or Sabino Canyon, where dogs are not allowed.
Luckily, we have found a few favorites that have become part of our regular rotation. And, just for fun, I’ll tell you where you can grab a post-hike bite with your dog … because isn’t that what hiking is all about?!
We are lucky to live so close to the beautiful Catalina State Park, which encompasses the best of the Sonoran desert in a small area. There are many excellent trails here, however several of them lead into protected wilderness areas and do not allow dogs. Please respect the park boundary signs and only take your dogs where they are allowed! The Canyon Loop trail, which is 2.3 miles total, is entirely dog friendly and may even have a stream running if you’re lucky! Entrance to the park is $7, or you can purchase an annual Arizona State Parks pass for $75.
Dog-friendly dining near Catalina State Park: El Charro Cafe, 7725 North Oracle Road – excellent Mexican food and great happy hour menu!
The Tortolita Mountain trail network is located in Marana, about 30-40 minutes from downtown Tucson – but it’s worth the drive! If you’re staying at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, which welcomes dogs, you’re already at the trailhead. This is a great trail system with loads of inter-connected trails that allow you to hike from 0.5 miles to 10 or more miles, depending on which combination of trails you choose.
Two of my favorite trails are the Lower Javelina Trail, which is just over 3 miles round-trip, and the Wild Mustang trail, which takes you up to a saddle with amazing views of the Marana Valley and surrounding mountains. To reach the trailhead, set your GPS for the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. Once you pass the guard house, take the 2nd right into the parking area. (It’s very well marked.) No fees or permits are required, and there are restrooms and a drinking fountain at the trailhead.
The trail network in the Sweetwater Preserve is popular because it’s close to town, has excellent scenery, and its well-marked trails allow you to “choose your own adventure.” These trails can get crowded with mountain bikes and other hikers on the weekends, but they’re perfect on weekdays! Try the Saguaro Vista trail to the Black Rock Loop for a nice, 4-mile hike – but you can’t go wrong no matter which trail you choose. Parking and entry is free, although there are no facilities, including trash bins, so be prepared to drive your trash out with you.
Dog-friendly dining near Sweetwater Preserve: Following the main road back into town will put you near the Tucson Mall where you’ll find lots of options, like Cheesecake Factory and Twigs Bistro.
Mount Lemmon looms over the city of Tucson, and is a high-elevation refuge in the summer. If you’re hoping to experience four seasons – including snow – you can find it at the top of Mount Lemmon! Or head up in the fall to see colorful leaves and flowing streams. A day-use fee is required in the Coronado National Forest, but if you have a national parks pass, displaying that in your car window covers you.
My favorite trail at Mount Lemmon can be found by parking at the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area, a quarter-mile past the town of Summerhaven. Stop at the ranger station along the way to pick up a trail map, and from the Marshall Gulch trailhead, continue in a loop on the Aspen Trail. This is mountain lion country, so remember to keep your dogs close!
Dog-friendly dining near Mount Lemmon: The Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin – 12781 Sabino Canyon Park, Mount Lemmon, AZ – pizza by the slice, sandwiches and cookies!
Madera Canyon is about an hour’s drive south of Tucson, near the town of Green Valley. The area is very popular for bird-watching, but fortunately dogs are also allowed on the trails as well. The Madera Canyon Nature Trail parallels the road through the park, so you can choose to hike any length before turning around and hiking back to your car.
We started at the Whitehouse parking lot (national forest fee applies) and hiked 3 miles up to the Mount Wrightson picnic area and then walked back down along the road. The trail follows a beautiful stream for the first 1.5 miles, then takes you up on a ridge with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. For more challenge, you can hike to the 9,456-foot summit of Mount Wrightson!
Dog-friendly dining near Madera Canyon: The Olives Bistro – 514 White House Canyon Road, Green Valley, AZ – yummy Greek food at great prices!
Where ever you decide to hike with your dog when visiting Tucson, always double check ahead of time that dogs are still allowed as rules may have changed. Please be sure you are aware of the rules and follow them so that these few trails will remain dog-friendly! And if you’re new to hiking in the desert, check out our tips for hiking in the desert with your dog!