The eclectic Southwestern city of Tucson, Arizona is surrounded by 4 beautiful mountain ranges: the Rincons, the Santa Catalinas, the Santa Ritas, and the Tucson mountains. The city is well known for its’ many outdoor opportunities and parks, most notably Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park, and Catalina State Park. Tourists come from all over the world to hike amongst the towering Saguaro cacti, native only to the Sonoran Desert, which comprises much of Southern Arizona. Compared to Phoenix, Tucson is clearly the winner in terms of unparalleled desert hiking.
While these parks mentioned above are fantastic, admission is also pricey and they can get very congested during the winter months. Fortunately, there are 100’s of miles of trails surrounding the cities, including some hidden gems which cost absolutely nothing, yet still offer the same tremendous vistas of the Sonoran Desert.
One great alternative to hiking at the big congested parks is a quiet 2 trail known as the Hidden Canyon Bowen trail. And hidden it is, as this beauty is located at the isolated JW Marriott Resort at Starr Pass. As this property is located a bit off-the-beaten path, the trail remains pretty isolated compared to others in the region. Even if you are not staying at the resort, the drive is well worth it for the peaceful setting, gorgeous mountain views, and wildlife watching opportunities (bobcats and deer frequent the area).
The trail is just 2 miles round-trip with little elevation gain, so suitable for most hikers. The never ending views of the scenic Tucson mountain range place this hike near the top of the most picturesque in Southern Arizona. It’s one of the few trails in Tucson where you will find yourself alone for the majority of the trail. You can really take your time here, enjoying the solitude and scenery while exploring the various varieties of cacti that line the trail. It’s one of the best places to see wildlife due to the secluded nature of the area, and I’ve seen several bobcats during my visits.
The Hidden Canyon Bowen trail is one of the best bang-for-your-buck trails considering the stunning mountain views and diversity variety of cacti you get to enjoy free of charge, and without a super intense trek required. This is also one of the better year-round trails – one of the few where you can still hike in the early morning hours of the horrendous summer season (just be sure to get out here early!). In terms of scenery, solitude, wildlife watching, & ease of the trail, you really will not find much better in Tucson.
Location: Starts at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort – 3800 W Starr Pass Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85745 (free parking on the street)
Distance: 2 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy-moderate depending on your fitness level and time of year (summer will obviously be harder due to the heat and increased risk of dehydration)
Tips for a great hike
If possible, avoid during the summer season. If you must, set out early in the day (no later than 7am or so).
Bring with plenty of water. I always use a camelbak when hiking in the desert. Salty snacks are also a must to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Keep your distance from wildlife. Bobcats are frequently seen roaming around, and although they rarely attack, it is better to be safe and simply observe from a distance.
Use a hiking stick and wear hiking shoes for better traction.
Do not forget the sunglasses. The sun is intense all the time and it’s also extremely bright. With the glare, it will be very hard to see without sunglasses.
Be aware of rattlesnakes and other poisonous creatures that live in the desert. Rattlesnakes are very active in the spring months. Just leave them alone – hikers who fool around are most likely to get bitten as recent reports have indicated!
Never get too close to a cactus. Not only does the sting hurt incredibly bad, but it’s also a pain the butt to pick the dozens of little pricks out of your skin. Take your pics from afar!