A bit of spring color in the Sonoran Desert on Mt. Lemmon.
#3 Tucson as a Winter Fitness Destination (February 2014, update in 2015)

Pro's & Con's
Tucson is a popular nesting site for snowbirds and most years its weather makes it a worthy winter fitness destination. It is vulnerable to some freezing nights in the winter though the unusually warm winter of 2014 dished out some days in the 80's for us in late February/early March.

Unlike Palm Springs where one can situate themselves in a motel/hotel or RV park and be walking distance to the trailhead for a respectable trail, we had to drive to all the trailheads in Tucson. There may be a lodge or resort tucked away somewhere close to a trailhead that we didn't see, but basically a hiking/biking trip to Tucson will require preplanning and a car. At Palm Springs one could fly into the urban airport, base at lodging near the Art Museum, and be on the Museum Trail the next morning for as demanding of a hike as you could want. The old town area of Palm Springs offers a very unusual opportunity for a long weekend hiking get-away with little overhead. In contrast, a short hiking-focused trip to Tucson would require being much more deliberate. The payoff in Tucson is that the hikes have far more eye-appeal than those around Palm Springs.

Tucson's trails are more scenic than those in Palm Springs largely because of the richly varied vegetation that is typical of the Sonoran Desert. That nearly foot of rain Tucson receives per year gives the flora a big edge over that of Palm Springs that must make-do with 4.5" of rain on an average year. Farther north and higher than Palm Springs, Tucson does run a little cooler in the winter.

Tucson's moderate distance hikes are generally tougher than those in Palm Springs and trailhead parking can also be a challenge. Given that parking can be at a premium in Tucson, it is smart to go early--like by 9 am or so. If nothing is available, consider waiting in the lot for a few minutes. Many trails are popular with the locals for their daily run or walk and so sometimes there is fairly rapid turnover of the parking slots. Often there is no nearby legal roadside parking so it pays to be patient.

Driving in Tucson is always a little shocky for us. We're still blown away by surface streets that can be 10-12 lanes wide in some areas. At one cross street, there were 6 lanes going our way with only 1 lane being a "straight only." Yes, sometimes there will be 3 turn lanes for a left or right turn at an intersection. However, we found the Tucson drivers to generally be very courteous--much more so than in Palm Springs.

Where To Locate for Hiking
There are many great hiking trails close to Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains though none are 'out your front door' like they can be in Palm Springs. In 2014 we set-up house at the RV park closest to Mt Lemmon, the Far Horizons RV Park off of east Speedway Blvd at Pantano Blvd. In 2011, we parked our rented RV 5 miles farther south in Rincon, and in 2012 we were in Catalina State Park to the north. These places were about as close as we could get to the trailheads.

Catalina State Park is in the countryside, definitely has a pleasant, spacious campground setting, and has ready access to a few trails but even there we drove to get to the best trails. Our very urban RV park in 2014 gave us reasonable access to the most trails but we were usually driving 20-40 minutes to reach a trail head--not bad but not as easy as walking out our door like we did in Palm Springs.

Arctic cold air masses dipping deep into the SW in February 2015 had us dashing south from the Grand Canyon to Tucson to escape the cold so we could keep hiking. Yuma and Phoenix would have been warmer and dryer but lacked the assortment of trails we knew were available in Tucson.

In 2015 we stayed at Catalina State Park for the maximum 14 days but were in a different site almost every night because it is a very popular campground. In the process, we learned about the dark side of Catalina. To optimize your experience, try for the more expensive sites, which are in Loop B, which is where we were in 2012. All sites in Loop B have water and electric ($30 in 2015), which means no one should need to run their generator, though they are allowed from 8am to 8pm. Loop A is cheaper and a mix of sites with partial and no hook-ups, so generator noise is more likely there. Ringtail Overflow is the cheapest at $15 but no sites have hook-ups so generator noise is guaranteed. Regardless of where you are sited, bath in the Loop B bathhouse (or perhaps the Group Site facilities) for a hot shower and a pleasant experience. Loop A's shower house has almost hot water, which requires pushing a button every 30 seconds or so, and the decibel output of the fans were reminiscent of an engine room--a very disagreeable combination. We were both chilled and cranky by the time we finished showering.

Pima Saddle.
We sampled a couple of trails on Mt Lemmon though didn't feel it was necessary to drive that far to find a good outing. We thought that the closer by and narrow Ventana Canyon made for a particularly pretty hike though the trail was tough. Its Window Rock trail makes a worthy destination for a long day hike, as in almost 15 miles and 4,200' of gain. Take a lot of water if it is a warm day because the lower reaches of the canyon seem to amplify the heat of the day though it will likely be chilly at the top. And of course, you can turn around at any point on this 'out & back' hike. Pima Canyon to Pima Saddle would be a good conditioning hike for Window Rock because it is a little shorter with a little less gain but still has challenging terrain.

Sabino Canyon National Monument is free if you bring your National Park pass or the equivalent and we hiked several trails there. Uninterested in paying $8/person for the tram to get us deeper into the park, we started our hikes from the visitor's center parking lot. The Powerline Trail to tram stop #9 and the 7 Falls Trail were pleasing. Our finale 18.5 mile loop was up Bear Canyon, left on East Fork, and left to return to the parking lot by going down Sabino Canyon. And the portion of Saguaro National Park that is on the east side of Tucson offers flat loops of various lengths as well as long, 'heading for the hills' trails.

Bill used online sources and a local map for planning hikes though books for Tucson hikes are available.

We didn't pry our bikes out of their storage space inside our truck while in Tucson but our RV park neighbors raved about the routes and we were impressed with what we saw. The less seasoned, very cautious, low mileage riders in our RV park found it easy to feel safe on the official routes in Tucson. "Bike Friendly" and "Share the Road" signs were posted on the roads. There is an ample supply of out-of-traffic, multi-use paths and striped lanes on the shoulder. Generally flat, Tucson is an inviting city for the recreational rider. And at over 9000', Mt Lemmon is a popular ride for the hard-body crowd with bike lanes striped on the lower portions of the narrow, winding road. Ask for the free "Tucson Metro Bike Map" at bike shops or look online at The hard copy is a full-sized map with all the details a cyclist is looking for in a biking map.

..Arizona is on Mountain Time and is ALWAYS on standard time. "Daylight Saving what???"
..Do tote more water than you think you need on your bike or on a hike: the humidity runs in the teens even in the winter and dehydration is always just around the corner.
..The answer is "Yes" for Trader Joe's shoppers; there are several in Tucson (as well as in Phoenix).