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A 4-Day Tucson Itinerary for Outdoorsy People

Tucson's diverse landscapes include stark deserts and mountains that offer relief from the heat, and you'll encounter a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and rich culture when you spend time here. From attractions like the Mini Time Machine Museum and Valley of the Moon, to the Old Pueblo's vibrant culinary scene that makes fueling up between energetic activities a pleasure, whiling away four days is no problem. Here are some of our top ideas to build an outdoor-centric Tucson itinerary.

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01 Exploring Tucson's hidden gems

overview of Tohonto Chul entrance

Travel + Leisure magazine named Tohono Chul in its top ten botanical gardens in the world, so if you enjoy the confluence of art and nature, allocate a few hours of your schedule to this local favorite. Then there's DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, the artist Ettore DeGrazia's passion project. The desert's influence on the architecture of this landmark is evident. A sense of serenity permeates the indoor and outdoor spaces, and you'll leave inspired by the artists' love for the region.

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02 A day at Mount Lemmon

Sabino Canyon

Situated in the Coronado National Forest, always-cool Mt. Lemmon is an adventurer's paradise, with summer hiking and winter skiing on offer, among other pursuits like snowboarding, fishing, birding (can you spot the trogon?), rock climbing, sledding, and cycling. The stunning Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway, AKA the Catalina Highway, will get you there, and the Mt. Lemmon Science Tour app will give you lots of interesting info about his "sky island" along the way. The drive is at least an hour and a half long but can take longer if you make numerous stops to admire the vistas. Grab a ginormous cookie at Summerhaven's Cookie Cabin and check out the town's famous general store.

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03 Discovering Sabino Canyon

overview of Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is ideal for walking and is easily accessible via a tram. You can use the tram to shorten treks like the 8.4-mile Seven Falls hike. The dam here gets full during monsoon season or when snow melts, and the water is always a soothing sight. Carry snacks for a picnic and a bathing suit to take advantage of the spots where visitors can swim or dip their feet. Paved paths accommodate those with special mobility needs, and bikers can take in the terrain during specified hours.

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04 The charm of Catalina State Park

Catalina state park

In the mood to go camping? Catalina State Park is a solid option with 120 campsites. Reserve a place and bring your tent, RV, and whatever you want to barbecue. You can expect handicap-accessible restrooms, hot showers, and an equestrian area. Catalina State Park is an Important Birding Area (IBA), and the trails, ranging from beginner to intermediate, are suitable for cycling and hiking and showcase the native flora and fauna. The park becomes a colorful wildflower wonderland full of poppies, lupine, owl clovers, globemallows, and marigolds in spring.

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05 Sunset at Sentinel Peak Park

overview of tucson park

Sentinel Peak has long been used as a lookout, and "A" Mountain is a popular place for an evening hike or cycle in time to watch the sun go down. Park at the gate before making your way up to take in birds-eye views of Tucson at the top of the hill, and carry your camera if you're into golden hour photography. The paths are dog-friendly on a leash, but watch out for glass from broken bottles. If you're more of a morning person, try to catch the sunrise, and you'll encounter fewer college students and less noise.

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06 Adventure in Tucson Mountain Park

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museu

You're in the American West, so lean into your surroundings with a horseback riding experience. Brown Mountain Loop, David Yetman Trail, and Golden Gate Trail are three routes to consider in Tucson Mountain Park. Distances differ, and you can hike these trails too. While in the area, drop by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which isn't as dry as it sounds. It's a world-renowned zoo, an aquarium, an art gallery, and a natural history museum all rolled up in one, and seasonal events keep visitors coming back. Just 5 minutes away, Old Tucson Studios is a throwback to the 19th century, thanks to a film set constructed in 1939. In 1960, Old Tucson Studios went the way of a theme park, complete with tours, stunt shows, and shootouts, and you can join the fun.

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07 Underground wonders at Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns

The Kartchner Caverns were discovered in 1974. They contain spectacular still-growing mineral deposit formations, or speleothems, which the public has been able to see ever since 1999. Show cave tours last about an hour and a half and enlighten visitors about the formations and ongoing preservation and research efforts. And yes, some of the bat guano has been around since prehistoric times. Photography is prohibited except on certain days. You can hike the broader Kartchner Caverns State Park when you're back above ground and settle into a private cabin at the end of the day.

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08 Biking the Santa Cruz River Park

biking

A sprawling network of multi-use trails meanders through Tucson. Ride or walk the Loop, and you'll see the city's murals and pass by dining, shopping, and entertainment hubs downtown. Santa Cruz River Park is also home to the Garden of Gethsemane dotted with sculptures, and a beloved 18-hole disc golf course. On Thursdays, the Santa Cruz Farmers' Market sells fresh produce and delicious prepared meals to everyone, including those who want to pay with food stamps.

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09 Experiencing the El Tour de Tucson

If you have more than a passing interest in cycling, then the El Tour de Tucson could be what brings you to this corner of the Grand Canyon State. This world-class annual road event has been taking place for decades and has a charitable aspect. Thousands of novices and pros ride one of three routes up to 109 miles to raise funds for various non-profit organizations and to celebrate health milestones.

10 Immersing yourself in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros are symbols of the American West and are part of its natural heritage. They grow slowly but tall, and the Sonoran Desert is awash with them. The Saguaro National Park protects these iconic cacti. Sign up for guided ranger programs to learn about the nearby petroglyphs and the desert environment, or hike and bike at your own pace.

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