a lengthy but gradual day hike to Tucson’s Tanque Verde Peak
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated
PERMITS: required for backpacking, permits are managed through recreation.gov
FEES: Entrance to Saguaro National Park is $20 per vehicle, and backcountry permits are $8 per night.
DESIGNATION: Saguaro National Park
BEST SEASONS: spring and fall
DISTANCE: 18 miles round trip to Tanque Verde Peak, or 14 miles round trip to Juniper Basin Camp
ELEVATION: trailhead 3,130ft – Juniper Basin 6,000ft – peak 7,049ft
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: the Tanque Verde Ridge Trailhead is located about 30 minutes east of downtown Tucson. There are several ways to get there, generally beginning on the I-10 or route 210 and culminating on E Old Spanish Trail.
ROUTE: well maintained trail , signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Hiking Arizona’s Cactus Country
The Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is the primary access from the west to the Rincon Mountains. The Rincons corner the southeast side of the city of Tucson, and are protected within the boundaries of the east district of Saguaro National Park.
Its highest elevations fall in the range of 8,500ft. Mica Mountain is its highest point at 8,664ft, and Rincon Peak is second-highest at 8,482ft. Tanque Verde is the range’s westernmost peak, at 7,049ft.
Rincon means “corner” in Spanish, attributed as a reference to the geologic layout of the range.
Hiking here is best in spring and fall. Summer is extremely hot and dry, even at the higher elevations. Winter can see significant snowstorms and low temperatures, but can be exceedingly pleasant in dry weather conditions.
Trail Description & Map
Here’s a trail map of the entire east district of Saguaro National Park. You can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
As you can see, the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is a most logical way to access the peak, in addition to the Douglas Spring Trail.
Ascending Tanque Verde Peak via Douglas Spring is a one-way distance of about 10 miles, whereas ascending via the Ridge Trail is a one-way distance of 9 miles. The ridge trail is a gradual ascent with more consistent views.
This hike from the west showcases a wonderful profile of the flora found in this part of Arizona. Lower elevations are thick with saguaro, ocotillo, and wildflowers in the spring! Higher elevations begin trending toward oak, pine, and juniper.
The steepest sections of the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail are its first and last miles, whereas the middle sections tend to be more gradual. Great views are seen primarily to the south, and in the west toward Tucson.
The peak itself involves a short and simple rock scramble, capping off a rewarding day with 360-degree views. There was a register book on the summit when I visited in March of 2019.
Juniper Basin Camp
Juniper Basin is a primitive camping area found along the trail, designated by the National Park Service. Facilities included level spaces for camping, a pit toilet, iron grills, and a bear box (yes there are black bears in these mountains!).
A backcountry permit is required to camp here, managed by Saguaro National Park. Camping is otherwise prohibited.
Juniper Basin lies at an elevation of of 6,000ft, and is 7 miles from the trailhead.
Water is seasonal and unreliable, though with luck in the spring you may find a delightful flowing steam.
My Trip Review and Photos
I day hiked to Tanque Verde Peak and back in late March of 2019, with my friend William.
We were staying for two nights in the campground at Colossal Cave. Day hiking this peak before sunset proved to be an unexpected challenge, since the gate to the campground was locked overnight until 8am, forcing a late start.
The Rincon Mountains were my most-explored region on this trip to southern Arizona. Haley and William and I backpacked the Arizona Trail through the range, following the Quilter Trail, Manning Camp Trail, and Italian Spring Trail through deep snow. William and I returned a couple of weeks later for this day hike, as well as a hike up Rincon Peak from the east via the Miller Creek Trail.
The wildflowers were in full bloom at lower elevations. I was in a black-and-white phase with my photography at the time, and unfortunately lost my color picture files of the trip.