Cool Escapes

Discover Daytrips to Higher Elevations and Even Waterfalls

By Heather Wuelpern

Whether you are visiting Tucson for the first time or have lived here for decades, elevating your Tucson experience by venturing out to nearby areas not only can help beat the heat, but you will see some of Mother Nature’s most superb work. Go ahead and treat yourself to a change of scenery. You may find that you have an entirely new perspective when you journey to higher elevations, explore underground, or discover a place to dip your toes in the water.

Get your camera ready! Adventure awaits.

CHIRICAHUA NATIONAL MONUMENT

Chiricahua landscape

Head east on Interstate 10 through scenic Texas Canyon and take a side trip to the Amerind Museum or the infamous roadside attraction “The Thing” on your way to or from Chiricahua National Monument.

The area encompasses 12,025 acres filled with 17 miles of hiking trails developed to protect the “Wonderland of Rocks” created from the eruption of an ancient volcano. As you drive the nicely paved road past the pines and live oaks, and spot the otherworldly hoodoo rock formations the first time, the chances of someone in the car not belting out Paul Simon’s lyrics, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” are slim to none.

Get up-close to the magnificent hoodoos and catch glimpses of acorn woodpeckers or Mexican jays when you hike easy trails, like Bonita Springs or moderate ones, such as Echo Canyon Loop Trail. Even if it’s too hot to hike or if mobility issues are a factor, you will still have photo ops galore without leaving your car.

Mt. Lemmon

A woman sits on rocks at Mt. Lemmon.

 

How does being about 20 degrees cooler sound? On a hot day, you’ll love to feel the outside temperature go down as you drive up Mt. Lemmon on Catalina Highway. Typically, being in nature and unplugging go hand in hand, but The University of Arizona Mt. Lemmon Science app is an exception to the rule. Not only will you hear the local band Calexico play in the background, but you will also learn about the history and geology of Mt. Lemmon as you drive to the top. Once there, take the ski lift for a bird’s-eye view, devour a cookie as big as your head at the Cookie Cabin, and venture out on a hike starting from Marshall Gulch or other nearby trailheads. Pitch a tent or rent a cabin for the night to enjoy stargazing in the cool mountain air.

Did You Know?
You can go mushroom foraging with the Desert Alchemist to learn how to spot the differences between edible, psychedelic, and medicinal mushrooms. His tours are typically offered three days a week from mid-July through mid-October.

Bisbee

The town of Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee exudes coolness—both figuratively and literally. This funky hilltop getaway packs history, charm, art, and ghosts within its mountain-flanked roads. After devouring a delectable meal at Café Roka, Poco Restaurant + Market, or Screaming Banshee Pizza, climb up as many of the nine staircases that make up the annual Bisbee 1000 competition that your legs can handle. There’s no better way to sneak a peek at hidden tile mosaics, murals, or gardens than when making the climb.

Just out of town, check out the vintage trailers corralled at The Shady Dell—each one showcases authentic memorabilia from the year it was built. Continue to step back in time on Erie Street in nearby Lowell and snap pictures of classic cars and retro storefronts.

Did you Know?
Ghost tours are excellent excursions to learn about the history of Bisbee. A good night’s sleep might be harder to achieve after you hear about what once happened where you booked your room for the night though.

Mt. GRAHAM

Mt. Graham Arizona

Mt. Graham reaches the highest elevation of these getaways. Being a bit more than a daytrip from Tucson, camping might be the best bet. Riggs Flat campground can be reached by way of the Swift Trail Scenic Drive without the need for a 4x4 vehicle. You will feel that you are on top of the world with the majestic views.

Did You Know?
To expand your horizons even more, head to the Mount Graham International Observatory for an out-of-this-world experience. Eastern Arizona College’s Discovery Park Campus leads tours with accessibility to the telescopes in the observatory.

Oasis in the Desert

Visitors gather along the rocks in Sabino Canyon

Waterfalls are a welcome surprise at the end of several hikes in and around Tucson, such as Hutch’s Pool or Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon, Romero Pools in Catalina State Park, Bridal Wreath Falls off far east Speedway Boulevard, or Tanque Verde Falls off Redington Road. Of course, the water levels can vary depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Always be extra cautious of your footing since rocks can become slippery when wet. And be aware that monsoons are unpredictable and potentially deadly. Know the forecast and make sure the terrain suits your abilities.

Patagonia Lake

The tip of a red kayak on Patagonia Lake

 

Patagonia Lake offers an escape to water and everything that comes with it, such as fishing, boating, camping, and a beach. Get there by way of Sonoita, and stop at any of the wineries in the area, visit La Cienega Nature Preserve, and get a green chile burrito or a coffee milkshake at the Corner Scoop next to the post office in town. Head back to Tucson via Nogales to see more sights, such as Tumacacori and Tubac.

Did you Know
The town of Patagonia holds a quaint Fourth of July parade each year. Dine at Velvet Elvis Pizza Company and order such gourmet pizzas as The Exorcist, Southwest Diva, and Tuco’s Revenge.

72 Degrees, Please!

Kartchner Caves in Arizona

Southeast of Tucson lies two underground destinations — Colossal Cave and Kartchner Caverns. Book tours in advance to save your spot to learn about stalagmites, stalactites, and other impressive formations carved out from the earth millions of years ago. Know that even though the temperature at Kartchner Caverns can be 30 degrees cooler than temperatures aboveground on a hot summer day, the humidity level can reach heights that sometimes can make breathing uncomfortable. Both caves are wheelchair accessible as well.

Did you Know?
There’s an easy way to remember which is which. Stalagmites with an M before the “ite” grow from the cave floor like an M. Stalactites, with a T before the “ite” hang from the ceiling like a T.

Harrison Ford Will Not Save You

Hikers must understand the importance of ample water, sun protection, and proper footwear. In addition, the monsoon season poses an additional threat of potential flash floods. Be aware of the forecast, always tell someone where you are going, and have a map in case cell service isn’t available.

Heather thinks of life as a journey full of adventures and tries to inspire others to get out and explore. She gives guided hikes to an off-the-beaten-path crested saguaro for her side hustle with Airbnb Experiences.

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