Rugged canyons cut through peaks studded with juniper and ponderosa pine trees in the Coronado National Forest. Divided between multiple districts in southwestern Arizona, this unique forest offers diverse landscapes and activities — hike through bustling canyons close to nearby Tucson, or head to remote stretches of desert close to the Mexico border. With opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, and boating, the forest offers an activity for every day of the year.
The Butterfly Trail is one of the most popular routes in the Coronado National Forest. It travels through the Mt. Lemmon region, offering spectacular views along the way. More fascinating are the diverse plants and animals that you'll see along the trail; the Forest Service recommends bringing a local guidebook to help identify the trees, flowers, and birds. True to its name, this trail is often frequented by colorful butterflies that flock to the beautiful wildflowers on either side of the path. Come any time; there's plenty of shade.
Length: 5.7 miles
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
Conquer the 9,543-foot Mt. Wrightson on the Old Baldy Trail. Short but challenging, this trail climbs quickly to the saddle of the tallest peak in the Santa Rita Mountains. It runs through the forest, offering plenty of shade and occasional views. When you reach the Josephine Saddle, hop on the Crest Trail for one mile to get to the summit. The hike is challenging but worthwhile; the views from the top are fantastic. Keep in mind that Old Baldy Trail intersects with the longer and gentler Super Trail, giving you plenty of opportunities to create your own route.
Length: 4.5 miles
Known for its exceptionally diverse plant and animal life, the Sycamore Canyon Trail is a beautiful hike. It's unexpectedly lush for southern Arizona — that's because a perennial stream flows through the canyon. At the start of the trail, look for the ruins of the homestead that stood during the Civil War years. This route is unique in that it ends at the United States-Mexico border. If you'd like a longer hike, you can walk along the trail that parallels the barbed-wire border fence.
Length: 5.3 miles
The Sabino Canyon Trail is a short trail that takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Coronado National Forest. Hike through the desert and into the canyon, taking plenty of stops to enjoy the view over Tucson and the mountains. If you want a longer hike, you can create a loop using the Sycamore Reservoir and East Fork trails.
Length: 2.5 miles
If you like to hike with other people, the Bear Canyon Trail is a great option; there are usually other people on the trail. This popularity is due to the Seven Falls, a beautiful collection of waterfalls and deep pools that form after a rainstorm. Keep in mind that personal vehicles aren't allowed to drive to the main part of the trail. Instead, you can park at the Sabino Canyon parking lot and walk the 1.7 miles to the end of the dirt road or hop on the tram that runs through the area. If you're hiking after a thunderstorm, be sure to bring sturdy shoes with traction to help you on the stream crossings.
Length: 6 miles
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
Enjoy fantastic views without the crowds on the Quantrell Mine Trail, a short and challenging route. At the top, you'll be able to see some of the most fascinating local spots, including the Multiple Mirror Telescope on top of Mt. Hopkins. Bring your camera to capture the Santa Cruz Valley, Madera Canyon, and the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. In decades past, the trail was a mountain road that led to many different silver and gold mines. Today, you can see some of the historic equipment. This route is open to bikes until the marked wilderness border.
Length: 1.3 miles
The Romero Trail travels from the trailhead at Catalina State Park into a beautiful canyon and through the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Be prepared for a steep, challenging hike to get to Romero Pass. If it's rained recently, be on the lookout for the lovely Romero Pools; they're tucked into the rocks, offering a welcome change from the dry desert air. When the water is deep enough, you can wade or swim. Avoid the intense afternoon heat by starting this hike as early as possible.
Length: 6.6 miles
The many different districts of the Coronado National Forest offer a wide range of outdoor activities. If you're interested in flora, fauna, or wildlife, head to Sycamore Canyon. With more than 625 different plant species — including many that are endangered or rare — it's a nature lover's dream. You'll also find more than 130 bird species in the region. The aptly named Bear Canyon is a great place to see black bears, and many of the canyons in the forest offer glimpses of nimble bighorn sheep.
The hot Arizona sunshine dries up many of the creeks in the forest, but you'll find fishing and watersports at several Forest Service lakes. Check out Arivaca Lake, Frye Mesa Reservoir Lake, Rose Canyon Lake, and Parker Canyon Lake. For boating, your best bet is Riggs Flat or Pena Blanca Lakes.
Geocaching is possible away from the designated wilderness areas; you'll find the best luck in popular spots such as Sabino Canyon and Madera Canyon.
In the districts located farthest from Tucson, you'll also find exceptional stargazing.
Address: 300 W. Congress St., Tucson, AZ 85701
Fee: Entry fee $0
With its rugged canyons and rocky peaks, the Coronado National Forest is one of the most unique spots in the national forest system. Whether you're coming to enjoy the Arizona sunshine or relax in camp with a view of the mountains, an RV is a great way to travel. Stick to one spot or use your motorhome as a moving home base to explore different sections of this spectacular wilderness area.