8 Fun Things to do in Tucson…BEFORE it’s TOO HOT

Things to do NOW before it’s a zillion degrees outside in Tucson

Two weeks ago, Tucson hit 90 degrees for the first time in 2022.

The 90-degree day came five days earlier than usual, according to National Weather Service Tucson meteorologist Gary Zell. Unfortunately for locals and visitors, the Climate Prediction Center is currently predicting above-average temperatures every month from now until September.

Obviously that does not mean everyday is going to be above normal but they’re talking monthly outlooks.

Presidio Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s currently no indication of when Tucson will welcome (or should I say reject?) its first 100-degree day. But on average, for the years between 1991 and 2020, Tucson sees its first 100-degree day on May 18. Historically though, from 1895 through 2020, that day has been May 25.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for those brutal 105-degree days that nobody wants to think about right now: From 1991 to 2020, Tucson typically saw its first 105-degree day on June 6. Historically, that day has been June 11.

There is some promising news: The Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 50-60 percent of above-normal rainfall from July to September.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But before the arrival of summer and the 100-degree days that accompany it, let’s focus on the cooler days ahead.

Here are eight things to do outside—before it gets too hot. (But most of the places mentioned are open year-round and some even open their doors on summer nights for folks to enjoy the cooler temperatures after sunset.)

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bask in the desert beauty at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum may not be a hidden gem, but it’s a gem no less.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out 1,200 kinds of plants, experience the touch of a stingray, walk through a reptile and amphibian hall, and see all kinds of desert animals—bobcats, a mountain lion, javelinas, prairie dogs, gila monsters, skunks, hummingbirds, and more.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you visit in springtime, you may even spot colorful cactus blooms in the museum’s cactus garden. 

Hiking Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Put on your hiking shoes and head to your nearest trail

What would this list be if we didn’t include hiking?

Hiking trails are all over—short trails leading up to the top of “A” Mountain, the steep walk up Tumamoc Hill, plus there’s Enchanted Hills Trails Park, Sabino CanyonCatalina State ParkSaguaro National Park, and so many more nearby hiking areas.

While hiking in May is typically significantly cooler than hiking in June, it’s still important to hydrate and protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen! Heading out during the cooler morning hours might be best.

The Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Take a walking tour of the city

Tucson has a lot to see and a lot to love. The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum knows that.

Each month, the museum hosts a series of walking tours around the downtown area—and they almost always sell out.

Historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided walking tours include the Turquoise Trail where you’ll see historic buildings and learn a slice of Tucson history, the Mainly Murals Walking Tour which shows off some of downtown’s murals and discusses the artist behind the piece, the Public Art and Murals Walking Tour which explores public art pieces and murals, and the Barrio Viejo Walking Tour which takes you through the historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood.

Riding the tram at Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Ride the tram (and hike) at Sabino Canyon

At the northeast edge of Tucson along Sabino Creek lies Tucson’s worst-hidden secret! Sabino Canyon is a premier place to hike, picnic, or just take in Mother Nature at its finest. The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride the Sabino Canyon Crawler, a convenient, narrated shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. The electric shuttle journey begins at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center and carries passengers on a one-hour round trip allowing them to exit the shuttle at stops 1 through 9 to soak in the grandeur of the canyon at their own pace. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center at which point riders may remain on board or hike back down. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Cool off at Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Mt. Wrightson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon with active springs and a seasonal creek is a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. From Green Valley to the 9,453-foot summit of Mt. Wrightson, the mountains rise nearly 7,000 feet. Moisture increases and temperature decreases 3-5 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, creating a succession of four life zones. Each life zone has communities of plants and animals adapted to the environmental conditions found in the zone.

Birding at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Step back in time at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Just 45 miles south of Tucson down Interstate 19, this colorful, postage-stamp-size town is easily enjoyed as a day trip. If you come only to browse through the many galleries, you will be selling yourself short.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any visit to Tubac is best begun at Arizona’s very first state park—the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The site of the Presidio—the oldest Spanish fort in Arizona—is now a museum with fascinating insights into the local history. Visit the museum to learn how different cultures (from Native American Indian tribes to Spanish colonials, Mexicans, and pioneers) all made Tubac their home over the centuries. There is a good reason people settled here. Tours are self-guided so you can spend as long or as little time as you want here.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Take a historical walk on the Anza Trail

Having learned all about Juan Bautista de Anza at the museum, now is a good time to follow in his footsteps on the Anza Trail which is accessed near the Presidio and ends 1,200 miles later in San Francisco! A much more manageable 4-mile out-and-back trail is marked and for a single day trip (especially in the warmer months) just a mile out and a mile back may be enough to experience the diversity of this local environment.

It’s an easy trail that starts out wide and flat, meandering through open desert meadow before funneling into woodland. Grasses and trees line the trail. A sudden flash of green is a giveaway that water is near. The Santa Cruz River runs almost all year round.

Enjoy a Sonoran Desert sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Take in the sunset

There is no better way to end a full and varied day than to watch the sun set gently over the desert landscape. Sunsets are particularly vibrant in Arizona due to the fine sand particles in the air. Check out sunset times and have your camera ready to end your picture-perfect day. 

Plan your trip to Tucson with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver