A hike to Wasson Peak

Tucson Travel Blog

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Wasson Peak from the trailhead
I've lived in Tucson for 17 years, and shortly after moving here I discovered that there are numerous hiking trails within the four mountain ranges that surround Tucson (Tucson Mountains to the west, Santa Catalina Mountains to the north, Tanque Verde Ridge and Rincon Mountains to the east, and Santa Rita mountains far to the south). I've hiked extensively in each area, but haven't hit the trails in a couple of years. Today, however, I decided to hike again to the first mountain that I bagged when I moved here: Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountains. I chose to take a different route to the top than I've used before and take the Sweetwater Trail, which is the only route into the Tucson Mountains from the east side.
Wasson Peak rising behind a ridge (a light rain falling)
The King Canyon Trail, Hugh Norris Trail, and Sendero Esperanza Trail are options from the west side and all intersect to reach Wasson Peak.

The Tucson Mountains are the smallest range near Tucson. They were formed by volcanism, as opposed to crustal uplift which formed the other mountains near Tucson. This hike would take me 9.2 miles round-trip and give me some great sights! The trailhead is at about 2,800 feet in elevation, and Wasson Peak tops out at 4,687 feet.

My day started when my alarm went off at 4:30am. I didn't want to reach the trailhead too long after dawn so that I would avoid the hottest part of the day. The forecast called for a high of 97 degrees. While that's not too bad for the first part of August in Tucson, I didn't want to experience it for long if I could help it! The Sweetwater trailhead is at the dead-end of El Camino Del Cerro, and when I arrived at the small parking lot, there were two other cars.
Typical desert vegetation, including saguaro cacti, mesquite trees, palo verde trees, and prickly pear cacti.
That told me that I wasn't the only person boneheaded enough to do a summer hike in the desert! While I was applying my sunscreen, some rumbling thunder sounded somewhere overhead. I examined the sky to see some rain showers to the east. It's not unusual to get rain here in August, but I didn't expect it in the morning.

I got on the trail around 6:30am. I had my binoculars over one shoulder and a 1-gallon canteen over the other. The day before I had filled the canteen about 1/4 full and froze that overnight before topping it off in the morning. That would give me cool water for most of the hike. A few minutes into the hike, a light shower started to fall. Nice! That and the clouds should keep me cool. After about 10 minutes, though,  the rain stopped and the clouds started to slowly burn off as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson (exposure compensated so that the haze didn't wash out the mountains.)


The trail started to climb immediately. It's mostly rocky with some periods of level, sandy stretches. It dropped me into a shallow, dry wash (a creek bed that channels water during thunderstorms), and I encountered the trail register after I climbed up the other side. I signed it dutifully to record my visit. The next mile was generally rocky, with subtle uphill and downhill parts. The second mile was steeper and rockier still. I dropped into another wash, but this one was much deeper. It was after this wash that I encountered another hiker coming the other way. I was lucky that he was there since he alerted me to a rattlesnake sitting in the middle of the trail just a few feet ahead! I gave him (the rattlesnake) some room as I diverted off the trail to get past him, but I snapped his picture just the same!

The final mile of the trail was more of the same.
A section of the Sweetwater Trail (notice the ripe prickly pear fruit along the right side of the trail).
. .steep and rocky with diminishing views of the city as the hills seemed to close in behind me. Most of the clouds were still with me, and I welcomed them. It would be sunny and hot soon enough.

The Sweetwater Trail ended at King Canyon Trail. However, I still had another 1.3 miles to Wasson Peak, and this part of the route is the steepest with numerous switchbacks. I paused a few minutes to enjoy the view after topping this ridge before making my final push to the top. Along this part, there are a couple of abandoned copper mines right along the trail. In the early part of the 20th century, copper mining enjoyed limited success here for a couple of decades, but there hasn't been any active mining in this vicinity for a long, long time. Several other mines were bored into the hills at several places throughout these mountains.
A jumping cholla cactus. Why is it a called "jumping cholla"? If you accidentally back into it, you'd jump 20 feet!
There's a particularly deep one, the Gould Mine, along the Sendero Esperanza Trail.

.3 miles from the peak I reached the intersection of the Hugh Norris Trail at the top of a ridge that's between Amole Peak and Wasson Peak. Here is the first place to see the valley to the west and north. Almost there! I spent little time covering the last few hundred feet to the top. There is another trail register here, a few dozen paces from the summit.

I drank in the view from the top but didn't stay long. I had a long, hot return down the mountain. By the time I was about 3/4 of the way back down, I'm sure the temperature was well into the 90's, and I was definitely feeling it. The gallon of water that I brought with me was almost gone, and I downed the rest of it when I reached the car. It was 11:30am, and I started my drive back home.

I don't know if it's my age now or the fact that it's been so long since the last time I hiked, but my legs are sore!!
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Wasson Peak from the trailhead
Wasson Peak from the trailhead
Wasson Peak rising behind a ridge …
Wasson Peak rising behind a ridge…
Typical desert vegetation, includi…
Typical desert vegetation, includ…
Santa Catalina Mountains north of …
Santa Catalina Mountains north of…
A section of the Sweetwater Trail …
A section of the Sweetwater Trail…
A jumping cholla cactus. Why is it…
A jumping cholla cactus. Why is i…
A rare crested saguaro cactus. Per…
A rare crested saguaro cactus. Pe…
Ridgelines in the Tucson Mountains…
Ridgelines in the Tucson Mountain…
A deep wash.
A deep wash.
A few ocotillo plants.
A few ocotillo plants.
Wasson Peak is getting closer!
Wasson Peak is getting closer!
A western diamondback rattlesnake …
A western diamondback rattlesnake…
A trail sign where the Sweetwater …
A trail sign where the Sweetwater…
The Coyote and Quinlan Mountains o…
The Coyote and Quinlan Mountains …
I tried shooting a picture through…
I tried shooting a picture throug…
A forest of saguaros.
A forest of saguaros.
Closer still!
Closer still!
An abandoned copper mine.
An abandoned copper mine.
Almost there!
Almost there!
A view to the north from the summi…
A view to the north from the summ…
A view to the southeast.
A view to the southeast.
I had to set foot on the tallest r…
I had to set foot on the tallest …
Looking toward the northwest towar…
Looking toward the northwest towa…
My self portrait with Wasson Peak …
My self portrait with Wasson Peak…
If you look carefully, you can see…
If you look carefully, you can se…
A collared lizard.
A collared lizard.
Mmmm, ripe prickly pear fruit!
Mmmm, ripe prickly pear fruit!
What looks like a lava flow along …
What looks like a lava flow along…
Barrel cactus blossom.
Barrel cactus blossom.
Looking back at Wasson Peak on the…
Looking back at Wasson Peak on th…
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photo by: walterman9999