The family recently went off to explore the closest state park to our new house in Aurora Colorado. Cherry Creek State Park is a surprisingly open park in the middle of the busy area of east Denver.
There are a ridiculous amount of activities to do here and we can’t wait to explore the park even more. After driving around and checking out the place a bit and figuring out the photography permit process we headed over to Pho 75. This was our first restaurant to try to find the best Chicken Bun in town. It was really good but it was lacking the mint and according to my wife, there was a bit too much of the fishy taste in the fish sauce. 🙂
This afternoon we took advantage of the weird weather we are having in Tucson and the family headed up to the General Hitchcock picnic area on Mount Lemmon. It’s the stop right before Windy Vista. It was a beautiful day and the pines provided just the right amount of shade. After a bite to eat we went up the Upper Green Mountain Trail. We just went up to the first vista and turned around, it ended up being about 1.5 miles round trip. One thing the area did have is a lot of trash. Water bottle caps and glass everywhere. Even down the first bit of the trail there were plastic wrappers and food bits that the birds were running off with. I wish people would keep these areas clean, we all go out to areas like this so we can experience nature and it’s sad when you see two beautiful blue birds fighting over a Cheeto. I picked up a bit of it but there was just so much everywhere, everyone needs to do their part and leave no trace.
Recently we went down south of Tucson to visit a couple of missions. The first destination was the San Xavier Del Bac Mission on the Tohono O’odham Nation. It was founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kino. The current building was finished by 1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. (http://www.sanxaviermission.org/History.html) The first thing you notice when you pull up to the massive building is the fact that one of the towers is unfinished. This is due to the fact that buildings that were ‘under construction’ did not have to pay taxes… The building is incredibly white and almost too bright to look at in the mid-day sun. When you step inside you begin to appreciate the blazing white outside and it reflects the heat and keeps the inside is very cool. Most of the restorations have been completed and what you see on the inside is as original as it’s going to get. The colors are vibrant and the statues are amazingly detailed. After walking around inside for a bit we ventured into the museum. It is currently under construction and some of it has been closed off. There wasn’t much in the way of exhibits or light for that matter. Further to the east of the building is the gift shop, it is very clean and very affordable. On the way out we stopped by one of the stands that had Indian fry bread…oh man that was good, both as a bean version and as a cinnamon honey one.
Next we went a bit further south to Tumacácori National Historical Park in Tubac. This is not a functioning church and is run as a national park. The site is well maintained and the museum is astounding. I wasn’t expecting the quality that we saw way out in the middle of nowhere. There was even a statue of Padre Kino, who also founded this mission in 1691 as the Spanish territories expanded north. There are plenty of exhibits on how the building was made and even an example of an O’odham house that was built in 1997. There was even a sweet couple making fresh tortillas for a small donation to the grounds. This is a great day trip for families but try to hit it up before the cool weather disappears; there is a lot of walking outside to visit these sites.
For the last three days the only paved road going up to Mount Lemmon has been so crowded that they have had to shut it down and only let cars go in as cars left. To avoid all of that mess and still enjoy the cool weather we headed over to Catalina State Park off of SR77. While we where there we toured the Hohokam Ruins and then hiked up the road to the creek that comes out of Montrose Canyon.
So here is my menial attempt to give you some insight on which hikes I believe are the top five for families here in Tucson. The criteria for stacking some amazing trails against each other is far from anything scientific but rather just some reasonable sound judgment (I think) from a Dad. First and foremost is safety; In Tucson that can be huge concern, variable temperatures from 115 in the summer to below freezing in the winter. I generally try to hike up high up the mountains in the summer and down low in the winter to avoid any sever temperature changes. Then there is that fact that something in the desert is always plotting to poke you, maybe a cactus, or shrub, or the rare snake bike. Next would be the ability to vary the distance of the hike, if one of the kids is attempting to re-enact the exorcist we need to have a quick….ish out. Last thing, the views, it’s got to be worth something, not only we big people, but I want my children to see why I love the outdoors so much. So lets get to it!
This is one of the most fascinating places on Mount Lemmon and has tons of historical sites. Convenient enough it is just past mile marker sever on Catalina Highway so it doesn’t take that long to get up there. The camping area is pretty big so you can have a larger gathering there and people can go on short hikes down three trails that join up there. Soldiers Trail is pretty tough but the trail to Molino Basin is better for the kiddos. Best of all, if the kids have tons of energy you can go up the Sycamore Trail to the saddle on the old jeep road. If they are up to something a bit longer (about 4 miles out and back) you can go all the way to the dam, its worth it.
The entire park is a fun area that has a nice 8 mile paved loop with plenty of stops to get out and do short little hike in the desert landscape, jump back into the air-conditioned car and head to the next spot. One downside is the spiderweb of trails to the north of the loop, if your not careful it can be a kind of maze. At the south-east end of the loop there is a nice little picnic area with some big rocks for thuds to climb on. This park also hosts a bunch of different events like the junior ranger program, more information can be found at their website.
This is one of the first trail my wife took me on when I first got to Tucson. Mostly we just scrambled up the little canyon on the north side of the road. There is a little cascade and plenty of trees for the kids to climb on, just be sure to watch for snakes.
These trails can either be a nice out and back or a longer loop depending on what you and the family want to do. There is a small creek going up Marshall Gulch and beautiful young aspen trees coming back down the Aspen trail. This trail is great for spring, summer and fall but unless you want to snowshoe this isn’t the trail for winter time.
This is by far one of the best outdoor ‘centers’ I’ve ever been to. The visitors center is amazing and the park is well maintained. It can get a bit crowded but there is plenty of space for all of the visitors. If you want to ride the tram up Sabino Canyon Road you can do that and hike around in some or you can head up Bear Canyon and check out Seven Falls. The entire park is well labeled and even stroller friendly in some areas.
One of the fun places to explore!
Honorable mentions; General Hitchock and Box Spring while these trails are great they just didn’t stack up to the others in my opinion. Check out the poll below and share what you think is the top family trail in Tucson!