“An easygoing singletrack meandering through the northern reaches of Saguaro National Park.”
— Brendan Ross
Trails in Saguaro National Park's Tucson Mountain District are open daily from sunrise to sunset. Pets are prohibited beyond parking and picnic areas. Bicycles are not permitted on any of the National Park's trails; however, the adjacent Tucson Mountain Park offers areas open to cyclists.
Features: Views — Wildflowers
Dogs: No Dogs
Many trails in the Tucson Mountain District are rocky and rugged. Veteran trail runners will rise to the challenge without much trouble, but less-experienced visitors should pace themselves until becoming used to the terrain. Trail shoes are recommended.
The western section of the park is entirely within the desert, and appropriate precautions should be taken. Avoid the hottest portions of the day during the summer months. Flash flooding is a possibility during the rainy season, so while this is the best time to catch the plant life in bloom, plan around thunderstorms. Regardless of the season, bring plenty of water and make sure someone else knows where you'll be, and when you should be back. Cell phone reception is poor through most of the district. Running after dark is not recommended and is outside of official hours.
Steer clear of the many open mine shafts nearby the trails. Signed and fenced off by barbed wire, they are usually uncovered and are not safe to explore.
In contrast to the technical rocks and tiring sands of other area trails, Ironwood Forest is a lower-key, more relaxing route through a nice section of saguaros.
Starting from Picture Rocks Wash
on its southern end, look for a sign marking the beginning of Ironwood Forest on the northern side of the wash. It isn't hard to see the singletrack climbing up and out of the arroyo, heading off into the cacti forest. The hardpacked dirt path has a few rocks to keep things interesting, but they are a minor inconvenience in comparison to some of the trickier sections of nearby trails like Cactus Canyon
The first half of Ironwood Forest is easy ups and downs over foothill ridges. Pass by two massive saguaros on the left; the towering cacti here seem even taller than in other areas of the park, making for a number of nice photo opportunities. As the trail proceeds, a majestic view of Safford and Panther Peaks lie ahead atop a mesa-like mountain.
Three quarters of a mile in, the route turns into a low-grade, easy descent to the finish. Viewpoints through the foothills give different perspectives of downtown Tucson and the outlying suburbs. Sections of the trail requiring thought or planning are few and far between here, so it's a good place to let one's mind wander.
Eventually Ironwood Forest turns into a narrow dry bed, which it will jump in and out of a few times. Rock lines and small cairns mark these entry and exit points, and it's not as sandy as the other wash trails in the area, requiring little added effort.
A sign for Mule Deer
is easy to spot along a flat portion near the end. It's only a few hundred feet further to where Ironwood dead ends into Cam-Boh Trail
, also at a signed intersection.
Flora & Fauna
With both desert and mountain areas, including the sky island of the eastern district, Saguaro National Park is home to an impressive number of plants and wildlife.
Over four hundred plant species call the Tucson District home. The most prominent are the saguaro cacti which give the park its name. Living well over a hundred years and growing forty to sixty feet tall, they live exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and can be seen by the thousands here. Arms won't grow until the plant is 75-100 years old. Ocotillos, cholla, prickly pear, creosote, mesquite, and palo verde are common sights.
Many animals associated with the desert can be found on the trails. Visitors may see roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, and collared peccaries. Owls and woodpeckers may fly overhead, with some making their home in the saguaros. Tortoises are uncommon, and give a wide berth if coming across one of the park's six species of rattlesnakes.