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Exploring Nature with Kids in Tucson, Arizona

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The Southwest region of America holds some of the country’s richest beauty, Utah’s majestic Arches National Park, New Mexico’s lush mountains, and Nevada’s smoking hot stretches of flat desert. Arizona likewise resides in the deep Southwest, its land defined by ranges of extraordinary mountains, cactus of bewildering variety, and powerful sun that sets the whole state sizzling. It’s easy to explore Arizona with these three nature-inspired things to do in Tucson.

Exploring Nature with Kids in Tucson, Arizona

Exploring nature with kids in Tucson, Arizona

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

A good starting point is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This zoological park/outdoor museum seamlessly blends education with live animals in a glorious setting. The museum has nearly 3,000 animals packed into its natural zoo; it’s not a model of the Sonoran Desert, but an actual re-creation, with identical plants and habitats. The paths are wide and hospitable to strollers and kids have room to run. Although the museum is visited by over 500,000 people a year, it doesn’t feel ‘touristy’. Here children can learn about the southwestern landscape and animals before heading out to more untamed areas.

Exploring Nature with Kids in Tucson, Arizona - View from Saguaro National Park

View from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Saguaro National Park

No museum can compete with the stunning Saguaro National Park. Boasting a massive number of towering Saguaros, the park is likewise transcendent by way of its mountainous surroundings, climbable rock outgrowths, and the mysterious lushness that counterbalances its dusty desert.

Personally, I think hiking is the way to fully experience the place, and it’s been my main method of exploration there for years. Hiking deep in the park, I’ve often gotten the sensation of being totally surrounded by a world unto itself, at once alien and intimate. It’s a heady experience that kids could enjoy by the time they’re 8 or 9, when they’ll be able to hike along with their parents through various unpaved sections of the park. Folding up a stroller and lugging a baby through rocky terrain would be pure folly, but the hikes are by no means dangerous.

There are also bike paths that allow for beautiful winding trips through the park, and the swooping dips and hills allow for a ride that’s both exciting and aerobic. There’s also an 8-mile-long driving loop, perfect for those who like to remain seated and indoors while enjoying nature. Camping is also allowed at six designated areas in the park. When all is said and done, I’d be suspicious of anyone who finds Saguaro National Park lacking.

Exploring Nature in Tucson, Arizona - Saguaro National Park

Our hike through Saguaro National Park

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is similarly awesome, but significantly more navigable than Saguaro National Park. A good place to start a trip here is with Sabino Canyon Tours, which offers tram rides through two long trails, both of which ultimately lead to the brim of the canyon. The tram rides are deeply informative and fun, bearing no real resemblance to the frequently loud, pushy corporate tram tours led by guides at some other destinations. The emphasis is on quiet awe and reverence, and there are bumpy stretches and narrow bridges that add some unexpected thrills.

After the tram ride, a number of hiking opportunities beckon. It’s important to choose the right one when children are in tow, as some hiking trails in Sabino Canyon can be challenging and quite unfriendly to the novice. Still, there are a bevy of dirt paths that allow for mesmerizing ascents and descents along the canyon’s border. Sabino Creek—which flows down from Mount Lemon, a place situated at an elevation some 6,000 feet higher than Sabino—is accessible from these paths, and has been for somewhere around 10 million years.

There’s something inexplicably mystical and spiritual about the Southwest. Whatever qualities conjure such beauty can be found in the region’s natural spaces, and Tucson’s are amongst the most beautiful. The places mentioned in this article are merely points of entry, and exploration of the bewildering desert is a deeply personal journey that families can embark on together.

Are you drawn to the natural beauty of the desert? What are some of your favorite things to do in Tucson with kids? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Top photo by amygdala imagery, purchased from Other photos by Gabe Miller.

About Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy

Long before Gabe Miller was a Travel Daddy, he was a Travel Son. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan during the early 1980s, he was exposed to the town’s intellectual, hippie aesthetic before becoming functionally bipedal. He had barely shed his lanugo by the time he began to travel, going on modest trips that were nonetheless profound. His wife is equally passionate about traveling, and together they’re sharing new adventures with their baby boy. From the day of their son’s birth, they’ve rejected the idea that having a child means staying indoors with the blinds drawn. They take him everywhere they go, and his smiles are proof that he’s perpetually prepared for adventure! Gabe and his family currently reside happily in the small rural town of Dundee, Michigan. Gabe has a B.A. in English and works as a middle school English teacher. Connect with Gabe on Twitter as @thetraveldaddy.

  1. I like how you say that you’d be suspicious of anyone finding the ark lacking…cool way to express its value. Have ou ever been to Sedona? Pure raw beauty….

  2. There are so many cool stuff to do around Tuczon. I think will also enjoy nearby attractions like the Kartchner Caverns, Colossal Cave and the towns of Bisbee and Tombstone.

  3. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

    Phil – I have been to Sedona, and I heartily agree.

    Ruth – All those places you mentioned are likewise awesome.

  4. Stephanie says

    So glad you enjoyed your time in Tucson, Gabe!

    We currently call Tucson home and you picked three wonderful spots to highlight. We have three young daughters (ages 6, 4, and 11 months)…and we particularly like the Seven Falls hike in Sabino Canyon. It’s approximately six miles roundtrip with a huge waterfall at the end. So fun!

    Did you venture into Downtown Tucson during your visit? There are some great restaurants and photo spots there.

  5. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

    Stephanie – Didn’t head downtown during this trip, but often have during the past. It’s a very relaxed and hip culture there, indeed. Went on some great late-night bike rides there many years ago.

  6. Great photos Gabe. I’m taking the fam out to Tuscon in late May – my sister got us a hook up at the Canoa Ranch resort ( and it looks amazing.

    I’ve actually thought about moving out there, and fro the sounds of it – it still seems like a good idea.

  7. Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

    Jeremy – Enjoy your time out in Tucson! I’m sure you will.

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