Standing towards the top of Wasson Peak!

The Best Hiking Trails to Wasson Peak In Saguaro National Park – Everything You Need to Know

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If you’re anything like me, you enjoy hikes that end with a panoramic view because the best trails are the ones that reward you after a challenging incline. One of my all-time favorites in Tucson is Tucson Mountain Park’s highest point: Wasson Peak.

Hiking Trails to reach the Wasson Peak Summit: An Overview

Before we dive in, there are three main ways to reach Wasson Peak in Saguaro National Park West. Here’s an overview of the trails before we dive deeper into some of the different trail details!

  • King Canyon Out and Back
  • King Canyon and Hugh Norris Trail
  • Sweetwater Trail

Hiking Wasson Peak: Trail Variations

If you’ve found yourself in Tucson, Arizona, I’ve got the perfect intermediate hike for you – Wasson Peak. Here is everything you need to know about this trail.

There are two ways to complete this hike. No matter which routes you take, tall saguaros and teddy bear cholla cactus’ will surround you the entire way up. Keep in mind, both of these trails are moderately challenging, and take about 4 hours to complete. Here are some trail variations you can take to reach the top.

King Canyon Out & Back

Wasson Peak Hiking Route from King Canyon

Trail Stats:

  • Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,834
  • Route type: Out and Back
  • Average time to complete: 3 hours, 51 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Although this is the shortest distance hike to and from Wasson Peak, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. For the first mile, there is a slight incline on a wide and rocky path. At mile one, you have the option to take a left turn to the Mam-A-Gah picnic area.

If you wish to continue on the trail, you’ll need to continue straight through the wash for a few strides. It’s a little tricky to find because it’s unmarked, but on your right, you’ll see a trail sign and steps to continue up the mountain.

At mile 2.2, you’ll reach a breathtaking view of the Catalina mountains, and the trail sign will direct you to take a left to reach the summit. This is where the trail gets much steeper, and you will need to navigate through many switchbacks. Make sure you have proper footing because the trail also gets narrower.

Around 3.2 miles, you’ll reach an intersection where you can take a right to climb the summit. It’s only about a .3-mile hike from there.

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    King Canyon & Hugh Norris Trail Loop

    One route you can take for hiking to the top of Wasson Peak

    Trail Stats:

    • Distance: 7.9 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 1,863.5 feet
    • Route Type: Loop
    • Average time to complete: 4 hours, 14 minutes
    • Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

    If you’re someone who prefers a loop trail over an out-and-back, this may be a better option for you. Taking the same way up to the summit, the only difference is the route you’ll take back down.

    When descending the .3 miles from the top, you’ll want to continue straight to take Hugh Norris back. Straightaway, there are a handful of switchbacks, so make sure your legs are well-rested! Thankfully, this trail is much sandier and less rocky at the top.

    A mile in, you’ll come to an intersection where you can turn off at Amole Peak. The signage isn’t totally clear, so make sure you continue on the same path, and double-check your AllTrails app or physical map if you need to.

    Then, around the 6-mile mark, you’ll need to take a sharp left onto Sendero Esperanza Trail. You’ll take that trail for almost a mile until you reach another intersection, where you’ll find the historic Gould Mine. After you see this landmark, take a right onto the Gould Mine trail, and you’ll find yourself at the parking lot in one more mile.

    Note: You can also begin your hike from the Hugh Norris Trailhead which is located in Saguaro National Park, although I would suggest taking the Kings Canyon up to the summit for the views.

    Sweetwater Trail

    Trail Stats:

    • Distance: 9.3 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 2,093 feet
    • Route Type: Out and Back
    • Average time to complete: 4 hours, 51 minutes
    • Difficulty: Challenging

    Sweetwater Trail is the longest option out of all three trail variations, ending at 9.3 miles. It begins from a different trailhead than the first two at Pima County El Camino Del Cerro Trailhead. You can reach it by driving first through a suburban neighborhood that turns into a gravel parking lot.

    Since you are beginning east of Saguaro National Park, the views you’ll receive going towards the top will be of Wasson Peak and the surrounding mountains instead of downtown Tucson. However, this trail is an out-and-back, so you’ll get those city views in on the way down.

    Like the other two trails, it’s a steady incline to reach the top. You begin by walking a short distance until you reach a fork where you’ll take a left and continue that trail until reaching the saddle overlooking Tucson.

    Once you reach the saddle, you’ll climb the same switchbacks and rock steps required to reach the peak that the other trails also take. Once you reach the saddle, there is only one way to reach the peak.

    Although the farthest distance, the route is similar to the other trails in terms of moderate elevation gain for the entirety of the trail. This is a great trail option for those looking for a hike that requires endurance and stamina.

    About Wasson Peak

    Now that we’ve covered all the ways you can reach the top, let’s go over a little bit more about the mountain itself!

    The Mountain

    Wasson Peak is the highest point in the Tucson Mountain district, landing at 4,688 feet. It was named after John Wasson – an editor at the Tucson Citizen in the 1870s. From the top, you have views of all five mountain ranges in Tucson – The Santa Catalinas, the Rincons, the Santa Ritas, the Tucson mountains, and the Huachuca range.

    Location of Wasson Peak

    Wasson Peak is located in Saguaro National Park (west) in Tucson, Arizona. To enter this national park, you’ll need to pay a vehicle fee. As of now, it costs $25 for vehicles, $20 for motorcycles, and $15 for those entering by bike or foot.

    Your pass is valid to enter the national park for a week afterward. If you have an America The Beautiful annual pass, you can use that to enter. The park is open from dawn to dusk.

    Location of Wasson Peak on the map of Tucson

    The beginning of the trailhead (Kings Canyon) is located right before Saguaro National Park, in Tucson Mountain Park. If you drive through Tucson Mountain Park to arrive at the trailhead, you won’t pass any visitor centers or fee booths to enter the park.

    You will need to either drive to the Red Hills visitor center to purchase your pass, or you can buy it online to print and display on your dashboard.

    The start of the trailhead is on Kinney Road across from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The parking lot holds 32 vehicles. Keep in mind that bikes, horses, or dogs are not allowed on this trailhead or any trails in Saguaro National Park.

    Preparing to hike Wasson Peak

    Now that we’ve covered some ways you can hike to Wasson Peak and information on the mountain itself, let’s go over how to best prepare for this desert trail!

    When To Go

    Once you’ve decided which route to take, you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared. The best time to do this trail is during the fall, winter, or spring.

    There is no shade throughout this trail, so you’ll make sure that whenever you go, you bring sunscreen and/or a hat to protect yourself from the sun.

    Make sure that you check the weather before you head out, because you may need to bring rain gear or a jacket in the colder months.

    Bring The Proper Gear

    You will also want to make sure you have proper footwear because this trail is on very rocky terrain. You’ll also want to pack layers, no matter what season you visit. The temperature at the bottom of the mountain is very different from what it is at the top.

    You will also need to make sure that you bring food and water. Bring at least 2 liters of water – if you go when it’s warm you’ll want to double that. Bring some snacks to eat along the way, because this trail works up an appetite.

    Hiking Wasson Peak: Frequently Asked Questions

    Now that we’ve covered some of the different routes to reaching Wasson Peak, information on the mountain, and how to best prepare, let’s cover some of the most frequently asked questions about hiking Wasson Peak.

    How long does it take to hike Wasson Peak?

    The amount of time it takes to hike Wasson Peak will depend on which route you take, your pace, and other variable conditions. However, based on the three trails mentioned above, on average it typically takes anywhere from 3 hours and 45 minutes all the way to 4 hours and 55 minutes.

    What is the best trail to Wasson Peak?

    All three trail variations are great for reaching Wasson Peak. Personally, my favorite trail variation of the three is King Canyon and Hugh Norris Loop, because you’ll get 365 views of Saguaro National Park throughout your hike and will even pass an old Goulde Mine!

    What is the shortest trail to Wasson Peak?

    The shortest trail to reach Wasson Peak is King Canyon out and back. It still covers 6.7 miles and has 1,834 feet of elevation gain, making it a moderately challenging hike.

    How much elevation gain is at Wasson Peak?

    Wasson Peak sits at 4,688 feet in elevation, ranking as the tallest point in Saguaro National Park West. The elevation gain you’ll get while hiking to the top will depend on which route you take, but it can vary from 1,834 feet up to 2,093 feet.

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    Wrapping Up: Everything to know about hiking Wasson Peak

    When all is said and done, I hope you enjoy your trip up Wasson Peak. It’s certainly one of my favorite day hikes I’ve ever completed, and I hope that you find the same enjoyment in it as I did.

    Happy trails!