Described as a happy medium between urban parks and more remote mountain trails, Pima County’s hybrid “trails parks” fill the need for easy access to natural outdoor spaces.
Painted Hills Trails Park is a 289-acre slice of desert space in the far northeast corner of Tucson Mountain Park, just west of Interstate 10.
The mini but mighty park has seven interconnected trails that include two short mountain summit up-and-back trips. All seven well-signed and maintained routes wind through dense saguaro forests with outstanding views throughout.
The in-your-face landscape show begins with the Santa Catalina Vista spur that spins off the 0.9-mile Mosaic Trail. The little loop overlooks a wash that runs between two cactus-encrusted hills. The V-shaped crack frames peeks at the jagged silhouette of the Santa Catalina Mountains that rise to 9,171 feet above the Tucson basin.
Visible on the southwestern flanks, the Pusch Ridge Wilderness makes an abrupt, stony endcap.
The Mosaic Trail traces the southern flanks of Bactrian Summit, gaining elevation easily as it runs through tall saguaros, prickly pear, ocotillo and a rich understory of jojoba, fairy duster and other desert shrubs and wildflowers.
For hikers unfamiliar with the term “false summit,” the Bactrian Summit trail delivers a crash course in the subject.
The short but somewhat steep path ascends to a knoll, but it’s immediately obvious that the breezy spot is not the true summit but the false summit. Getting to the actual high point requires a brief downhill dip followed by a final climb to the top.
As the highest point in the park, Bactrian Summit is the best visual platform.
Stretching out in all directions, views extend to the Rincon Mountain in the southeast and the Tortolita Mountains to the north. Under it all, the Tucson cityscape creeps up to nearby Tumamoc Hill, Sentinel Peak (“A” Mountain) and the peaks of surrounding Tucson Mountain Park.
A second hilltop side trip, Recoil Peak, departs from the Slingshot Trail near the Monsoon Loop junction.
Recoil Peak hovers over busy Speedway Boulevard and a maze of cul-de-sac communities. Slingshot Trail does what it says, it boomerangs around the park’s colorful hills, jumping washes and dodging rock outcroppings on its way back to the trailhead.
Tucson hikes: Painted Hills Trails Park
Length: 4 miles of trails.
Rating: Easy to moderate.
Elevation: 2,508-2,770 feet.
Getting there: 3590 W. Anklam Road, Tucson. From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take Exit 257 for Speedway Boulevard. Follow Speedway 2.2 miles west (go right) to Greasewood Road, turn left (south) and continue 0.8 mile to Anklam Road. Turn right and go 1.2 miles to the trailhead on the right. The lot accommodates about 19 vehicles but there’s no room for equestrian staging.
Hours: Dawn to dusk daily.
Dogs: Unlike most of Tucson Mountain Park, leashed dogs are allowed in Painted Hills Trails Park provided owners clean up after them and pack out waste.
Details: Pima County Natural Resources Parks & Recreation, https://webcms.pima.gov.
Read more of Mare Czinar’s hikes at http://arizonahiking.blogspot.com.