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The Tanque Verde Ridge Trail at Saguaro National Park is a pretty narrow and rocky trail that can get a little bit steep at times although I never found it to be super challenging because we did the miniature version of the hike which is a 3 mile out and back hike.
It’s a perfect hike if you only want to spend a couple of hours hiking and are looking for a decent work out along with some fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.
But you can continue along with the trail for many more miles and work your way up to higher elevations where the scenery begins to change. It also leads to different campgrounds, such as the Juniper Basin Campground (6,000 feet) which is about 7 miles from the trail head.
Since we have not ventured that far out yet, this review will only focus on the shorter version that we did.
The trailhead is located right off of Cactus Loop Drive. The easiest way to get there is to turn right after you enter Saguaro National Park and go down the two way street until you see the turn off area for the Javelina Picnic Area. (If you first turn left on Cactus Loop Drive, you will have to drive the entire scenic loop until you arrive at the picnic area.)
There are a few parking spaces in the area as well as some covered picnic tables which would be a perfect place to relax on a nice day.
We did this hike during the coronavirus outbreak, so there were reminders about social distancing on the trailheads.
There was a light to medium flow of other hikers on the trail so keeping a distance was not very difficult, although coming back down we did have to step aside quite a few times.
We arrived at the trailhead at about 7:10 AM on a Saturday which also happened to be Easter weekend. There were still plenty of spots available in the parking lot so parking was not an issue.
The trail starts off with some very mild changes in elevation and is very well marked and kept up throughout. Once you hit about half a mile, it is a very steady upward trend in elevation (810 total feet to an elevation of 3,900 feet).
You should easily be able to find your way along the trail 99% of the time.
I only recall one or two instances where it wasn’t immediately clear where to go but after taking a couple of steps we could see the trail pretty clearly. I could have easily done this hike without checking my GPS.
Along the hike you will come across much of the typical vegetation found in Saguaro National Park. You’ll see prickly pear cactus, cholla, barrel cactus, palo verde trees, and of course plenty of large saguaros.
There is one of the rare crested saguaros cactuses on the trail but it is further along than we went so we were not able to see it.
The portion of the trail that we did never felt very steep but there are some areas where you will have to navigate relatively steep rocks for a few steps and make your way up large steps. Trekking poles are a big help.
We saw a couple of kids along the way so I think this can be a kid friendly hike but there are a couple of spots where you would want to keep a very close eye and probably assist them depending on their age and abilities.
It’s not so much the risk of falling that is a potential issue but the possibility of falling into a cactus which makes coordination and balance all the more important.
There was a nice display of wildflowers along the way.
It does not take very long for you to start to see some great views as you make your way through the hike.
And you will have sweeping views of all of the surrounding mountains like the Santa Rita Mountains, the Tucson Mountains, and Mount Lemmon. I did not realize how surrounded we were by mountains until we made our way up on this hike. It truly is impressive.
There is basically no shade along with this hike so if you are attempting this during the day in the summer, you will want to take adequate preparations for water and sun protection.
If you are a trail runner, I could see this being a pretty good trail for that, although it can be a little narrow at times and you may come into contact with some of the bushes/cacti.
Overall, I think this is a terrific hike if you are wanting something that is a little bit challenging but that can be done in a couple of hours and it will offer some great views, close encounters with saguaros, and a chance to check out some of the other interesting flora and wildflowers.
Unfortunately, we did not see any wildlife during our hike but I have read reports of others running into rattlesnakes and of course there are the other animals out there like coyote, mountain lions, javalena, and others.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.