About this TrailThis is one route over a series of trails in Saguaro National Park's western district (also known as Red Hills, Saguaro West, and/or Tucson Mountain district). Wasson Peak is the highest point in the western section of the park. (The other district of Saguaro N.P. is on Tucson's east side, at the foot of the Rincon Mountains).
The hike is a steady climb, with a few steeper sections. On the way, you will see a variety of unique desert plants, including the famed saguaro cacti which can reach 50 feet in height, making them the largest cacti in the United States. You will also see barrel, fishhook, and prickly pear cacti, as well as cholla, ocotillo, mesquite, and the strange palo verde tree.
Speaking of cacti, I highly recommend that you wear long pants while hiking, and you may want to carry a pair of pliers to remove any cactus spines. The cholla, in particular, look as though they could make you pretty miserable! (This is why I checked "wildlife dangers" as a hazard, FYI.) Locals use a comb to remove cholla balls from the skin, since there's no way to grab them. Insert the comb between the ball and the skin, and let 'er rip. OW! Step smartly and this won't be a problem.
Wildlife did not seem to be very abundant, but you can visit the excellent Sonoran Desert Museum right across the street from the trailhead. Not a "museum" in the conventional sense, but more of a zoo for desert wildlife, with huge enclosures for the animals. Not to be missed!
From the trailhead, you can either follow the trail, or hike up a wash off to the left of the trail itself. I recommend the wash, where you will find numerous petroglyphs if you look carefully.
The trail branches near a picnic area. You could choose to hike a loop using the Sendero Esperanza and Hugh Norris Trails at this point (or on the way back), for a slightly longer trip. My friend who lives in Tucson said that he recommends the loop in the spring when the flowers are blooming.
Eventually, the King Canyon Trail intersects with the Sweetwater Trail -- a good place to take a break and admire the views! From here, you hike a fairly steep section of the Sweetwater Trail up past a now-defunct copper mine. Finally, a trail spur takes you over to Wasson Peak, with fantastic 360-degree views of the area. This summit is really worth the effort -- to the east you can see all of Tucson and the Rincon range; to the north, the craggy Santa Catalinas (both these ranges are just under 10,000'), and to the west, more desert, with the sacred peak of Baboquivari rising like a pyramid out near Kitt Peak.
Also of note: most of the rock on this hike, and Wasson Peak itself, is a tan-colored granite. (Or more technically, quartz monzonite.) The granitic intrusion in these mountains is unusual, since the rest of the Tucson Mountains are chocolate-brown volcanic rhyolite.
Directions to TrailheadHeading west out of Tucson you'll go over Gates Pass, and then come to a T-intersection where you could turn left to go to Old Tucson. Turn right instead. You will see signs for the Desert Museum. The trailhead (w/ parking) is just beyond the museum on the other side of the street. You'll see a kiosk with a map and information.
Notes on Difficulty RatingLow elevation, but some significant climbs. You're hiking on rock, with some loose gravel strewn about, which can be tricky in places. The wash was a nice alternative, but walking on loose sand can also be tiring. However, the trails are well groomed and marked, and there were a number of hikers and a school group out on the trails that morning. It is sunny almost every day here, and in the summer, temperatures easily climb above 100 degrees. Be sure to bring water and protection from the elements. And watch out for that cacti!