Wildlife and Sonoran Desert vegetation abound in the Tortolita Mountains, a hiker’s paradise, with trails for every skill and energy level. From magnificent desert vistas to rustic ruins and ancient petroglyphs, hikers in the Tortolitas have many options to explore. It’s a great place to get out into nature, while still being within easy driving distance from Marana, Oro Valley, and Tucson.
Tortolita Mountains Elevation & Access
All of the trails involve elevation changes and some have some steep, rocky sections. The trails range from 2,800 to 4,300 ft. elevation. Many of the trails can be accessed by following Dove Mt. Road to the roundabout; there will be a trailhead parking lot with restrooms just after driving through the entrance gate to Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Wild Burro Trail
Along the Wild Burro Trail, you will walk down the wash past old, historic structures and climb up a steep, rocky slope to reach Alamo Spring. There are some mortar holes at Alamo Spring, where native people ground their grains. Past the spring, you will come to a valley with huge saguaros that dwarf the human stature. If you follow Wild Burro Canyon Trail to its terminus, you will come upon a site called Goat Corral that has a windmill, a watering trough, and other old ruins.
Tortolita Preserve and Trail System
Critters & Plants
If you are lucky, you may see some of the wild horses that have escaped from ranches or a Sonoran desert tortoise lumbering along. You may also encounter mule deer, javelina, and desert-dwelling birds such as roadrunners, Abert’s towhees, verdin, Gila woodpeckers, Northern flickers, Northern cardinals, phainopeplas, and many more. Keep an eye out for crested saguaros too.
After rainfall, fairy duster, penstemon, desert mallow and brittlebush spread a carpet of wildflowers along the path. If you continue to along Wild Burro Canyon Trail to its terminus, you will come to an old ranch site with a watering trough and a windmill. There are some awesome overlooks to the west toward the Silverbell Mountains and to the east toward the Santa Catalina Mountains along the route. There are also opportunities to branch off to other trails to make loops of varying sizes.
Photo of a crested cactus by Tom Ellis.
Bring your own water, hat, sunscreen, snacks, and wear suitable hiking shoes/boots. Please keep dogs on a leash and pick up after them. Don’t cut switchbacks; it causes erosion and can make for dangerous trail conditions. Have fun and be safe.
So grab a map and get out into nature!
By: Janine Spencer, M.A. Wildlife Management [with updates]