South Central Arizona
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
- Mount Lemmon
- Picacho Peak State Park
- Saguaro National Park
- Tumacácori National Historical Park
English is the primary language although Spanish is widely understood and spoken, with many residents being bilingual.
I-10 connects Tucson with Phoenix and New Mexico, while I-19 connects Tucson with Nogales in the south. Smaller highways AZ 83 and AZ 82 provide access from further east along I-10 and from southeast Arizona, respectively.
As there is no public transportation, a car is essential. A four-wheel drive is recommended if you want to get off the beaten track.
- Tumacácori National Historical Park, 1891 E Frontage Rd, Tumacacori (50 miles south of Tucson on I-15, Exit 29), ☎ +1 520-398-2341. 9AM-5PM daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. This park protects the photogenic ruins of three Jesuit Spanish missions. Of the three, only the Mission San José de Tumacácori is generally open to the public, with a small museum and gift shop. The other two missions can be visited via daily guided walking tours in the winter; tours depart from the Tumacácori Visitor Center, $20, reservations required. $5 (adults).
- Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, One Burruel St, Tubac, ☎ +1 520-398-2252. 9AM-5PM daily. Preserves the ruins of the Tubac Presidio, a Spanish fortress, as well as a few other buildings, one of which houses a small museum. The neighboring old town of Tubac is now an artists' colony, with many of the buildings nicely restored. $5 (adults).
- Empire Ranch, Hwy 83 (south of I-10, turn east between mileposts 39 and 40), ☎ +1 520-439-6400. Dawn to dusk. A beautifully-situated historic ranch from the 1860s. The adobe ranch house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the property is now managed as part of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. The area offers good opportunities for a range of outdoor activities, including birding, hiking, and horseback riding. Free.
- Kentucky Camp, Santa Rita Mountains (east of Hwy 83, south of I-10), ☎ +1 520-281-2296. A ghost town and former mining camp which is maintained by the Coronado National Forest. A few buildings have been restored, and for a unique experience visitors can rent one of the buildings for an overnight stay (see listing below).
- Ruby ghost town (12 miles from Arivaca; part of the road is unpaved but in good condition), ☎ +1 520-744-4471. Th-Su dawn to dusk. One of the best preserved ghost towns in Arizona, with ongoing conservation efforts. The site is entirely on private land with a resident caretaker. Pima Community College also occasionally offers tours (tel. 520-744-4471). $12 (adults).
- Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, 670 Mt Hopkins Rd, Amado (one hour due south of Tucson off I-19), ☎ +1 520-879-4407. M-F 8:30AM-4:30PM. Call ahead for tour information.
- Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tohono O'Odham Reservation (90 minutes southwest of Tucson), ☎ +1 520-318-8726, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 9AM-3:45PM daily. A "don't miss" for the astronomy buff, there are several astronomical telescopes plus a large solar telescope. Several guided tours are available, as well as a nightly observation program (reservations required). $9.75 for all three tours (adults).
- Ray Mine. One of the world's largest copper deposits.
- Vineyards. Various, some by appt. The art of wine making in the region was introduced by the Spanish, and Sonoita makes a good base to explore local vineyards.
- Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. This 1,200-mile trail follows the route of the Spanish exploratory voyage in 1774, beginning in Nogales on the Arizona-Mexico border, heading north through Santa Cruz county to Tucson and then Phoenix, and then west to California. The entire route can be followed by car, and some segments can also be completed on foot. AnzaHistoricTrail.org is helpful for detailed route planning.
Festivals and events
- La Fiesta de Tumacácori, 1891 E Frontage Rd, Tumacacori (at Tumacácori National Historical Park). A colorful two-day fiesta held annually on the first full weekend in December. The fiesta features food, crafts, and performances by regional Native American and Mexican dancers and musicians. Free.
- Anza Day Mass, Tumacácori National Historical Park. Once a year in October Catholic Mass is held in the mission church, with participants dressed in period costume. This is a very popular event, registration is required. Free.
- Anza Days, One Burruel St, Tubac (at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park), ☎ +1 520-398-2252. annually in October. A three-day festival commemorating Juan Bautista de Anza' 1774 arrival in Tubac. Costumed actors on horseback ride from Tumacácori to Tubac, and re-enact historic scenes. Other presentations include music and dance, as well as children's activities. Free.
- Christmas Eve Tumacácori Luminaria, 1891 E Frontage Rd (at Tumacácori National Historical Park). Dusk. In an annual Mexican tradition, thousands of paper lanterns are set in and around the mission church and grounds. It is a beautiful experience, and well worth the effort to see. People start queuing about an hour before dusk. Free.
- Labor Day Rodeo, 3142 Hwy 83, Sonoita (Sonoita Fairgrounds), ☎ +1 520-455-5553. A three-day traditional rodeo, held annually in September. $10 (adults).
- Annual Sonoita Horse Races, 3142 Hwy 83, Sonoita (Sonoita Fairgrounds), ☎ +1 520-455-5553. Held in May. A weekend of live races with Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, with betting and food. $10 (adults).
Parks and outdoor activities
- Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Arivaca Road, Highway 286, Arivaca, ☎ +1 520-823-4251, fax: +1 520-823-4247, e-mail: Bonnie_Swarbrick@fws.gov. 7:30AM-4:30PM (Visitor Center). Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this was established in 1986 for the reintroduction of masked bobwhite quail and pronghorn antelope. A number of other mammals and avian species are well-established here, making this an excellent place for watching birds and wildlife. Guided tours are offered by the Friends of Buenos Aires NWR (tel. 520-405-5665, FOBANWR@gmail.com). Free.
- Santa Rita Mountains (western access: turn east off of I-19; eastern access: turn west off of Hwy 82 or Hwy 83), ☎ +1 520-281-2296. This mountain range offers great opportunities for hiking, camping, mountain biking, and horse riding. The area is managed by the Coronado National Forest; maps and trail information can be obtained from the Nogales Ranger District office. Free.
- Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains (25 miles south of Tucson), ☎ +1 520-281-2296. This is an outstanding place for watching birds and wildlife, with over 250 avian species identified so far. Many trails in the Santa Ritas can also be accessed from the picnic site. $5 (day permit), $10 (week permit).
- Baboquivari Peak Wilderness, e-mail: TFOWEB_AZ@blm.gov. This remote wilderness area is located on the eastern side of the Baboquivari Mountain Range 80km southwest of Tucson, and is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It is notable for the spectacular Baboquivari Peak which is sacred to the Tohono O’odham people, and is clearly visible from nearby Kitt Peak National Observatory (see listing above). The area offers good opportunities for hiking and photography. The peak can be scaled but requires technical climbing ability; a good trail description can be found here. There is an alternate western climbing route, although to use it prior permission must be obtained from the Tohono O'odham Nation.
- Ironwood Forest National Monument (I-10, Exit 236 near Marana). Established as a National Monument in 2000, the monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for multiple uses, including ranching and recreational use. It is noted for significant concentrations of Ironwood trees, as well as over 200 pre-Columbian archeological sites. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, birdwatching, and looking at the many archeological remains. There are no developed facilities, but primitive camping is possible provided campsites are at least 200 ft away from water sources and campers use biodegradable soap. Free.
- Horseback riding. There are a number of guest ranches in the Sonoita and Patagonia area which offer guided horseback riding excursions, with or without accommodation.
- Tubac Golf Resort and Spa, One Otero Rd, Tubac, ☎ +1 520-398-2211. Play golf, relax, and shop. Activities include visiting the Tubac artist colony, attending a local culinary class, hiking on meandering paths or summiting Arizona's highest peaks, mountain biking, horseback riding, or stargazing from a 9,000 foot observatory.
- Agua Linda Farm, 2643 E Frontage Rd, Amado (off of I-19), ☎ +1 520-891-5532, e-mail: email@example.com. A privately owned farm/ranch which opens to the public for seasonal events, including the Easter Egg Hunt, Garlic and Onion Festival, and the Fall Festival. $5-$8.
- Elvira’s Restaurant, 2221 E Frontage Rd A-101, Tubac, ☎ +1 520-398-9421. T-Th 11AM-9PM, F-S 11AM-10PM, Su 11AM-3PM. Specializes in Sonoran Mexican cuisine.
- Gadsden Coffee Company, 16850 W Arivaca Rd, Arivaca, ☎ +1 520-398-3251. A local hangout, also has sandwiches and pastries. Wifi available.
Accommodation options listed below are outside of major population centers. For locations with more urban amenities, see town and city listings above.
- Amado Territory Inn, 3001 E Frontage Rd, Amado, ☎ +1 520-398-8684, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Nine rooms, some with private patios and balconies. No smoking, pets accepted (with restrictions), wi-fi. Evening wine and cheese tasting and breakfast included. Birders are welcome to visit the property without spending the night.
- Chuparosa Inn Bed & Breakfast, 1300 S Madera Canyon Rd, Madera Canyon, ☎ +1 520-393-7370. Check-in: 3PM-6PM, check-out: 11AM. Ideal for birdwatchers. $150-$200/night.
- Kent Springs Cabin, S Madera Canyon Rd, ☎ +1 520-281-2296, toll-free: +1 877-444-6777. A 6-room cabin restored by the National Forest Service and available to rent on a nightly basis. The fully-furnished and equipped cabin is located in juniper and oak woodland by a creek, and can accommodate up to 8 people. Reservations can be made online, or by calling the number above. $150/night.
- Kentucky Camp, Santa Rita Mountains (east of Hwy 83, south of I-10), toll-free: +1 877-444-6777. Cabins are furnished, but guests must bring their own sleeping bags and pillows. For site description see listing above. $75/night.
- Madera Kubo B&B, 1259 S Madera Canyon Rd, Madera, ☎ +1 520-625-2908, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11PM. Another good spot for birdwatchers. $95-$110/night.
- Rancho de la Osa Guest Ranch, 1 La Osa Ranch Rd, Sasabe, ☎ +1 520-823-4257, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A historic guest ranch on the Mexican border which offers guided horseback riding excursions, hikes, mountain biking, and plentiful bird watching opportunities. $249-$400/night, full room and board.
- Santa Rita Lodge, 1218 S Madera Canyon Rd, Madera, ☎ +1 520-625-8746, fax: +1 520-625-1956, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. This 80-yr-old lodge has fully equipped cabins and casitas. Small dogs accepted ($25); no smoking in cabins. There is a small gift shop onsite. $110-$165/night.
- Bog Springs Campground, ☎ +1 520-281-2296. This site is managed by the Coronado National Forest, and is located in Madera Canyon (listed above). No RV hookups, maximum vehicle length 22 feet, toilets and drinking water available. $10/night.
- Kentucky Camp Dispersed Camping Area, Santa Rita Mountains (east of Hwy 83, south of I-10), ☎ +1 520-281-2296. Dispersed camping is permitted, no drinking water onsite. Free.
- White Rock Campground (off of Ruby Rd and I-19), ☎ +1 520-281-2296. Located a short distance from Peña Blanca Lake, this popular campground is managed by the Coronado National Forest. RVs 22' and less, no hookups. No water, vault toilets. $10/vehicle.
As elsewhere in the region, precautions should be taken to guard against heatstroke and dehydration which can come about very rapidly – always take more water than you think you will need.
Rattlesnakes are active from spring through fall, and tend to hide in brush or in crevices during the heat of the day. The best way to avoid bites is to never place your hands or feet where you haven't looked first. Wear boots or sturdy shoes for outdoor activity. If you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately.
In recent years south central Arizona has become a corridor for drug trafficking, particularly in remote areas away from population centers. Hiking and camping in certain areas near the border may be inadvisable; inquire locally as to current conditions, or contact the nearest Border Patrol office for guidelines.