Hike of the Week: King Canyon Trail near Tucson

Mare CzinarJanuary 30, 2024
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Saguaro National Park, West, Tucson 

If you hike along the trails of Saguaro National Park West in any depth, sooner or later, you’ll end up on the 4,687 foot summit of Wasson Peak. Two clusters of trails located at the southwest and northeast ends of the park tie in with arterial routes that funnel to the highest point of the Tucson Mountain Range. King Canyon Trail is the shortest, most direct route to the top. Although brief, the trek is no walk in the park (ok, well, technically it’s in a park). Over its 3.5-mile one-way course, hikers ascend 1,987 feet along a dirt path that goes aggressively vertical on the last mile. Right out of the gate, a tempting, cloud-caressing massif looms ahead. This is the infamous “false summit” of Wasson Peak. The actual highpoint resides behind it and you won’t see it until you’ve hiked halfway up its deceptive sibling. Advance knowledge prevents the emotional torture of discovering this cruel fluke with exhausted legs. From the parking area located just outside the Saguaro National Park boundary, follow the dirt road at the end of the lot and hike a few dozen yards to the official trailhead. 

King Canyon Trail proper ends 0.3-mile from the summit prize. Here, the drool-worthy destination appears as a lone stub at the end of a spur trail hugging a knife-edge ridge hovering over Tucson. At this point, with just one more uphill haul left to tackle, the physical climbing challenge is mostly complete. Regroup your resolve, take a deep breath and trudge on because mentally, you’re already there.  

LENGTH: 7 miles roundtrip 

RATING: moderate 

ELEVATION: 2,700- 4,687 feet  

RULES: Dogs, bikes and motorized vehicles are prohibited. Livestock is not allowed on the summit switchbacks. 


Kin Canyon Trailhead:  

From Interstate 10 in Tucson, take Speedway Blvd. exit 257 and head 12 miles west (Speedway turns into Gates Pass Road) to Kinney Road. Turn right and continue 2.5 miles to the trailhead located 0.1 mile past the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at parking area K24 on the right. 

INFO: nps.gov/sagu/index.htm