Wasson Peak via King’s Canyon Trail: An awesome way to start a Tucson day!

By guest blogger Nicole Mullins. Photos Copyright © Nicole Mullins.

TUESDAY, MARCH 12 was a very physical day.

I was already sore when I awoke, thanks to all of the wonderful amenities for physical activity at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, Arizona. As an exercise physiologist based in Ohio, it’s like a Western heaven for me! One can swim, lift, cycle, play tennis, pickleball, volleyball, golf. . . .

So, upon waking to some considerable soreness, I decided to just take an easy walk around the Voyager grounds. However, as the gorgeous morning sun warmed the air, my muscles started to loosen and I quickly switched to Carpe Diem Gear.

While I always hike when in Tucson, I had yet to plan a route, so I logged onto to and to see what I could see. I quickly found a trail that looked right up my alley, and off I went (of course well-nourished and well-supplied with water).

I easily found the King’s Canyon trailhead, as directed by various websites. King’s Canyon Trail is the most direct route towards Wasson Peak, the high point of Saguaro National Park West, located in the Tucson Mountain Range. A gravel parking area and the trailhead are located just off Kinney Road, directly across from the popular Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Arizona desertscape

Near King’s Canyon trailhead

With slight variations among sources, the estimated out-and-back trip duration is 4-5 hours, the distance 6.5-7 miles, and the elevation gain somewhere in the vicinity of 1,750-2,000 feet.

As all hikers should do, I signed the trail registry, started my watch and my climb. The first 0.9 miles was gradual, though quite rocky, with small rocks largely covering the dirt surface. This section ends in a wash, where walking in the sand is challenging, but brief. At this point, I felt uncertain about which way to go, despite having made clear mental notes of the map. I stayed to the right, as the map indicated, which was correct, but I would have preferred validating signage.

Later on, during my descent, I encountered ascenders with similar uncertain sentiments. They were happy for my route validation.

Arizona desertscape

Ever-changing views made the time and the miles fly by

The next 1.4 miles presented a nice incline. I was puffing, but also moving very quickly. The trail winds around the mountain, providing ever-changing views that made, I felt, the time and the miles fly by. At the junction of the Sweetwater Trail, I was happy to see some signage to indicate that I was 1.2 miles from Wasson Peak.

Arizona desertscape

Starting to feel the incline

Arizona desertscape

The view from a little higher up

Sweetwater Trail

Some signage was reassuring!

The next section was my favorite, climbing through steep switchbacks, with spectacularly situated Sonoran vegetation, including cacti galore – saguaros, barrel, prickly pear, and cholla. My personal favorite plants were the little, yellow Mexican poppies that somehow spring abundantly amongst the rocks.

When seemingly near the summit, there is one more sign, indicating another 0.3-mile jaunt to the peak. This section seemed largely flat . . . somewhat like a bridge connecting two peaks.

Arizona desertscape

Spectacularly-situated Sonoran vegetation

Arizona desertscape

Mexican poppies

Arizona desertscape

More desert beauty from above

At the summit, the 360-degree views were spectacular, and well worth the trip. I didn’t stay long, as I am kind of a quick mover. I made the up-trek in 1:09:00 (not a run, but a brisk clip), and the descent in 57:00 (part jog/park walk).

Arizona desertscape

360-degree views

Hiking trail register

My up-trek was 1:09:00, with a descent time of 57:00

My calves and feet did let me know how they felt about the pace, as they were quite sore at the end. Again, the trail is quite rocky and I would be concerned for anyone with balance challenges or osteoporosis. Otherwise, I highly recommend this trail.


Nicole Mullins of YSU

Nicole competing in the Tough Mountain Challenge

Nicole Mullins is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Youngstown State University, in Youngstown, Ohio. She is dedicated to promoting physically active lifestyles and, to say the least, to living one herself. Originally from Maine, Nicole loves the outdoors and exploring new places for active adventures. One of her favorite events is the Tough Mountain Challenge, held in Sunday River, Maine, where she placed first in the women’s division in July 2012.

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  1. What gorgeous views! When I first moved from the East Coast, I did not appreciate the beauty of the desert, but now that I have been out in California for over 25 years, I love looking at the layers upon layers of rock. The cacti are just amazing. How they can survive in such an unrelenting heat baffles me and makes me appreciate them even more.

    I love Tucson and can’t wait to challenge myself on the trail you suggest. I don’t think my time will be as quick as yours, but, hey, my only goal is to have my name on the trail register.

  2. That is some spectacular view and trail, and I simply love the yellow poppies! Glad you shared your hike with us 🙂

  3. David Ryan says:

    When I look at the pictures all I could think of is, “Must bring a cold gallon of water when I go there.”

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