For the past 25 years, I’ve been a regular visitor to Tucson and have fallen in love with her laid back, Southwestern disposition and charm. Tucson has become like a second home to me and there is no place I’d rather be in Tucson than on a hike in the desert or mountains. One of my all time favorite hikes in Tucson is along the Ventana Canyon Trailhead up to Maiden Pools. Located adjacent to Loews Ventana Canyon resort in the Santa Catalina mountains and less than five minutes from my parents’ home, this 4.7 mile hike up the canyon is one of Tucson’s finest.
Known for its spectacular beauty and magnificent views, the hike to Maiden Pools is a moderate two and a half hour hike depending on speed and stops. If you really want a challenge, you can continue on to “The Window” or “Ventana” in Spanish which the canyon is named after. This 12.8 mile rugged hike is quite challenging and takes pretty much the entire day. The majority of hikers opt for the hike to Maiden Pools where you can stop for a lovely picnic lunch and even dip your toes in the water if you like.
The Ventana Canyon Trailhead is located just to the west of Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. There is a parking lot right next to the trailhead for hikers. When you enter the resort, follow the signs which will lead you to the left side of the resort and the parking lot is just past the employee parking lot.
As you leave the parking lot and follow the trail you are inside the property of Ventana Canyon Resort. The walk brings you around some of Ventana’s rental condos and past the old Flying V Ranch who owns a chance of acres adjacent to the resort and trail.
After about twenty minutes, you reach a walk-through fence where you enter the National Forest boundary and begin the true trail. You can see the stunning steep cliffs of Ventana Canyon rise above you from below in the desert landscape where you are surrounded by cactus and majestic hovering saguaro.
The trail follows the creek for about a mile. It was the most water we have seen in years (I’ve been doing this hike for over 20 years as I do it almost every time I visit Tucson). There was a lot of snow in the mountains in January and as it melts it fills the streams with water. The smell was refreshing and the sound of chirping birds, lovely. Unfortunately it was too soon for wildflowers and cactus blooms but still quite green for late January. If you want the flowers, then come in March.
After the fence, it is about 45 minutes meandering through the desert and around the creek until you have an uphill push for 30 minutes or so depending on pace.
There is a series of steep switchbacks leading you up the canyon. Stunning views of the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson along the way. At our moderate pace, it took us 1 hour 10 minutes from parking lot to top and another five minutes to the pools.
Once at the top of the hill, there is an incredible overlook which is perhaps the best view of Tucson with Mount Wrightson and Mount Ian in the distant horizon. Sometimes when we do this hike we have our picnic lunch here and turn around. It all depends on our mood that day.
After the lookout, you circle to the west for about five more minutes until you reach the start of the Maiden Pools. The pools continue upwards for at least ten minutes of hiking through the canyon. Snow-fed streams fill the pools and it is lush with vegetation. At this elevation, you will soon notice that the cactus aren’t here anymore and the vegetation changes. Cactus stop growing at about 5,000 feet.
The Maiden Pools are a series of pools of varying sizes that meander up through the canyon. Some of the pools are even big enough for swimming and on a hot summer day if there is water in the pools you may find someone taking a dip. The pools are surrounded by different kinds of grasses as well as Mexican blue oaks and flowers in the spring. It is quite spectacular.
The vegetation surrounding the pools is like an oasis in the desert and so different from the Sonoran desert floor. After exploring the pools, you can turn around and head back the way you came or keep hiking towards the rugged Window.
We continued on for another hour or so before heading back as we were curious what the hike was like. My dad had done the Window hike years ago and remembered it was very difficult. After an hour of hiking through a not as well maintained and rough trail, we decided to turn back. However, it was worth the effort to discover the 1,000 year old remains left behind by the Hohokam Indians who used to grind mesquite beans and other legumes into the rocks. Check out this photo of a large circular depression left behind in the rock. These can be found throughout Tucson.
After our prized find, we turned around and headed back down the trail towards our car. Our legs were a bit weary and we were ready to call it a day. Here is a view on the way down.
The hike to Maiden Pools will always be one of my most favorite hikes in Tucson. While you are never alone on the trail, the view and the nature is astounding and well worth the effort.
If you go:
Be prepared for the desert elements and carry lots of water. The best time to hike the trail is in the Spring or Fall yet it can be done year round. If you want to learn about more hikes in Tucson, check out my guide to The Best Hikes in Sabino Canyon. Less than five minutes away from Ventana Canyon, you will find plenty of reasons to come back and visit Tucson. Also check out my Tucson Travel Guide: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Tucson.
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