King Canyon Trail

by Dave Baker Monday, March 7th 2011

The King Canyon Trail is an excellent way to enjoy Saguaro National Park West, which protects a major portion of the Tucson Mountains west of Tucson, Arizona. The Sonoran Desert ecosystem is on full display along the trail, featuring Saguaro cactus groves, Ironwood trees and Jojoba shrubs, to name just a few plant species.

Wasson Peak

Wasson Peak, from Tucson’s west side

Hikers will also encounter plenty of evidence of the mining history of the Tucson Mountains in King Canyon, including a few mine shafts right beside the trail. Indeed, King Canyon Trail is named after the Copper King Mine, which was active in the area in the early 1900’s and briefly during World War II.

A section of King Canyon is also home to ancient Hohokam petroglyphs; down canyon a bit from the Mam-A-Gah Picnic area, which is about a mile up the trial.

King Canyon petroglyph

Ancient rock art in King Canyon

Located on the west side of the range, the King Canyon Trail provides the most direct route to the high point of the Tucson Mountains – Wasson Peak (4,687 ft). A final bit of history: Wasson Peak is named in honor of John Wasson, the first editor of the Tucson Citizen newspaper in the late 1800’s.

This is a beautiful and rewarding hike, but note that the Tucson Mountains are relatively low elevation and can be dangerously hot in the summer, early fall and late spring. Winter, late fall and early spring are the best times to take advantage of the Park’s trail network and enjoy the unique scenery and landscapes.

Along the King Canyon Trail

King Canyon Trail

The trailhead is on the opposite side of Kinney Road from the entrance to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Kinney Road is easy to reach by following Speedway Boulevard west past I-10. Speedway eventually becomes Gates Pass Road, which continues up and over Gates Pass before descending into Avra Valley. Gates Pass Road ends at the junction with Kinney Road where you turn right (north). Look for a dirt trailhead parking lot just past the entrance to the Museum, on the right (east) side of the road. The first mile or so of trail follows an old jeep road which begins at the back of the parking lot.

Avra Valley viewed from Wasson Peak

Avra Valley from Wasson Peak

Season: Fall, winter and spring. The Tucson Mountains are low elevation and very, very hot during summer months, late spring and in early fall. This hike is most enjoyable on cool winter days.

Water: None: bring plenty of your own.

Note: Dogs and pets are not permitted on this trail. Though fees are not collected at the trailhead, Saguaro National Park is a fee area.

Difficulty: Mt Wasson is 3.5 miles from the King Canyon trailhead with a 1,900 elevation gain. Moderately difficult.

Maps: Green Trails Maps Saguaro National Park


Click map for larger image


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!