Running in Tucson

A question from Katie:

Hi Nathan! I love to run, but it’s so friggin hot right now, where are your favorite spots? Ususally I go to Sabino Canyon, but because its so hot – the only time that would be decent is at dusk and I am afraid that I will run into a rattlesnake or Mtn lion! I like to run 3 to 5 miles – any suggestions?

When to run

Tucson is hot. Even in the winter it’s hot during the day, but during the summer it’s absolutely miserable. Even at dusk, the temperature is often still near 100 degrees. In my most recent 5k (the TMC Meet Me Downtown 5k Night Run/Walk 2011 on June 5, 2011), the temperature at race start (7:00) was 98! Even drinking liberal doses of water, by the time I was done I was severely dehydrated. If running at night is your only option, I have several suggestions: drink plenty of water beforehand, carry plenty of water during the run (a water belt or carrying a water bottle both work), and drink plenty of water afterward. Running after dark is always an option too if you can find someplace lighted, there’s a full moon, or you don’t mind carrying a flashlight to light your way. Recently I’ve run barefoot on the soccer fields at Udall Park about an hour after sunset. There was enough light from the adjacent softball fields that I was comfortable enough with not stepping on anything or in any holes. It was still a little warm, but without the sun beating on me it didn’t feel too bad.

But my suggestion would be to run in the morning! The coolest part of the day is just after sunrise. I know it’s hard getting out of bed that early in the morning, but for me it’s worth it. This morning it was only 72 and the sun wasn’t as intense as the afternoon or evening.

Where to run

Where you run partially depends on when you choose to run. If you run in the mornings, you can pretty much run anywhere you want! That’s the great thing about running. If you’re looking for a flat run, the Rillito River path is great. If you’re looking for hills, Sabino Canyon or Tumamoc Hill are both great. Sabino is longer (about 8 miles round trip), but Tumamoc is much steeper. City parks are usually empty at this time of day too. If you don’t mind running in circles, high school tracks are available. Be careful though. If someone from the school says that you can’t run there, you’ll have to leave, but that’s never happened to me. Running around Reid Park seems popular, although I’ve never done it.

Mount Lemmon is a great place to run in the summer! (Don’t try this now with the Forest Service restrictions in place.) Drive up to Summerhaven and run up Ski Run Road. It’s about 7 miles round trip, and the temperature is about 15 degrees cooler than in the city! If you don’t want to run 7 miles, turn around whenever you feel like it. It’s a pain to drive all the way up Lemmon just for a 5 mile run so I’d recommend taking up a picnic and making an afternoon out of it. Or if you’re into such things, run in the evening, have dinner (either your own or at Ski Valley), and then stargaze as long as you want. This is more fun with a group of people, but can be a solo activity too. A telescope may or may not be needed depending on if you want to look at specific objects or just marvel at the night sky.

I will mention that I run on roads quite a bit, mostly because it’s easy. Slip on a pair of running shoes, head out the door, and I’m already running. I have a route in my neighborhood that’s 4 miles that I run quite a bit. The nice thing about running in your neighborhood is that you get to meet some neighbors that you might not already know, especially if you run at the same time everyday. I regularly see the same walkers, runners, and cyclists when I do early morning runs.


I don’t know how many miles I’ve run in the Tucson area, but I do know that in all my time hiking, biking, and running I’ve only ever seen one snake. I was hiking in the Coronado Forest in the afternoon and a snake was sunning itself on the trail. As I approached, unaware at this point of its presence, I heard it scurry off the trail, and barely caught sight of it as it went down a hole.

I don’t think there’s too much need to worry about snakes at Sabino Canyon, even at night. I’ve run the road at dusk numerous times, and even though everyone says to be careful of snakes, I’ve never seen one. You should still be careful though! Mountain lions are a different story. I have seen a mountain lion in Tucson, but not while outside. I was actually here for a conference, and saw one from the hotel. The last time I heard of a mountain lion sighting at Sabino was fall 2010. Since I’ve been in Tucson (7 years) I don’t recall hearing about anyone getting attacked by a mountain lion. There was a lot of sightings in 2004, and they closed the park for awhile, but I don’t think anyone was attacked. In short, I don’t think you have anything to worry about by running at dusk at Sabino Canyon. (Note that Sabino is currently (June 17, 2011) closed at dusk due to fire danger, so don’t run there now anyway.) If you’re still worried about mountain lions, contact the Forest Service Santa Catalina Ranger District for up to date information.

If you want to see wildlife while you’re running, I’d suggest doing it in the morning. I’ve seen numerous deer while hiking and running at Sabino, but only in the mornings. I’ve also seen roadrunners, large birds of prey, smaller rodents, and the usual lizards.


1 Comment

Filed under running, tucson

One response to “Running in Tucson

  1. Awesome follow up, thank you so much!

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