Sandy beach
No
Cliff jumping
No
Hike-in Required
Yes
Sensitive Habitat
Yes
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East of Tucson, a creek tumbles through a steep canyon of the Rincon Mountains. Water falling from the high country down to the desert means one thing: waterfalls. This is Tanque Verde Creek, and waterfalls it has. The name Tanque Verde Falls refers to the highest and most impressive one, an 80-footer that drops into a large pool, but you'll pass many smaller cascades on the hike to reach it.

This spot makes a magical swimming hole on a hot day when the falls are flowing. Though the pool holds water year round, the creek and waterfall run only seasonally. You can see the waterfall in winter and early spring when it swells with snowmelt, but that's not the time for an enjoyable swim. Come in late August or September, at the tail end of monsoon season, for the best conditons. The waterfall flows fairly reliably during this time, and temperatures are generally warm enough to swim.

Don't let the distance or elevation profile of the hike fool you; it's not as easy as it seems. That's because most of the way is not walking on a trail, but boulder hopping and scrambling up the creekbed. It begins on a trail that switchbacks down into the canyon. Be sure to follow the switchbacks, do not cut straight downhill as some people have clearly done, because this causes undue erosion to the slope. Soon enough you'll be in the wash at the bottom. If water is flowing here, the falls will certainly be running.

Even here at the end of trail makes a great place to dip your feet and relax. A short distance upstream is a gravel beach and fine wading pool. Continuing farther requires more strenuous hiking. Most of the way is on loose gravel and slippery granite, with places that require using your hands. If you're confident in your scrambling abilities, keep on going. There is no defined trail, so you must navigate the path of least resistance around obstacles and crossings of the creek.

You'll encounter several pretty waterfalls and swimming holes as you ascend the wash, but the main falls takes a little more work. The final major obstacle comes at a 30-foot waterfall in a slot behind a wedged boulder. Here you must climb a short, vertical section of rock or find a path up and around. Once above this waterfall, you'll see the main waterfall just ahead.

Tanque Verde Falls is a much different spectacle than anything previous on the hike. It's a tall, partially free-falling waterfall that shoots through a notch. The cliffs on either side make an amphitheater filled with red-tinged water in the bottom. The color comes from tannins in the roots of mesquite and other plants which grow throughout miles of the wash upstream. Though the color looks a bit unnatural, there is nothing wrong with it.

Though the cliffs may be tempting for jumping, use extreme caution. The pool is not deep everywhere, and currents beneath the falls can be strong. If you want to swim close to the falls or climb on the cliffs, do so at your own risk and be aware of others around you. To play it safe, stay at the pool's end where the water is shallow and the bank gently sloped. There is room on flat rocks and a small gravel beach for lots of people to spread out and relax. This place is quite popular on nice days over the weekend. On weekdays or less-than-ideal weather days, however, you may find it all to yourself.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Spring

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Large waterfall. Multiple swimming holes. Fairly predictable flow

Cons

Doesn't flow year round.

Pets allowed

Allowed

Features

Sensitive Habitat
Wildflowers
Waterfalls
Wildlife

Location

Field Guide

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