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Matt Marine

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Sara Harelson

I’m Sara! I’m 21, a senior in college, and a journalism major.  I love to read, write, travel, and listen to music.  I’m always on to my next adventure.


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Name: Tanque Verde Falls Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on one user vote)
Type: Hike Difficulty: See description below
Time: 2 - 4 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: See description below Elevation gain/loss/change:See description below
Type: Loop (or out and back) Avg Elevation: 3000 ft
Best time to go: fall, winter, spring, summer Fees: NA
Fitness rating: See description below Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: See description below Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: January, 2013
Short Description: An easy hike to the water, but a challenging hike to the falls itself
Offroad Passport Forum: Click here to join the discussion on Offroad Passport
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. It's Only Rock and Roll; Redington - OUCH; Duners Prize Cache
References / Contact Information: Hike Arizona; NOAA Report; ezinearticles;
Points of interest: Beautiful tall waterfalls and canyon; great place to play in the water; cliff jumping for thrill seekers
Special Considerations: Access to the falls can be extremely dangerous. Many people have died here. Use extreme caution. Do not attempt during a heavy rainfall. Rainfall can occur out of sight and cause a flash flood. Cliff jump and hike at your own risk!
How to get there: Head east out of Tucson on Tanque Verde Road. It will turn into Redington Road. After you cross the wash, you will head up the road to Redington Pass. This has recently been paved to the National Forest line. Drive up the road about 3/4 of a mile (roughly 1/3 a mile after the pavement ends) until you reach a large parking area on the left (Waypoint 001). Click here for directions.

Trail Description

The is a great hike and great place to visit just east of Tucson. Tanque Verde Canyon in which the falls are located is extremely beautiful and easy to get to. It's an awesome place to go play on the rocks and in the water. Due to recent pavement work on Redington Road, getting to the trail head by car is much easier than before.

Getting to the falls itself is another matter altogether. There are a series of at least five good-sized waterfalls ranging from around 20 feet to 100 feet. Some are relatively easy to get to (the upper falls), while some much more challenging (lower falls). Getting to the top or bottom of the main falls is difficult and can be dangerous. Over thirty people have died here since the 1970s, making it the most dangerous place to hike in southern Arizona.

Finally, this area is a party spot for U of A students on the weekends and is a popular nude sunbathing area for others. If you haven't been there, this should be on your to do list!

Google Maps and Google Earth

GPS tracks for this adventure were recorded with My Tracks software on my Android cell phone. This is an awesome piece of free software that allows you to record GPS tracks, waypoints and historical data. It will tell you things like elevation gain, time history, average speed, etc. It will also let you take a tour (similar to playing a time accurate movie) of your track on Google Earth. You can send your tracks to friends or upload them to Google.

Google Maps
Click here to view this adventure's track on Google Maps.

Google Earth
You can also download a Google Earth movie (called a tour) of this adventure (must have Google Earth on your computer). Right click here to download the .kml file, then select "save target (or link) as..." For help on how to play the movie on Google Earth (not very intuitive), click here.

General Information and History

Tanque Verde Falls is not just one waterfall, but a series of five falls, ranging from 20 feet to about 100 feet. This area draws thousands of people every year and is one of the most popular cliff jumping and swimming holes in southern Arizona. A wide range of people enjoy Tanque Verde Falls. Those who just want to relax and enjoy the quiet solitude of a slow moving canyon stream, to adventure seekers looking for the thrill of jumping off tall cliffs into the pools below.

The falls are both beautiful and dangerous. More than 30 people (click here to read NOAA report on deaths of 8 people during a flash flood in 1981) have died at the falls from the 1970s, making it the most hazardous place to hike in southern Arizona. Although it’s true that many of the deaths have a correlation to drinking, flash floods have swept away numerous people and others have fallen to their demise. The access to the very top of the falls is extremely dangerous.

I have hiked Tanque Verde Falls since I moved to Tucson in the mid-1980s. When I went back and found some of my old pictures, I was amazed at the similarities and differences. Click here to view a comparison between the falls in the 1980s, 2004 and 2010. You can see a small tree at the bottom of the falls grow from a sapling in the 1980s to a tall magnificent tree in 2010. You can also see a large tree that is no longer there.

I also recently visited the falls during one of the coldest 5 days on record in Tucson. I was hoping to catch the falls iced over. I hadn't climbed to the bottom of the falls for about 25 years and had forgotten how dangerous and difficult it was. I failed in that I did not make it all the way to the bottom of the falls. But I succeeded in bringing everyone back alive. Here's a picture of me in my water survival suit during the trip. Click here to read about the experience. Click here to see a comparison of the falls in summer and winter.

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The Trail

The falls are just east of Tucson, just a mile or so up Redington Road. The main falls are a two stage waterfall that’s about 100 feet tall, the lower end about 75 feet. There are also some smaller falls just upstream and downstream of the main falls.

There are a few ways you can get to the falls. The lower falls can be accessed from a large parking area and it’s an easy hike down to the water. Then it’s about a ¾ mile hike to the falls from there. And it’s not an easy hike. There are some scary and fairly dangerous climbs up rock faces to access the bottom of the falls. Many people just go to enjoy the water in the wash and the large rocks in this area without ever hiking to the bottom of the falls, and it’s completely worth the trip for just this.

The top of the falls can be hiked to via an large unofficial parking area along Redington Road. Again the descent down to the wash is fairly short and easy. There are two different trails, one that leads fairly close to the top of the falls and one that goes up Tanque Verde Canyon a fair distance. The latter, will drop you down into what was known in the 1980s as Tucson’s nude beach. This was due to a fairly large expanse of sand/gravel in one spot and the numerous people sunbathing nude there. I have some funny stories regarding a few surprises that happened while hiking in that area, but they may be better suited for a different post :-). The nude beach shifted its focus in the early 1990s to be used by more of the gay and lesbian crowd. After doing some research on this area, it looks like the area is still used in this way.

There is a third, and not well known, point of access. The middle overlook. It’s a very short walk from a small parking area (Waypoint 005) to an awesome overlook of the falls (Waypoint 004). This is a great way to see the falls when it’s really roaring. If you are brave (and crazy) enough, you can climb down directly down to the wash below. You will still have to do some climbing to get to the bottom of the falls, but it's a much shorter (and harder) path. Warning! This is very steep and dangerous. Although I have done this, it is not recommended. One slip and you may tumble the 300 feet to the rocks below.

Here are the specifics for each option:

Lower Tanque Verde Falls (Green Trail)

Difficulty: (Novice) to the wash; (Advanced) to the bottom of the falls
Length: ~1.0 mile (one way to the falls)
Elevation gain/loss/change: -250 ft / +120 ft / -130 ft (one way)

Park in the large parking area at Waypoint 001, cross Redington Road and head down the well traveled path into the canyon below. The trail switchbacks its way to the wash and drops you in at Waypoint 002. This was the easy part.

You can play in the rocks and water here for a fun time. We've taken the kids down here many times and really enjoyed ourselves.

If you're the adventurous type, you can see if you can make it to the bottom of the falls. Head upstream. There is no official trail here. You need to find your own way. The first portion of the walk along the wash is easy as the canyon is fairly wide.

But fairly soon, the canyon begins to narrow and you will start having to negotiate large rocks and steep sections. Again, nothing too bad. I love climbing the big rocks and planning the route.

When you get near Waypoint 003, you will come to a medium sized pool at the bottom of a 25 foot cascading waterfall. Getting by the pool without getting wet is not too hard. I've gone on the right side, hanging on the ledge just above the water, and spared my feet (and this rest of my body) from getting wet.

This path leads you to a tall cliff. You need to scale it the 25 feet to the top of the small falls. This climb can be slippery and dangerous. Portions of it don't have many handholds and are off camber. I have done this before, but that was when I was 25 years old and in much better shape than I am now.

It does appear there is another way around this obstacle. Before the last turn leading to this medium sized pool, it may be possible to climb up the hill on the right hand side and make your way to the base of Tanque Verde Falls that way. I have never done it before, but we thought we saw a faint path as we hiked out.

However you decide to go, to get back to the parking area, just turn around and retrace your steps. Caution: coming down the portions you have just scaled can be intimidating if you're afraid of heights like me.

Overlook Trail (Red Trail)

Difficulty: (Beginner to the overlook, but can be scary kids); (Advanced to the falls)
Length: ~0.25 miles (one way, but don't be fooled by this short distance)
Elevation gain/loss/change: +20 ft / -300 ft / -280 ft (one way)

There is a very small parking area (Waypoint 005) on the north side of Redington Road which holds two or three vehicles. Cross the road to access the trail. You can also park at the lower falls parking area and hike up Redington Road (yellow trail) for about 0.4 miles until you reach Waypoint 005.

The trail to the overlook (Waypoint 004) is fairly well traveled. Only the last hundred yards down to the overlook is a little steep and scary. The overlook is a large rock outcropping that gives you a great view of the falls. Be very careful with kids in this area. There are some large drop offs. This is a great place for viewing the falls when it's really running.

If you a little crazy and a lot brave, you can climb straight down the canyon wall to the water below. Again, I don't recommend this, but people do it. It's steep and there's a ton of loose rock. If you go directly down the hill, it will dump you into the wash at around Waypoint 003. See above for access to the bottom of the falls.

Upper Tanque Verde Falls (Blue Trail)

NOTE: Although I have been on this trail numerous times, this trail was detailed by using Google Earth. Trail route and GPS coordinates are approximate!

Difficulty: (Novice to the wash); (Extreme to the top of the falls)
Length: ~0.3 miles (one way to the wash)
Elevation gain/loss/change: ~ -100 ft / +0 ft / -100 ft (one way)

The eastern route takes you directly to the nude beach (see history above). Start at Waypoint 009. The trail ends at the wash at Waypoint 011.

The western route is a more direct route to the water and the top of the falls. Start at Waypoint 006. You will end up in the wash around Waypoint 008. This trail is steeper than the eastern trail.

You can also take one way in, hike along the wash, and take the other way out.

Once down in the wash, you can follow the canyon down until you begin reaching the waterfalls. The lesser waterfalls will come first. Some of these are more easily traversed than others. Depending on the water level and flow, these can be anywhere from little pools to nice swimming holes to dangerous bodies of water.

I attempted to make it to the top of the main falls 25 years ago after a big flood. At one point, we had to jump over the raging water. It was not a smart thing to do. One slip and we would have gone over. Click here to see a picture of me taking the jump. Click here for full story of the trip. This was not the most dangerous spot and we turned around shortly after. If you're afraid of heights and not a rock climber, this part of the trip isn't for you.

When you've gone as far as you desire, turn around and head back the way you came.

Have fun and be safe!

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