People have been sleeping under the stars in Catalina State Park since at least 1,000 B.C. And it's easy to understand why.
From breathtaking views of Santa Catalina mountains to ancient Native American ruins, Catalina State Park offers immaculate campsites, great hikes and even a concert series. As you walk by some of the park’s 5,000 saguaros, it may be hard to believe you're just minutes from Tucson’s lively restaurant and shopping scene.
Choose from eight trails to explore this breathtaking area. The Romero Ruins Interpretative Trail is an easy .75-mile loop that leads you to the Romero Ruins, an ancient Hohokam village dating to 500 A.D. Mountain bikers should check out the 50-Year Trail, an 8.6-mile one-way trail that weaves up and down the foothills.
Back at camp, you’ll find Catalina’s campgrounds offer flush toilets, hot showers, picnic tables and grills. Equestrians can camp with their horses in a first-come, first-served overnight area.
Outside the park, visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where 85 percent of your experience will be outdoors as you explore the zoo, aquarium, botanic garden and natural history museum. Or see a Wright Flyer and a 787 Dreamliner at the Pima Air & Space Museum, which boasts more than 300 historical aircrafts.
In nearby Oracle, Ariz., visit Oracle State Park, a 4,000-acre wildlife refuge. It's an official International Dark Sky Park and is located on the northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains. Most of its hiking trails are dog-friendly, and there are 15 miles of trails to discover. A highlight is that a 4-mile stretch of the Arizona Trail passes through the park, and you can access it by foot, horseback and bike. Hike the six-mile Arizona Trail Loop that leaves from Kannally Ranch House or take a shorter stroll on the 1.2-mile Nature Trail Loop that allows leashed dogs, mountain bikers and hikers. For some locals, it's the area's best-kept secret.
"It has a completely different feel than Catalina State Park," says Michelle Thompson, chief of communications/PIO for Arizona State Parks & Trails. "It's tucked away and has a historic ranch house you can tour, and it connects to the Arizona Trail.
While in Oracle, visit Biosphere 2, an enormous glass structure built in 1986 to explore what space colonization could look like in a closed system. Two missions in the 1990s sealed scientists inside as an experiment in human behavior and survivability. Today, the University of Arizona uses the facility to research everything from climate change to the impact of drought on the rainforest.
Catalina State Park is located at 11570 N. Oracle Rd. For more information go to azstateparks.com or call 877-697-2757 to make camping or RV reservations.