READERS' PICK: This popular recreation area is part of the Coronado National Forest, located on the city's northern horizon at the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Sabino Canyon Road. Hiking here has two options: ascending into the mountain wilderness, or descending into the lower canyon and Sabino Creek (that's where the dam is). Casual day-hikers can pick up a five-mile nature trail near the Visitor's Center. It's easy to moderate exertion-wise, with a well-traveled trail winding along and through Sabino Creek, and up to some of the area's popular falls (see Best Perennial Water, page 112). The Bear Canyon, Telephone Line and Esperero trails all come down from the mountains to the Visitor's Center. All offer wonderful views of the flora and fauna of the Sonoran desert, but we'd be remiss not to mention Sabino's most popular (and populated) features are its thriving riparian areas and distinctive rock formations. A new, permanent display opening in September in the Visitor's Center will exhibit color photographs and rock samples designed to interest newcomers and locals alike with an overview of the canyon's geologic history and present plant and wildlife. "It's designed so people can walk through and get a taste of what they'll see in the canyon," a Forest Service representative revealed. Stop by the center for a look, and pick up an orientation map at the bookstore. For those whose hiking days are behind them, covered (but open-air) tram service runs through the main canyon to lower Sabino. For reservations and ticket prices, call Sabino Canyon Shuttle at 749-2327.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Mount Wrightson. One of the best things about living in Tucson is the easy access to hiking. Pick a direction, and chances are you can be at a trail head lacing up your boots in less time than you spent watching that last sitcom. Mount Wrightson, in the Santa Rita Mountains, is about an hour south of town. Formerly called Old Baldy for its treeless 9,400-foot summit, it's the taller of the two peaks that form Madera Canyon. Take I-19 south to the Continental Road exit in Green Valley, and head east following the Madera Canyon signs. At the parking lot at the end of the road, you have a choice of two trails that start on different sides of the lot: the older, steeper, shorter Old Baldy Trail (under 11 miles round-trip); and the Super Trail, which is easier walking and has better views, but at 17 miles round-trip is a long day hike. These trails intersect at Josephine Saddle (2.2 miles on Old Baldy, 4 on Super), and you can mix and match sections as your time and legs permit. Both offer beautiful hikes through manzanita, oak, ponderosa pine and more (keep an eye out for bears in the middle section, for instance). The peak has unobstructed, 100-mile views. It also has very changeable weather, so be prepared for the extremes of the season. Late October or early November, before the first snow, is a good time to go. Expect to be huffing on that last quarter mile, but it's worth all the effort.