Tucson is a waterfall lover's dream. Seven Falls, Seven Cataracts, Ventana Falls, Bridal Wreath, Bridalveil... not to mention the dozens of unnamed falls deep in the backcountry of the Catalinas and Rincons. For my money, though, the sweetest waterfall in the Tucson area can be found at Tanque Verde Falls. Tucked away in the middle of some very harsh desert country is a little slice of paradise, seemingly more like Hawaii than Arizona.
From the parking area, cross the road and head south down a gently switchbacking trail maintained by the Southern Arizona Hiking Club. Along the way you will pass a set of signs warning of the dangerousness of the area ahead. This warning is not to be taken lightly; it is my understanding that more people have died here than in any other hiking area around Tucson. After a very easy half-mile, you will reach the floor of the canyon. If the water is flowing well here, the falls upstream should be spectacular.
From this point on there is no defined trail. You simply turn left and head upstream. There are lots of little pouroffs and small waterfalls to hold your interest. After approximately 0.75 miles from the trailhead, the canyon grows a bit more serious, and much scrambling and climbing over boulders is necessary. Finally, you will reach the mouth of an exciting looking narrow section. Just around the corner is a thunderous 30-foot waterfall surrounded by steep canyon walls. This is a very pretty waterfall, but it is not the actual Lower Tanque Verde Falls. To reach the actual destination of this hike, you must scramble up the rock wall to the right of the 30-footer, which is not easy when you are getting blasted with spray. However, the reward is more than worth it. Tucked into a little grotto is a 75-foot waterfall, Lower Tanque Verde Falls. After enjoying your visit to paradise, turn round and head back the way you came.
To hike Take Tanque Verde Road east out of Tucson. Tanque Verde Road becomes Reddington Road and becomes dirt. Keep following this dirt road for a short distance (no more than 2 miles) and you will see a sign on the right which says "Tanque Verde Falls" and a sign on the left which says "Parking." Turn left here. After 10 a.m. on weekends this parking lot is generally full.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.