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Tucson Canyoneering: Rappelling into Tanque Verde Canyon

Tanque Verde, or “green canyon”, lies in the foothills east of Tucson beneath the towering presence of Mount Lemmon.  We recently discovered this stunning canyon oasis on a Tucson canyoneering adventure with Arizona Climbing Guides.  We’ve done some incredible canyoneering trips near Zion, Moab and Goblin Valley, but Tucson!?  We had no idea the unique Sonoran Desert of southwest Arizona was hiding such spectacular canyons until we discovered Arizona Climbing Guides.  This 5-star rated team of guides leads Arizona rock climbing, rappelling and canyoneering adventures across Tucson, Phoenix, Prescott and more.  Once we learned about their Tucson canyoneering adventures, we knew we had to go.

We met Ben at the busy Tanque Verde trailhead on a Saturday morning and could tell instantly that we were going to have a blast.  Ben’s easy-going nature and ability to make you feel like an old friend was just what we were looking for on our first canyoneering trip in over two years.  He’s a seasoned and certified rock climbing guide, with an infectious excitement for canyoneering and the unique Tucson ecosystem.  His detailed safety briefing and obvious rappelling competence immediately put us at ease – especially Julie, who has a healthy fear of heights that she is working to overcome on adventures like these.  As he guided us into the canyon we were surprised by his knowledge of the area’s geology despite being a recent transplant. 

Tucson’s Untapped Wilderness Adventures

 We reached the start of the canyon after a short 10-minute hike and were taken aback by the beauty of the canyon as we peered over the edge.  We started our first of three rappels, descending past rock shelves that shifted abruptly from deep black to striking white, with Saguaro cacti framing the canyon like ancient desert sentinels.  The first rappel brought us down forty feet into the canyon, which may not sound like much, but when you’re walking backwards off a cliff, it’s a heart-thumper in the best way.  Ben had our backs though, with clear, step-by-step guidance and that reassuring backup rope. 

After we warmed up with the first rappel and a roped-in traverse across a short but steep section of the canyon, we landed on another ledge where we rappelled further into the canyon.  The second rappel was about 50 feet next to the dry waterfall, thanks to the dry seasonal conditions.  Canyoneering adventures in the spring and early summer have the added excitement of rappelling alongside a seasonal waterfall – also a welcome opportunity to cool off.  Our final rappel of the day was a ninety-foot descent to the canyon floor, to the amazement of a group of hikers admiring the canyon from the bottom.  While it’s possible to hike from the bottom and enjoy the base of the canyon before the walls rise steeply on either side, we were psyched to have been able rappel into the canyon and explore from top to bottom, thanks to Arizona Climbing Guides.

Our hike back out to the trailhead was part rock scramble, part desert hike, and full of rugged desert views.  We just can’t get enough of this landscape dotted with Giant Saguaros, barrel cactus and blooming chollas. 

How to Plan a Tucson Canyoneering or Rappelling Trip

Best Time to Go

Our December adventure was a testament to the year-round appeal of the Tucson area.  The cooler weather was perfect for working up a bit of heat on the trails without breaking a sweat. Arizona Climbing Guides leads trips most of the year, with a short break in the heat of the summer.  If you’re looking for rappelling with waterfalls, head out in springtime or early summer.  For drier adventures, fall and winter are great times to go.

Where to Go

Tanque Verde is a mere 40-minute drive from Tucson, but feels a world away from the city.  Not only is it convenient, but it’s also incredibly beginner-friendly.  The proximity to Tucson allows for spontaneous adventures, easily fitting into a day or even a half-day trip. 

Arizona Climbing Guides also leads various other canyoneering trips and rock climbing trips in the area to a variety of locations that draw rock climbers from all over the country, like Mt. Lemmon and Cochise Stronghold.

Why Choose Arizona Climbing Guides

Arizona Climbing Guides has stellar 5-star ratings, is one of the longest operating guide companies in the area, and they are proud to have guides certified by the American Mountain Guide Association – the gold standard for guide training in the U.S.  Not only are their guides certified, but they are NICE and FUN. This was definitely NOT one of those tours where a condescending guide mansplains guests through the canyon.

They are also committed to conservation, with certifications in Leave No Trace.  They make sure to put those principles to practice in the canyons, picking up litter along the way and ensuring the only thing we left was footprints.

Canyoneering in Tucson – An Adventure for Everyone

Canyoneering in Tanque Verde is beginner-friendly, but it packs a punch that’ll satisfy the adventure junkie in you too.  Arizona Climbing Guides offers Tucson canyoneering, rappelling and climbing trips for everyone – from beginner tours and instruction to big multi-pitch adventures for experienced climbers. 

Whether you visit Tanque Verde, Seven Cataracts or the many rock climbing crags in Tucson, Arizona Climbing Guides will make sure you have stories to tell around the campfire for years to come.

So, what are you waiting for?  Let’s hit the canyons. Adventure is calling!

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