Tucson Mountain Park and Gates Pass

Tucson is well known as a place for people to visit or retreat to to experience the natural beauty of the desert. From the reds in the rock formations to the rainbow of colors in its sunsets, it is a wonderful place to enjoy any summer evening and to experience some of the raw beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Tucson Mountain Park, established in April 1929, contains Gates Pass (created earlier in 1883): a well known Tucson attraction that allows anyone to view the true beauty that is an Arizona sunset. Through preservation regulations and people's strong desire to maintain the desert, Gates Pass is reaching on its 89th year as a "must see" destination for visitors, as it started to draw in tourists, even more locals, once the park was officially established. 

Tucson Mountain Park and Gates Pass is the ideal location for anyone that enjoys the outdoors. With 20,000 acres of land, there is plenty to explore and is a place that can be visited multiple times without an individual getting bored. There are trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking, places to picnic, and of course, spots to watch the sun go down (or if you are an early bird, watching the sun go up). As stated earlier, preservation plays a key role and ensuring that Gates Pass stays as natural and unaffected by humans as possible, except for when appreciating and enjoying what it has to offer. 

Park Rules

  • Tucson Mountain Park is open from dawn to dusk.
  • No alcohol is allowed in the park.
  • Stay on designated trails.
  • Motorized vehicles are prohibited off roads.
  • It is illegal to remove or disturb any natural or cultural resources.
  • Do not feed wildlife.
  • Dogs are not allowed in Tucson Mountain Park.
  • Geocaching is not allowed.
  • Loitering is not allowed at trailheads or in other areas.
  • Trailheads are for park access only.

Park rules were not only set in place to preserve the desert. They were set in place to make sure visitors stay safe. There are high points of elevation as it is 3,172 feet above sea level that could be dangerous if one is not careful and being in the desert, there are wild creatures that could easily harm a human if disturbed. These park rules have helped maintain Gates Pass for 89 years and will do so for many years to come.

History of Gates Pass

What many may not realize is that Gates Pass does have historical value. It all started with Thomas Gates a local Tucson pioneer, saloon, and ranch keeper, who began his search to find a shorter path between his mine in Avra Valley and Tucson in 1883. Gates spent $1,000 on the windy road that is now known as Gates Pass and shortened his path by about eight miles. Gates died a tragic death when he was appointed superintendent of the Yuma Territorial Prison where three inmates held him hostage and stabbed Gates both in the neck and back. He survived these stabs, but suffered unbearable pain, leading him to commit suicide in 1896. In honor of Gates and Tucson's need to transform its economy from a mining city to a place of tourism, Tucson Mountain Park was established during the Great Depression allowing the visitation of Gates Pass. This road is one of the most dangerous roads in Tucson, therefore newly licensed drivers are not recommended! However, one must be selfish at least one trip up Gates Pass and sit passenger side to enjoy the spectacular views. Despite its difficult car ride, the views along the way and finally making it to the look out spots to take in the Arizona desert bring in 3,100 cars on the road daily all thanks to our entrepreneur, Thomas Gates. 

Source: Southern Arizona GuideSource: Sam Negri


Source: Trip Advisor



Activities and Visitor information

When it comes time for you to visit be sure to check out some of the trails available to hike. While there are many trails available to explore ranging from all different experience levels, Gates Pass Trail is the 4.4 mile trek that holds the name of this beautiful park. Not into hiking? No worries, Tucson Mountain Park has plenty of recreation areas for camping, picnics, and scenic lookouts along Gates Pass Rd. Please be advised that the road is very narrow in the park and parking is only allowed in designated parking lots and scenic pullouts along the road. There are two parking areas along Gates Pass Rd., both with access to hiking trails and all the views you could ever imagine. Information about hiking trails and parking can be found at the websites listed below. 

Looking for more to do? Located right outside the park on the west border of the park is Neighboring Saguaro National Park - West. While it is not part of the Tucson Mountain Park, Saguaro National Park offers many great hiking trails, a visitor and learning center with information about the landscape, history, and wildlife in the park. Don't want to get out of the car? Take a drive on the loop that takes you through the park and enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert from the comfort of your own car. More information about the park can be found at the parks website

Only so much can be captured through pictures and captions, but the true experience is visiting yourself. Planning to visit the park? There is a lot to know and to prepare for. Be sure to bring some extra water with you if you are hiking, and know where to go.  Looking for more to do at the park, or even where to go? Check out these sites below to see what others recommend you do during your time at the park. 

Inside the park boundaries, and right outside of the park, there are some of Tucson's and Southern Arizona's best attractions available within a minuted drive from the park. Visit the Wild West at Old Tucson Movie Studios where Hollywood met the Sonoran Desert. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the best zoo's, aquariums and museums in all of Arizona and even the world. Or continue your hiking adventures at neighboring Saguaro National Park - West. More information of these attractions can be found below. 

https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htmSource: dezzouk on flickr

If you come to visit, please be considerate of others and of the environment. Park rules are set in place to protect the environment, the visitors and the wildlife. 



  1. Dezzouk. “Glorious Sunset - Gates Pass, Tucson, Arizona.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 13 Dec. 2014, www.flickr.com/photos/dezzouk/16008483271.
  2. “Gates Pass.” Dangerous Roads, Dangerousroads.org, www.dangerousroads.org/north-america/usa/4353-gates-pass.html.
  3. “Gates Pass– Gateway to Tucson's Sunset.” Gates Pass Tucson, Arizona, Entertainment Magazine, www.emol.org/tucson/gatespass/index.html.
  4. “Gates Pass.” SouthernArizonaGuide.com, Southern Arizona Guide, 29 Feb. 2016, southernarizonaguide.com/gates-pass-slideshow/.
  5. “Gates Pass (Tucson) - All You Need to Know Before You Go (with Photos).” TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor, www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60950-d561949-Reviews-Gates_Pass-Tucson_Arizona.html.
  6. “Gates Pass.” Visit Tucson, TripAdvisor, www.visittucson.org/business/gates-pass?clientid=26259.
  7. “Gates Pass.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gates_Pass.
  8. Negri, Sam. “The Tragic Tale of Thomas Gates.” Samnegri, 24 Apr. 2016, samnegri.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/the-tragic-tale-of-thomas-gates/.
  9. “Tucson Mountain Park and Gates Pass Scenic Overlook.” Visit Tucson, TripAdvisor, www.visittucson.org/business/tucson-mountain-park-and-gates-pass-scenic-overlook?clientid=23244.