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 Earth and its creations. 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 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 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 into 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. Now, this road is one of the most dangerous roads in Tucson, therefore, is not for newly licensed drivers! 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: TripAdvisorSource: Sam Negri


Visit Yourself!

Only so much can be captured through pictures and captions, but the true experience is visiting yourself. If you are a local to Tucson or even just driving through, making a trip during sunset is certainly worth your while. Many travel websites such as 

  • https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60950-d561949-Reviews-Gates_Pass-Tucson_Arizona.html
  • https://southernarizonaguide.com/gates-pass-slideshow/
  • https://www.visittucson.org/business/gates-pass?clientid=26259

will give visitors all the information they need to plan a trip up. Look at what interests you the most whether it be hiking during sunrise or having a picnic during sunset and make the trip!

Source: dezzouk on flickr


  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.