Making a popular hiking spot safer during flash floods

Tanque Verde Falls has a new trail that gives guests a beautiful view, up above the canyon below
A new trail overlooks Tanque Verde Falls.
Posted at 7:30 AM, Jun 16, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Hiking in the extreme heat of a Southern Arizona summer is dangerous enough. But monsoon storms can create flash flooding that ramps up that risk even more.

Tanque Verde Falls is one of the most popular hiking spots in all of Southern Arizona. But during monsoon, or times where there’s flash flooding, it can also be one of the most dangerous spots.

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Changes are being made to make it safer. The area is getting more than a million dollars in improvements from federal funding through the Great American Outdoors Act.

“Over the last 40 years we’ve wanted to do something out here, and now’s the time,” said Starr Farrell, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.

The funding paid for new trails, including one called the “Overlook Trail.” Just over a half mile long, it gives guests a new, safer way to view the iconic waterfall.

“You can take a gentle stroll out to an amazing vista,” said Farrell.

Before, if you wanted an up-close view of Tanque Verde Falls, you’d have to hike to the bottom of the canyon and then all the way up to the base of the falls. Now you can get a beautiful view of the falls from the end of the trail, high above the canyon on the cliffside.

“So during those monsoonal rains, when we don’t know if there’s gonna be a flash flood or not, we’re now pulling people out of the canyon and allowing them to still see that beautiful waterfall from a safe distance,” said Farrell.

The trail-making process took about eight weeks, and was completed earlier this year.

“It was one mini-dozer here. And it came through first and it would move those big rocks out of the way,” Farrell explained. “From there, the hand crew came in and they evened everything out.”

The new trail starts at a new dirt parking lot for cars and trailers, between the upper and lower parking areas.

“We’re gonna have a new vault toilet, shade structures, picnic tables,” Farrell said.

Other new trails loop around the area to keep hikers off of Redington Road.

“We said: ‘Public safety’s our number one concern,’” said Farrell. “How can we make this a safer and more enjoyable experience for anybody who’s coming out here to recreate.”

The U.S. Forest Service tells KGUN more and more people have been visiting the area since the pandemic.

The plan is for the long-awaited upgrades to be complete by late 2024 or early 2025.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.