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10 Famous Activities to do on Memorial Day in Tucson

Memorial Day Weekend in Tucson

Home of exciting Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Drive Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, See the Desert at Saguaro National Park and many things to do in Tucson on Memorial Day. We've compiled some of the best activities to do in Tucson on this Memorial Day holiday.

Memorial Day Weekend in Tucson

Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on Memorial Day

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers an intimate look at the desert landscape around Tucson on Memorial Day. This museum is a wonderful family outing with a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden all in one.

Displays showcase living animals and plants native to the Sonoran Desert, including some endangered species such as the Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, desert pupfish, Sonora chub, bonytail chub, razorback sucker, and Gila topminnow.

As you wander the footpaths, keep an eye for the busy and colorful hummingbirds whizzing about from flower to flower. Approximately 40,000 plants representing 1,200 species can be seen here. Rock hounds will be in their element exploring the gem, mineral, and fossil collections.

One of the most popular things to do is watch the live animal presentations, including the Raptor Free Flight, with hawks flying over the audience. Afterwards, information on the birds is provided, and an opportunity to see them close up.

Drive Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

If you are looking for a break from the city and interested in a beautiful drive, take the time to drive the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway. Starting approximately 15 miles outside of Tucson, this route is one of the must-do attractions on Memorial Day weekend in Tucson area.

This 27-mile one-way road winds its way up the Santa Catalina Range on the Catalina Highway, and allows you to experience several completely different ecosystems in a short period of time. It also provides some of the most spectacular views out over the surrounding mountains and valleys.

A cool escape from Tucson's heat, the drive will take you from a dry desert floor with cacti right up to towering pine trees, small streams, and beautiful lakes. At the top is the small community of Summerhaven. A tradition for many families, and one you may want to try while in town, is a stop in at the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for one of their signature giant cookies, an ice cream, or a slice of pizza.

Several wonderful campgrounds are located along the way, as are some challenging hikes into the backcountry. The road is well engineered and not a scary drive, and plenty of lookouts with large parking areas are located at strategic stopping points. Road bikers relish the challenge of climbing the inclines and racing back down, keep an eye out for their brightly colored jerseys.

The Catalina Highway is also known as the Hitchcock Highway or Sky Island Parkway. Count on at least two hours, but an entire afternoon with a picnic lunch would be ideal.

Memorial Day on Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park offers an easy opportunity to see and experience the Sonoran Desert, east and west of Tucson during Memorial Day. Here, you can see the signature saguaro cactus, which are the tallest species in North America. Hiking trails run through the park and offer good opportunities to spot wildlife. Some of the animals and reptiles that call the desert home include Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens, desert tortoises, jackrabbits, and Gila monsters (lizards).

The park is divided into two sections: the more popular Saguaro East - Rincon Mountain District and Saguaro West - Tucson Mountain District. Each area is different in its own way. Saguaro East is easily accessible and has a beautiful, paved, rolling, scenic drive with short hikes. Saguaro West is a bit farther out but retains more of the rugged beauty and has longer and more spectacular hikes, but the scenic drives are on gravel roads. If you are camping, the nearby Gilbert Ray Campground is a great spot.

Your paid admission or park pass is good for both areas, and it takes about an hour to transit between both divisions.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Known as the "White Dove of the Desert," San Xavier del Bac mission station in the southwest of Tucson was established by Spanish Jesuits in 1770. The mission buildings, particularly the ornately decorated church, are fine examples of the Baroque architecture of the colonial period. It is still used by the Tohono O'odham Indians as a spiritual center.

This is a free attraction, but donations are appreciated to fund the ongoing restoration. Visitors can walk through the old church and the grounds at their leisure. The museum contains artifacts highlighting the history of the Mission, and a 20-minute video provides an excellent overview.

Explore the Trails in Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park is home to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and combining a visit to both allows you to both see and learn about this fascinating desert landscape. The park covers about 20,000 acres of Sonoran Desert landscape, just west of Tucson. You'll find an extensive trail system for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, although many people come here simply to see the museum, and enjoy the sunsets.

Tucson Mountain Park abuts the west section of Saguaro National Park, and you can easily combine a visit to both parks. Mountain lions and bobcats, along with a host of other wildlife, live in the park, although some of these tend to frequent the most remote areas.

This park is also home to one of the best campgrounds in the Tucson area on Memorial Day, the well-maintained Gilbert Ray Campground.

El Presidio Historic District on Memorial Day

History upon history resides in the El Presidio Historic District, one of the oldest inhabited sites in the USA. The area was once inhabited by the Hohokam Indians, and in 1775 became the site of a Spanish military fort that would become the City of Tucson. What visitors see today is a mix of Spanish-Mexican and Anglo-American architecture, along with beautifully restored adobe houses.

One of the main tourist attractions is the Old Town Artisans, a restored 1850s marketplace. It includes an entire city block of galleries and stores all set in unique buildings. The stores offer selections of art, jewelry, crafts, home decor, and other items by artists from Tucson and around the state. Other items you can find here include pottery, paintings, metalwork, photography, Native American wool rugs, and carvings.

You can stop for a meal at El Charo Café, which claims to be the oldest continuously operating family-owned Mexican restaurant in the United States. The café also boasts being the place where the chimichanga, a deep-fried burrito, was invented.

Pima Air and Space Museum

The Pima Air and Space Museum is the largest privately funded air museum in the world, with more than 400 aircraft and spacecraft. The collection includes historical aircraft, as well as some of the most advanced models. Featured attractions include John F Kennedy's presidential plane and a replica of a 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer.

A couple of the newest additions are a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Orbis DC 10 Flying Eye Hospital. In addition to the aircraft, the museum is also home to over 125,000 flight-related artifacts, including a moon rock.

The planes are spread out over 80 acres and six hangars, and tram tours (not included in admission fee) are led by knowledgeable guides. For an additional fee, visitors can also take a bus tour to the adjacent "Boneyard," the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center. To visit this area, requests have to be made 10 days in advance via the website.

The larger planes at the Pima Air and Space Museum are outdoors, so plan your visit in Tucson during Memorial Day.

Enjoy Tucson's Best Hiking Trails

The mountains and beautiful landscape of the Sonoran Desert make Tucson a great place for lacing up your hiking boots and heading out on the trails. Whether you are looking for an aggressive hike to the top of a mountain or a simple wander through the cacti to see birds and other wildlife, you can find trails for all abilities, and hikes to suit your mood. Spring is a particularly wonderful time for hiking in Tucson on Memorial Day., when the wildflowers come into bloom, and the desert turns a vibrant green.

One of the most popular hikes is Seven Falls Trail in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, where you can hike up to a set of natural pools and even go for a dip. Also worth checking out is the Sutherland Trail, where you can opt for a long or short hike. If you just want a short stroll to experience nature, head to the Valley View Overlook Trail in the west section of Saguaro National Park.

Hike, Bike, or Camp at Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park, just north of Tucson, is a desert region with picnic areas, as well as good hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails. One of the best hikes in the park is the 10.8-mile Sutherland Trail, which can be done in part or in full. You have a good chance of spotting wildlife. This park is also home to some of the best camping in the Tucson area during Memorial Day.

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona in Tucson is home to the impressive Arizona State Museum, Mineral Museum, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Museum of Art, the Flandrau Science Center, and the Campus Arboretum. Visitors can spend a couple of hours or a couple of days seeing the sights on this campus.

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