The Ironwood Forest National Monument, named after one of the oldest trees in Arizona’s desert, encompasses an enormous 129,000 acres. Guests to the park will enjoy a variety of outdoor activities that are great for guests of all ages, like camping, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Located in the Sonoran Desert, the Ironwood Forest was officially designated by Bill Clinton in 2000. It is officially managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some of the archaeological sites found in the forest, like the petroglyph rock art, can be traced back more than 5000 years. There are also two different animal and plant species that have been federally recognized as being endangered. The area is currently used for mining and cattle ranching, as well. It had been mined for andesite by the Hohokam people for thousands of years, and recently mined for both copper and silver.
Due to the Ironwood Forest’s immense size, the area offers a nearly unlimited series of outdoor opportunities. Many of them are educational in nature, introducing guests to the history of the Ironwood Forest in a fun and interactive way.
One of the top outdoor activities at Ironwood is primitive camping, which is available on the actual monument. As a primitive campground, there are no electrical hookups. Guests should stop by the Visitor Center or call to reserve a spot. Camping is allowed for a period of up to two weeks, and all campers are required to stay at least a quarter of a mile from any water sources and avoid all corrals. They may also not use any wood from the forest - from either live or dead wood sources. Be aware of any potential fire restrictions.
For visitors who like to enjoy outdoor sporting activities, there are miles and miles of hiking and mountain biking trails available. The Visitor Center as well as the Ironwood Forest website maintains a complete map of all trails, including their difficulty level and how long they take to hike from start to finish. The trails also allow guests to check out all of the beautiful wildlife and plant life that the forest has to offer. Photography is both welcome and encouraged. The spring is often reported as the best time to visit, as the flowers are at their best bloom.
Guests who want to see the forest without having to walk often enjoy taking a horseback tour. Guests can bring and board their own horses on site or can stop by the Visitor Center to see if there are any available tours (these do require a fee). Horseback riding is a great way to see the forest, and the tours are perfect even for guests with little to no experience.
Vehicles are welcome at specific, designated areas in Ironwood Forest. All vehicles must stay on those routes or may be fined.
No cost is necessary to enter Ironwood Forest. Permits are not necessary either, but guests should be aware of what is considered private or state trust land.
Visitors to the forest should be aware that there are potentially dangerous animals in the park, including African bees and hazardous snakes. Use caution.
While no structured educational opportunities exist at Ironwood Forest, the website provides a Junior Ranger handbook that is specifically catered to the younger guests visiting the area. Junior Rangers earn badges by working to complete at least six of the activities listed in the handbook (which can be printed off prior to visiting Ironwood Forest). Once completed, children can either drop it off at the Visitor Center or mail it back to the office to receive a Junior Ranger badge and completion certificate.
The activities include matching games about the forest’s ecological value, learning how to visit without leaving a trace, physical activities designed to learn about and mimic the movements of some of the animals found in the park, mazes, word matches, and seek and finds.
Children are also encouraged to sign the Junior Ranger Oath, making promises to not feed wild animals, to not touch historical objects or take anything home with them, and to share what they’ve learned with others. This certificate can be printed out.
Dining and Shopping
Small snack and dinner items that don’t need to be cooked are welcome in the park. However, guests should be aware that the nearest store to purchase groceries is either in Marana or the city of Tucson (neither of which are in walking distance). There are no shopping areas in the forest either, but the nearby towns do offer a selection.
3201 East Universal Way, Tucson, AZ, 85546, Phone: 520-258-7200