green bridge among changing trees at sweetwater wetlands park in tucson arizona

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Just off Interstate 10, tucked back into a collection of commercial buildings, there’s an unexpected goldmine for us outdoorsy types.

Sweetwater Wetlands is more than a park — it’s also an important part of Tucson’s reclaimed water system. Tucson leads the United States with its water conservation and reclamation efforts, and this property is one of many components of the City of Tucson’s water supply management programs.

Originally built in 1996 as a facility to process backwash water, it also serves as an urban oasis for wildlife and people. 

A walk around Sweetwater was one of the things I did the first time I visited Tucson. And now that I live here, it’s become one of my favorite haunts around town. 

This park offers over two miles of walking paths that weave around several ponds, and I’ve seen everything from turtles to bobcats while strolling around with my camera.

Many people will tell you the desert doesn’t have seasons, but I’ve lived here long enough to know they’ve never been here or aren’t paying attention. 

Each season brings something new, and at Sweetwater, you can enjoy colorful leaves in autumn, migratory birds in winter, wildflowers in spring, and reptiles in summer.

No matter where you are in the park, you get great views of the mountain ranges around Tucson. The contrast between the ponds and trees within Sweetwater set against the craggy peaks of the Tucson Mountains and the towering Santa Catalina Mountains with the endless blue sky cutting across the horizon is a treat for your peepers.

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Javelina at Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Tucson, Arizona • Author’s photo

One side of the property is filled with trees and water, while the other side is more open. The park has over 2.5 miles of pathways, including a concrete surface that’s wheelchair accessible. 

The main ramada offers views of deep and shallow water areas with plentiful cattails and lots of waterfowl. 

Look off the side of the railing and into the cattails, and you might see frogs, turtles, or even a green heron. In the springtime, the ponds are rolling with tadpoles, which isn’t something most expect to see in the desert!

Mornings are magical at Sweetwater, offering the best opportunity to witness wildlife in action. 

The park’s tranquility is enhanced by informative signs that provide a self-guided tour. For those seeking a more social experience, the Tucson Audubon Society offers guided walks on Wednesdays.

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A desert spiny lizard suns itself on the sidewalk at Sweetwater Wetlands Park • Author’s photo

We like using our Sigma 150–600mm lens for wildlife photography, but we’ve gotten a lot of great photos with our phones, too. The animals within the park have adapted to the urban setting and are often easier to photograph than those you encounter in remote places.

Located at 2511 West Sweetwater Drive, the park is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. It’s subject to maintenance and weather-related closures, so it’s a good idea to check the City of Tucson’s website for updates before planning a visit.

If you’re into uncovering places you won’t read about in travel guides, Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a must-visit.

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