Sweetwater Wetlands is a water treatment facility that recreates a water-rich, streamside riparian zone that supports a wide variety of wildlife while naturally treating and filtering water that is backwashed from the filters at Tucson Water’s Reclaimed Water Treatment Plant. It is located along the banks of the Santa Cruz River which once flowed year-round.
Construction of the wetlands has replicated some of the native habitat and wildlife that occurred along the Santa Cruz River before the 1900′s. Sweetwater Wetlands includes areas of deep open water, shallow water, shorelines and uplands. Each area serves a specific purpose and replicates the habitat of a natural wetland system.
A wetland is a place with soggy ground, pungent moist smells and lush green plants. There are wetlands that occur naturally in the desert, although rare: a seasonal pond or spring, a marshy cienega or a small backwater beside a desert stream. Although this is not a natural wetland you will still enjoy the lush landscape, shady pathways and wildlife. This is also a bird watcher’s paradise!
There are about 2.5 miles of pathways, all of which are easy to walk. Some are paved and the others are gravel and dirt. They are all flat and easy to maneuver on. You can easily do a half mile loop if you need to go at toddler pace. It is easy to backtrack or cut through the middle as well so a trip here doesn’t have to involve a ton of walking if you prefer.
There are some paved walkways.
There are also some gravel and dirt pathways.
The main ramada off of the paved pathway is covered. J had a great time watching the ducks and looking for turtles from this ramada. There are benches here and plenty of shade.
The main ramada offers plenty of space to relax and plenty of shade.
Looking for ducks.
The main ramada from the other side of the pond.
There are also a few other observation decks that overlook the water.
An observation deck overlooking one of the deep water areas.
This is the view from another observation deck.
There are plenty of shady spots with benches and a lot of the pathways are shaded by trees, too. There are a lot of Fremont Cottonwood trees, Gooding Willow trees and Velvet Mesquite trees.
Plenty of shade!
There is plenty of other vegetation as well and we enjoyed hearing the rustling of leaves as we puttered around.
There were Cattails everywhere.
There’s lush, green vegetation surrounding all the ponds.
Oh, the birds! So many different types, so many different sounds! We went in the morning and it was fantastic. What a beautiful way to enjoy the morning! There were bird watchers everywhere with their binoculars and expensive cameras. The Red-Winged Blackbirds were very active and fun to watch. They have a very distinctive call. You will spot the males easily but look for the females lower to the ground. They are more likely to be skulking through the vegetation and their brown feathers help them to blend in. J was more interested in the ducks though.
Male Red-Winged Blackbird
We also saw turtles, lizards, dragonflies and all kinds of other insects. There were bat houses in a few of the trees so I think it would be fun to go see the bats leave in the evening.
Red-Eared Slider Turtles and an American Coot duck (I think).
The recharge basins are off-limits to visitors but they are full of ducks. However, you will need binoculars or they will just look like little specks from most of the viewpoints.
One of the recharge basins.
J definitely had plenty to explore. She had fun crossing over a small stream-like area near the parking lot.
J had fun going back and forth on this little bridge.
The view from the bridge.
J also had fun climbing on the big rocks that are near the parking area. She collected a bunch of leaves as we walked around and filled up her little snack container. Green leaves! Green leaves! Yes, it is that exciting to find green leaves in Tucson!
Climbing on the huge rocks with her leaf collection.
Sweetwater Wetlands is open daily from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. The address is 2551 West Sweetwater Drive. The parking lot is small but you can park on the road if it is full. It isn’t a busy street so crossing to the wetlands is no big deal. There are bathrooms and garbage cans. You might be wondering if the water smells. We didn’t notice any funky water smells – just regular earthy pond smell. However, it is reclaimed water so don’t touch it!
There is an excellent Sweetwater Wetlands Activity Book and Field Guide that you can download. It explains our water cycle, wetlands in general and Sweetwater Wetlands specifically. It has a map and lists with photos of the wildlife and plants that you might see on your trip. It also has activities for older children or for you to do with the young ones. I definitely recommend checking it out before you go.