Tumacácori National Historical Park
Step back in time and explore this 19th-century Franciscan mission, built under the guidance of a master mason by American Indian and Spanish laborers. Though Tumacácori's church was never completed, it remains a striking landmark within this National Historical Park.
From mission to park: Tumacácori's history
First named a national monument in 1908, the former Tumacácori mission is one of the oldest national park sites in the United States—though it would take another 80 years before it would achieve designation as a National Historical Park.
Long before the missionaries, the land was home to the five sister nations of the O'odham: the Tohono, the Pima, the Yaki, the Apache, and the Mexican people. As Spanish missionaries arrived in the 1600s, they gave it the name Pimería Alta meaning "place of the upper Pimas"— "Pima" being one of the names given to the O'odham by the Spanish.
In January 1691, the Jesuit priest Father Francisco Kino arrived at the Pimería Alta and later established Tumacácori as a mission, making it the oldest mission site in Arizona. Following the Pima rebellion of 1751, and several moves, the mission relocated to its current spot and was given the formal name San José de Tumacácori.
Construction of the church building that remains the most prominent feature of the site didn't begin until around 1800, by which time the community was managed by the Franciscans, who intended for the church to resemble the San Xavier del Bac Mission near Tucson. After several delays, construction wasn't completed until 1823. Five years later, Mexico would expel the remaining Spanish residents, and Tumacácori would lose its last resident priest.
By the time the site achieved status as a national monument, the original church structure was in poor shape. The roof was entirely gone and some of the original brick had eroded due to the moisture from annual rains. Preservation efforts have kept the ruins intact, while a visitor center—using original elements from the mission buildings—was added in the late 1930s to house exhibits.
"Tumacácori is probably not one of those places you have heard of before; it is a bit of an unknown gem. People will be driving down here and see the sign on the side of the road with no clue how to pronounce Tumacácori or what it even is. Those that take a chance and visit the unknown, are universally delighted they did.
We hear things like, 'it is so peaceful;' 'I can really feel the history;' 'I could feel the people from the past here,' " and of course, they love the tortillas. These things are what makes Tumacácori National Historical Park so special."
– Anita Badertscher, Chief of Interpretation and Education
Things to do
For most, the main attraction of the park is the Franciscan-era church, San José de Tumacácori; however, there are in fact multiple buildings on-site such as a museum, a Melhok ki (a replica of a traditional O'odham dwelling from the era), and the ruins of the mission convent and cemetery. The park also preserves two additional missions at remote sites—Missions Guevavi and Calabazas—that can be visited only on reserved tours from January through April.
Start your visit with a stop at the visitor center where a 17-minute video provides a brief history of the mission. Continue your way through the park on your own, rent/purchase a self-guiding tour book, or follow an audio tour.
Just outside the visitor center, you'll find a luscious garden area, an orchard, and a trail to the Juan Batista de Anza National Historic Trail and Santa Cruz River, which includes a mile-long riparian area perfect for bird watching. (Try to spot the Vermillion Flycatcher, a flaming red bird with black wings!)
If you're able, try to schedule a visit when you can catch one of the many cultural demonstrations, each one highlighting a connection to one of the native cultures from the area. From O'odham basket weavers to painters and cooks, each individual tells their own story through the crafts and food they create. See and hear their stories as you taste fresh corn or flour tortillas made the traditional way over a mesquite fire.
- The visitor center, museum, restrooms and the mission grounds are fully wheelchair accessible.
- For guests who are deaf or have hearing issues, a personal amplifier is available for use during the park film, which also is subtitled.
- Additionally, the film has been adapted with audio descriptions for the visually impaired (headsets can be borrowed at the visitor center).
Where to stay
Located 45 miles south of Tucson, 18 miles north of Nogales, and only 3 miles from the quaint community of Tubac, there's a tremendous variety of accommodation options, from hotels and motels to inns, bed and breakfasts, and upscale resorts. Whichever direction you go after visiting the mission, you'll find a comfortable place to rest your head.
Hours and pricing
Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Park Entrance Fees:
• Adult: $10/7-day pass
• Child (under 16): Free
• Interagency National Park Passes accepted
* Please verify hours and fees on the website.
For more information
Tumacácori National Historical Park
PO Box 8067
Tumacacori, AZ 85640