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What the Heck is the Biosphere 2 in Arizona?

Decades ago, Biosphere 2 made headlines for its ambitious experiments on human survival. And today, they’re still making waves in the high desert.

But what exactly is this place, and what’s so special about it? 

Join us as we dive into the details of this unique destination to see if it should be on your bucket list.

Let’s get into it!

The Scientific experiment call Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona.
You might recognize Biosphere 2 from the movie Bio-Dome starring Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin

About Biosphere 2

You might not realize that the Arizona desert is home to a rainforest, a foggy savannah, and even an ocean. Of course, these environments are artificial. But they’re going a long way to help scientists understand the effects of the climate on our ecosystems. 

Biosphere 2 is a unique research facility. It’s essentially a giant terrarium divided into separate microclimates. A massive system of air conditioners, humidifiers, and generators, controls each area. In addition to the main building, the 40-acre campus also includes classrooms, laboratories, a conference center, and even housing. 

In its early years, the center earned praise for its ambitious experiments. These trials determined whether humans could survive in a wholly manufactured environment. 

Today, scientists and students from the University of Arizona conduct tests to discover how the climate affects natural and artificial territories. They’ve also hosted millions of visitors since launching in 1991. You can actually check out this otherworldly establishment for yourself!

Where Is Biosphere 2?

Biosphere 2 is in Oracle, Arizona, about 45 minutes north of Tucson. Located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the town sits about 4,500 feet above sea level. 

Oracle is a bedroom community for the bigger city. Many folks commute to jobs in Tucson but prefer to live in the less-crowded outskirts. 

The area is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. You can hike, cycle, and bird-watch on many paths around town. Access to parks and the Arizona Trail ensures you won’t run out of ground to cover too quickly.

In addition, the arts are a big part of the cultural experience here. Despite the small-town feel, plenty of galleries and studios are open for you to check out works from regional artists. 

Discover more unique destinations in the Tucson area with Secret Tucson: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Visiting Biosphere 2 

Folks at Biosphere 2 welcome visitors to explore the grounds. It’s open seven days a week, and ticket prices start at $15. 

A self-guided tour called Biosphere 2 Experience is available on their mobile app. This option takes a little over one hour to complete and includes both indoor and outdoor stops. 

If you want an in-depth look at the mechanics that keep things running, you can purchase a guided tour of “The Lung.” It takes about half an hour. Unfortunately, this part of the facility isn’t ADA-accessible. 

Grab a bite where it all started: What Is a Sonoran Hot Dog?

What Is Biosphere 1?

You might assume that an earlier research facility predated Biosphere 2. However, the name is a bit misleading. 

Earth’s biosphere, or the area near the surface that living organisms inhabit, inspired the name Biosphere 2. Because of this, Biosphere 1 refers to our home planet. 

Fun Things to Do Near Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 isn’t the only attraction in Oracle, Arizona. Plenty of engaging locations nearby will keep you entertained. Here are a couple of places to check out.

Oracle State Park

With 15 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, Oracle State Park offers something for everyone. You can stroll amongst native vegetation and catch stunning views of the Catalina Mountains. 

It’s a designated Dark Sky Park, so you’ll also see unbeatable starscapes when you’re out at night. If you time your trip right, you can join a Star Party, where rangers set up telescopes and guide you through constellations and other features.

While they don’t allow overnight camping, you can access the park any time of day or night using the American Avenue Trailhead.

Pro Tip: For after-hours access, call the office for a gate code. Check out Oracle State Park’s website for more information.

Arizona Zipline Adventures

Get a bird’s eye view of the Sonoran Desert with Arizona Zipline Adventures. They offer several options, including a guided EcoTour, a sunset zipline, and a moonlight experience under the stars. 

The five adventures range from 400 to 1,500 feet long, so you’re sure to feel a rush of adrenaline. And afterward, you can grab a juicy burger at the Peppersauce Kitchen, their on-site restaurant. 

A woman on a zipline. Enjoy a zipline experience while you're exploring the area around Biosphere 2.
Enjoy a zipline experience while you’re in the area

Best Places to Stay Near Biosphere 2

The area around Biosphere 2 offers plenty of outdoor activities, arts, and fun events. You might want to stick around for a while to fully experience Oracle, Arizona. Here are three top spots to rest your head after exploring the town.

Hay Creek Ranch

If you’re RVing, you’ll want to consider booking a site at Hay Creek Ranch. It’s the closest campground to Biosphere 2, about thirty minutes away. While it’s technically a horse ranch, they welcome campers without equestrians. 

The ranch offers spacious pull-through spots with full hookups. If you prefer a more traditional accommodation, you can stay in one of many casitas on the property. 

Whatever option you choose, you’ll have access to their community room with a full kitchen. You can also play a round of dominoes with other travelers and enjoy campground camaraderie. 

Triangle L Ranch

Art and hospitality collide at Triangle L Ranch, the top-rated hotel in Oracle. Part lodging and part gallery, the owners embrace artists like nowhere else. Their ART RANCH program houses creatives and gives them a platform to display their works.

You can enjoy the sculpture garden day and night. After dark, many displays light up and offer a completely different experience. 

The private cottages are rustic and charming. In addition to a kitchenette, you’ll have access to communal spaces throughout the property. 

Catalina Inn

Get ready to find a home away from home at the Catalina Inn. You’ll have free wireless Internet, a hot breakfast each morning, and access to the outdoor swimming pool.

This hotel is right off a main thoroughfare between Oracle and Tucson. That means you’ll be close to restaurants, shops, and other attractions. 

Catalina Inn doesn’t have elevators, so let them know if you need a wheelchair-accessible room when you book.

Get in the mood by watching the goofy 90s movie Bio-Dome.

Is a Road Trip to Biosphere 2 Worth It?

Even though its creators modeled Biosphere 2 after planet Earth, it’s like nowhere else in the world. This one-of-a-kind facility offers opportunities to learn about our surroundings in an exciting and engaging way. 

And once you leave the grounds, you’ll still have plenty to explore. From outdoor recreation to the art scene, you won’t be disappointed!

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