Sabino Canyon – One of Tucson’s Most Popular Recreation Areas

Our group begins our trek on Bear Canyon Trail.

Tucson, AZ

Last April (2013), our hiking club caravanned southeast from Buckeye, Arizona to Tucson. Our goal was to spend two days hiking near Tucson. We were hoping to hit the peak of wildflower season, but due to delays, we missed the pinnacle. Though the group was a bit disappointed, the natural beauty of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest made up for the lack of wildflowers.

On our first day, we stopped on our way to Tucson to hike the Sunset Vista Trail at Picacho Peak, a perennial favorite of Arizona hikers. The second day of our trip, though, was by far the more enjoyable. The Bear Canyon Trail, with its meandering across a stream multiple times and the payoff at the destination of the seven stacked waterfalls at Seven Falls, easily trumped Sunset Vista in natural beauty.

The clear mountain stream can be challenging during spring runoff but was not so for us.

Part of a series of trails that create a 13.4 mile loop, Bear Canyon Trail #29 begins near the base of the mountain and at first meanders along and across the stream. For those hikers who don’t have the time or inclination to make a full day of hiking the full loop from the parking area, a fee-based shuttle can transport you to several starting points along the way. Our choice this day was to take the shuttle to the last stop, cutting two miles off of the hike from the parking lot. We would hike the last 2.5 miles to the seven falls, then hike back to the last shuttle stop, a nice five-mile hike with a snack break in between.

Most of the stream crossings were as easy as this one for our group.

After periods of heavy rain, some of the water crossings can become challenging with no way to keep from getting your feet wet. On the day we hiked, none of the crossings were difficult and no one got wet feet. For well over a mile, the crossings continue, and then as the trail nears its junction with other trails in the loop, hikers will notice the stream falling away as the trail angles upward providing views of the valley below.

Leaving the canyon floor, the view became more typically Sonoran Desert.

The most strenuous section of trail is the last half-mile or so. The climb is not arduous by any means, especially for those who chose to ride the shuttle for the first couple of miles. The trail is very popular so you can expect lots of company going in both directions. As with all desert hikes, be sure to carry plenty of water, especially in late spring through early fall.

Our first view of the upper levels of Seven Falls photographed from across the canyon.

The trail provides its first views of Seven Falls from the opposite canyon wall. Fortunately the box canyon ends just past the falls so the trail crosses the back wall and leads to the fourth pool from the top. From there, hikers can travel up and down the canyon visiting the other pools.

The lower canyon pools eventually feed the stream we crossed multiple times on our hike.

Once we reached the nearest pool, off came the hiking boots as we waded in the water cooling our toes in the pool. Some of the group proceeded to hike up and down the chain of pools for a closer look. My wife, Lynn, and I chose to relax in the shade of a tree and eat our makeshift lunch of trail bars. All too soon, it was time to put on the socks and hiking boots and make the two and a half mile return trip to the shuttle stop. Fortunately, the mostly downhill return was welcome for those of us for whom a five-mile hike is near the maximum of our endurance.

Using Photoshop Elements, I put together a vertical panorama of the seven waterfalls.

Seven Falls is but one of the attractions in the Coronado National Forest. Sometime soon we will return and explore some of the other trails in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

John Steiner

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3 thoughts on “Sabino Canyon – One of Tucson’s Most Popular Recreation Areas

  1. Pingback: Picacho Peak – Site of Arizona’s Largest Civil War Battle | Journeys with Johnbo

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