After spending a month at Gold Canyon, we moved a little further south to Tucson. This is a city we were very familiar with years ago, but time changes things and we didn’t see much that was familiar. Several people we talked to told us to go to Sabino Canyon, which was not a place we had heard of.
The proper name for this place is “Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Coronado National Forest”. It is not far from Tucson so it is a popular place to hike. There is a whole network of trails in here. In an effort to ease congestion, a shuttle service was installed years ago. There’s a one-hour narrated 7.4-mile roundtrip tour into the upper end of the canyon, with nine stops to get off sooner to hike various trails. There is also another shuttle route with service to Bear Canyon which is shorter and not narrated.
It is an error these days to think you can just show up and ride a shuttle. When we arrived at Sabino Canyon, all the shuttles for the day were full. We should have booked ahead on-line. They’ve recently converted the pollution-belching gas shuttles to electric – but several don’t work. However, a volunteer ranger was ready for us. He mapped out a route for us from the visitor’s center with several interconnecting trails – just over two miles, he said. I think it was further than that. I had 12,000 steps on my Fitbit at the end of the day, which is about six miles.
No matter, once we hit the trail we left everyone behind, and mostly had it to ourselves.
Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls
We thought our first hike at Sabino Canyon was fun, but we actually missed the one that everyone talks about: the Seven Falls hike. It was a longer trail than we had wanted on our first visit: 8.6 miles. The distance can be reduced down to about 5 miles by taking the Bear Canyon Shuttle. We returned the next week to give it a go. The Bear Canyon Shuttle isn’t as busy as the Sabino Canyon Shuttle, but I still made sure to get tickets this time.
The sun was still coming up over the higher mountain peaks as we walked.
Soon we were following a creek–
And then, we crossed the creek. And then crossed back. And back again. The river got deeper, the rocks farther apart. Finally I consulted our trail map: there are seven creek crossings before reaching Seven Falls! Which means, of course, seven crossings back, since this is an out-and-back trail.
We looked back behind us, and saw an arch in the rocks:
On trails in the Southwest, I’ve learned that a sign like this means switchbacks are coming, which means going up. Shortcutting is going off-trail and climbing straight up, as opposed to the gentler zig-zagging on the trail. We did indeed hike upwards, and then around the edge of the cliffs, and the trail narrowed. It was a little treacherous, so there are no pictures on that part!
Our first glimpse of Seven Falls:
The view is breathtaking. I counted them and indeed there are seven waterfalls. The distance from top to bottom is of considerable length and couldn’t be captured on Cal’s phone or my camera well, especially with the sun in the wrong spot. Trust me…it was worth the hike and all the creek crossings. Looking at the above picture: from here, we climbed down to the right, crossed the creek, and then back up to the first rock in the sun on the left to enjoy the waterfalls and the view. In the picture below, you can see people in the bottom left, and that’s where we sat for awhile.
Coming out of the falls, we passed a group of young college students (judging by their t-shirts and ballcaps). By the time we reached the cliff above the falls, they had stripped down to bathing suits and had jumped into this pool (above) under the waterfall. This was accompanied by much whooping and hollering, as we could hear even from our vantage point! The water must have been cold!
Next time – Saguaros, and an announcement
2 thoughts on “Sabino Canyon”
These hikes look amazing. How long did the 5 mile hike take you? 5 miles would be our limit. Your pictures came out beautifully!
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Thank you! There was some rock and creek negotiating so we were out about 4 hours, but that included a long sit at Seven Falls. When we got to the shuttle stop we discovered we had a long wait so we did add on another 2 miles walking back to the visitor center. That was about our limit.
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