“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
Nestled within the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona lies Sabino Canyon, one of Tucson’s most popular parks for exploring the spectacular desert landscape and wildlife of Southern Arizona. Ever since my parents moved to Tucson in the mid-90s, it has been like a second home to me and Sabino Canyon has been my playground. Less than a five minute drive from my parents’ home, Sabino Canyon affords an endless supply of hikes and walks within some of Arizona’s finest scenery.
The formation of the Santa Catalina Mountains began over 12 million years ago during a period of massive transition and upheaval. Over time, two magnificent canyons were formed, Sabino and Bear Canyon, that would eventually become the lush, verdant desert oasis we see today.
A massive earthquake in 1887 centered in Northern Mexico caused even more change to the area. Enormous boulders dislodged and crashed down thousands of miles below creating an even more dramatic landscape. In 1905, the U.S. Forest Service was created and took over the administration of Sabino Canyon. Nothing much happened to the area until the 1930s. The onset of the Great Depression prompted the US Government to put people to work by building infrastructure and one of the places that benefited was Sabino Canyon. The Sabino Dam as well as over nine bridges were built during this time, creating a 4.5 mile paved road up through the canyon. Plans had been made to continue the road all the way up the canyon to Mount Lemmon but fortunately they ran out of money and the project was dropped. Had the road been built, the entire beauty of Sabino Canyon would have been destroyed and lost.
Sabino Canyon officially opened as a State Park and recreational area in 1978. Today, it ranks as one of the top tourist destinations in all of Tucson and is a haven for hikers, walkers, bikers and anyone else who wants to enjoy its raw beauty. Although Sabino Canyon is the largest of the two canyons and offers the most hikes, neighboring Bear Canyon is equally as beautiful and also delights the visitor with spectacular views and hikes.
The most popular hike in Bear Canyon is to Seven Falls. The Hike takes about 3-4 hours depending on pace and number of breaks for photos or lunch. It has been a favorite hike of my family’s for years and I have done it at least a dozen times. When we go, we prefer to leave shortly after ten o’clock so we can arrive at the falls in time for a lovely picnic lunch and also avoid the massive crowds which can become overwhelming during spring break and on weekends.
There are two ways to get to the Seven Falls Trailhead. You can either take a short tram ride to Bear Canyon or walk the two miles on foot. We always choose to walk but it adds about 35-45 minutes on to the hike. I personally enjoy the extra time, especially when we walk through the desert trail and avoid the paved road.
After about twenty minutes, you reach the Seven Falls Trailhead. The hike is approximately 2 1/2 miles from the trailhead to Seven Falls, making it 5 miles roundtrip plus an additional four miles to and from the parking lot. If you go at a decent speed, it will take about four hours roundtrip including a stop for a picnic lunch at the falls. The hike is not difficult unless there is a lot of water since the trial zigzags across Sabino Creek several times. Getting across the creek is a balancing act and requires a little bit of luck in finding the sturdiest rocks to walk across without falling in.
Over Christmas break, my father, sister and I had the rare opportunity to take a hike together without the kids and it was an obvious choice what hike it would be. I hadn’t done the hike to Seven Falls in awhile and I knew it would be beautiful given the ample amount of water in the canyon.
Hikes in my family are never quiet. In fact, there is rarely a dull moment when someone is not talking. We talk about our hopes and dreams, and laugh a lot about old times. The time together is a priceless gift that I always treasure.
After many traverses over Sabino Creek, we finally start our walk up to the heart of Bear Canyon where the trail ends at the magnificent Seven Falls. In the spring when the snow is melting off the distant peaks of the mountains, the seven waterfalls are roaring down with force. Even now, in December there is much more water than we expect.
We eat our lunch and marvel at the sheer, raw beauty around us. I couldn’t think of anyplace on earth I’d rather be than here at this moment, with my father and sister.
“Like branches in a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one”. – unknown
I marvel at the gift my parents have given me. My true and deep love for nature and the outdoors. A love that I will always have and treasure. A love I shall pass along to my own children.
If you go:
The trail crisscrosses over Sabino Creek. When the creek is dry, the footing is stable at most of the crossing points, but when water is present, it can be more challenging. After crossing over the creek several times, the trail rises up the side of Bear Canyon, leveling off at Seven Falls. Hikers are rewarded with several pools of water to relax by and wade in during most of the year.
Allow a minimum of 3 hours for this hike and it is suggested to bring a minimum of 1 quart of water per person.
For more information on Sabino and Bear Canyon (including hours of operations, trails, and more), click here.