Tucked 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.

Over the past twenty years, I have done almost every hike within the canyon countless times with my favorite being the hike to Seven Falls and the Phoneline Trail. However, one thing I have never ever done is a hike in the rain. Rain in the desert? This may sound a bit confusing and surreal for a place that receives on average less than 12 inches of rain a year.  However, I just happened to be in Tucson when a storm rolled in from California bringing heavy wet snow to the mountains and pouring cold rain to the desert below.

Deeply dismayed by the unusual poor weather I decided to turn lemons into lemonade. I put on my rain coat, packed a sandwich and took off on one of my most favorite hikes in Sabino Canyon, The Phone Line Trail. My kids didn’t want to come and I didn’t blame them. They had no rain gear. However, my favorite all time hiking partner, my dad, of course was up for the challenge. So together we set off into the unknown.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The Phoneline trail climbs up high above the canyon giving you a unique perspective and panoramic view of this amazing place. There are several ways to do the Phone Line hike. You can do the entire 7.6 mile roundtrip hike on the trail or you can take the tram all the way to the end at Stop #9 get off and hike the trail back cutting the hike in half. What I prefer is to hike the Phoneline trail to Tram Stop 9 (which is where the pavement ends) and walk back on the pavement below. This way I get the bird’s eye view walking into the canyon and the lower level cactus and creek view from down below. It all depends on what you want to see and if you prefer to have solitude or company. (Important update: Since this was last written, the tram service is no suspended while the park service decides on its environmental impact.).

To reach the Historic Sabino Trail and the Phoneline Trailhead, we followed the trail towards Bear Canyon and picked it up about ten minutes later. (If you continue on into Bear Canyon, you can take another fantastic four hour roundtrip hike to 7 Falls).

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

We set out into the unknown weather with dark, rain-laden clouds threatening overhead. The poor weather had kept the regular swarms of hikers and tourists away and we amazingly had almost the entire place to ourselves.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

As we hiked, the air was refreshingly pure and fresh and the aromatic scents of the desert filled my nose. It was ironically quite lovely hiking in the desert in the rain. I had never realized what I was missing.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley”. –  Theodore Roethke

The path winds around the side of the canyon like a snake. Each time you see a corner and think you are about to arrive, you realize it is another false alarm. Thankfully I have done this hike so many times that I know where the last big turn is before the train descent down to Tram Stop 9, the end of the pavement.
Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it”. –  Rosalia de Castro

Slowly the clouds become too heavy with rain, it it begins to sprinkle dampening our jackets and bringing in another nostalgic wave of fresh air and aroma. I am startled by how verdant it is for mid-February. There are already signs of spring. I even see a desert rose and a bud on a cactus.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The path ahead

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The path already taken

As the clouds lift I am spellbound to see an unusual sight. The tops of the Santa Catalina mountains are covered in snow. It is breathtaking. The snow will soon melt and feed the rivers that formed this canyon long ago. It will also replenish the barren landscape bringing greenery and flowers to the desert carpet.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

As we reach the end of the trail, it is time for us to descend down to the road. There are nine bridges that cross rivers which are always dry in the summer and flowing steadily in the spring. We had to take our hiking boots off nine times and walk across the icy cold water. My feet were completely numb!

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

As we arrived at the parking lot, I pondered how grateful we were to have decided to just do it and go on that hike despite the gloomy weather. Surprisingly it ended up being one of the most memorable hikes I’ve taken in a long time. Sometimes it is only by taking the path that we arrive exactly where we need to be.



  1. Amazing pictures! It was interesting to read till the end! It would really have been great hiking experience even though you have done it many times! 🙂

    1. Thank you Sally! I’ve been trying to really embrace the outdoors more than ever before. It is part of my mindfulness and gratitude. 🙂

    1. Great question Arv. Perhaps because it is high up? There thankfully aren’t phone lines there as that would ruin the gorgeous view. Thanks for reading!

      1. Could be, Nicole. You take is to amazing places and show us the best nature landscapes with your photography. Thank you! 🙂

  2. That is quite some weather you got yourself into. And I bet when it first starts in the desert, it’s wild and unforgiving. But you did capture some really special and lovely images.

  3. Nice place very beautiful for…your partner is your dad..must be most beloved person for you
    you are nice writer! i start writing…but not a good writer!

      1. Yes Daughter Always Learn From Father and Teach the world..Sons Learn From world And Teach the world…
        I am Son but I agree Daughter are always Daughters..Lucky Dad who have Daughters

    1. Thanks Janet! Yes it ended up being a crazy trip. My parents were both sick with colds and then the morning we were heading back to MN my daughter woke up with the stomach flu! It was a miserable return back home! But glad I got the hike it!

  4. I really enjoyed this post! Seeing the desert under forbidding skies and with the sprouting greenery was a nice change of pace and a perfect match for the road taken theme.

  5. I think I mentioned on your Instagram post about the hike that there’s nothing I like better than the smell of a desert during a rain. It is so fresh and light and wonderful. I’m from El Centro, CA, just across the border from Yuma, AZ. Even though my dad is from NY, he has grown to love the desert and is an avid hiker. He loves Tucson, but not sure if he has done many hikes there. I’m going to send this over to him. We just did his favorite hike near my hometown, called Fossil Canyon. We were all incredulous about how green the hills were…they are never that way. All the rain is really changing the landscape. They told me, though, that it is very dangerous there when it rains. There are flash floods, and there is also a certain type of clay dust that, when wet, grows and grows on your shoes to the point that you can barely move! So they refuse to take me hiking when it is raining, ha! So glad you two had such a great experience, though. 🙂

      1. Oh, so you’ve driven past my hometown! Love it. :)) It is an interesting area, so glad you’ve been through. If you ever drive that way again, my hometown, El Centro, is an hour west of Yuma, about two hours away from San Diego. A nice place to stop for a Mexican lunch. 🙂

    1. So this is the quote a woman said to us the day we arrived at a castle in the rain. She said turn lemons into lemonade. Little did I know my husband was going to propose to me that morning!

  6. The hike looked beautiful, the sky ominous, and the flooded bridges frigid. I would have loved it (but it was even more fun to take this virtual hike with you while keeping my shoes dry 😉 )

  7. I’ve always loved that quote by Emerson. This was a very enjoyable read and the photos were wonderful. Such a contrast from my arctic landscape. The dramatic storm clouds and prickly cacti are fascinating. Thank you for choosing to take a hike in the rain 🙂

  8. I took advantage on a late March day with cloudiness at 78 degrees to hike the Phoneline trail from the end of the Tram back to Bear Canyon Trail to the center for a 6 plus mile hike three hours and saw beautiful wildflowers and picturesque Saguaro Cactus. It was a pleasure to take time in this rustic beauty with NO boredom and not hot.

    1. I am so jealous! This is my favorite hike and I’ve done it at least a dozen times but haven’t been out to Tucson for a bit. It is so glorious when the wildflowers are in bloom and the desert is alive! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.