There is no better way to connect with the raw beauty of nature than by doing a good hike. I grew up hiking and for the past twenty years I have enjoyed sharing many hikes with my father, my siblings and my own children wherever we can find a good trail especially when we are visiting my parents in Arizona.  Tucson is a hiker lover’s paradise. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.

Fortunately for me, my parents have lived in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains for over 25 years and their home is only five minutes away from one of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with tons of hikes through both Sabino and Bear Canyon.  Over the decades Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has become my outdoor playground and I try to hike every day when I’m visiting my parents. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

While there are several hikes and walks to choose from, these are my top four recommendations for the best hikes in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. I have put them in order of difficulty which does not necessarily mean distance. All of the hikes are appropriate for children over ten as long as they have a decent level of fitness however I wouldn’t recommend bringing a child under ten years old on any of these unless you are prepared to take a lot of breaks and be mindful of the dangers that exist. Instead, I would stick with walking on the paved path that runs 3.8 miles (7.6 miles roundtrip) through Sabino Canyon or even wandering around some of the shorter nature paths near the entrance of the recreation center. There used to be a guided tram service that brought tourists to both Sabino and Bear Canyon but unfortunately the service has been shut down while the park service rethinks its environmental impact. This has dramatically impacted available hiking options especially for families with young kids or for those who can’t walk as far.

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is beautiful any time of year.

Hike along the Phone Line Trail:

The Phoneline trail is one of my all time favorite hikes in Sabino Canyon and I have done this hike countless times. The reason why I love the hike so much is it’s amazing perspective of the canyon and its grandeur. The trail climbs up high above the canyon giving you a unique perspective and panoramic view of this amazing place. There two ways to do the Phoneline hike. You can do the entire 7.6 mile roundtrip hike on the trail or you can take the trail to the end and walk down back to the paved road down below, giving you two completely different perspectives. There used to be a Tram that ran up and down the canyon which was great as it gave you another option: To take the tram to the end and walk back above on the trail or vice versa. However, the tram service stopped in the summer of 2018 while a new contract is being decided upon shuttle operators. What I prefer is to hike the Phoneline trail to the end of the trail, hike down 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.

Distance: 7.6 miles roundtrip

Start of hike: To reach the start of the hike, follow the trail towards Bear Canyon and pick it up the Historic Sabino Trail (# 23A) which leads to the Phoneline Link Trail and eventually the Phoneline trail. If you prefer to walk the paved road first and take the Phoneline trail back, then follow the paved road to the end (3.7 miles) where you will see the trail sign bringing you up to the Phoneline trail.

Estimated hiking time: 3-4 hours depending on speed and stops

Difficulty level: This hike is relatively easy as once you climb up to the traill, it is relatively flat. You do want a good sturdy pair of hiking poles and lots of water as there are no rest stops or water fountains on the trail (yet there are along the paved road down below).

Be careful with children as there are steep edges where they could slip. However, as long as your child can handle 3-4 hours of hiking they should be fine. I wouldn’t recommend bringing a child under age 10 unless you are carrying them in a pack.

Best thing about the hike: The incredible views which are unique and thrilling.

Tips: Pack a lunch and eat it half way through the hike.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and start a slideshow.

Hike to Blackett’s Ridge

One of the best shorter yet difficult hikes in Sabino and Bear Canyon is the hike to Blackett’s Ridge on the Blackett’s Ridge Trail. In less than three hours roundtrip (4.6 miles), you will definitely get your heart pumping and your legs burning in both the rocky ascent and descent. However it will be well worth your effort as the panoramic views are perhaps some of the best ones in all of Tucson and you will so spellbound by your surroundings, you will soon forget how tired your legs feel.

This hike is relatively demanding as there is a lot of hiking straight up and down which can be slippery and difficult. I highly recommend bringing a set of hiking poles and it is not the best hike for children due to its rapid elevation gain. It also can be challenging with shorter legs on some of the rocky ascents along the way.

As you near the last half hour of the hike, there are three false summits which seems like a rather unfair trick when you are feeling pretty tired by this point.  The switchbacks become rockier and steeper as you continue on up the ridge passing one false summit after the next one. But once you arrive at the end of the hike, the incredible panoramic views of the canyon are purely magical and worth any pain you felt in climbing up and working so hard to arrive.

Distance: 6 miles roundtrip with 1,700 elevation gain.

Estimated hiking time: Depending on heat as if it is above 90 it will slow you down significantly, plan on about 1 hour 25 minutes up and 1 hour 15 minutes down (also depends on speed and fitness level).

Difficulty level: Moderate to difficult depending on your fitness level. I would not recommend children under 12.

Start of hike: The hike to the trailhead can begin one of two ways. First, you can follow the paved road towards Sabino Canyon and then veer off to the right into Bear Canyon where you will find the trailhead. Second, you can follow a nice wide trail located at the right side of the parking lot that will bring you for about ten minutes through the desert and dump you off on the paved road towards Bear Canyon.  After about fifteen minutes walking, you reach the turnoff for the Phoneline Trail (#27) and Blackett’s Ridge Trail (#48)

Best thing about the hike: The sensational views at the end. When you turn the corner and reach the end, there is a mouth dropping wow moment.

Tips: Best to do this hike early in morning or else when it is not too hot as there is little shade and it is strenuous. I would not recommend doing it in the summer unless you are used to the high desert heat and sun.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and start a slideshow.

 

Hike to Seven Falls

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. Both Sabino and Bear Canyon are part of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and Coronado National Forest.

The most popular hike in Bear Canyon is to Seven Falls. 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, holidays and on weekends.

The trail to Seven Falls is utterly gorgeous and traverses back and forth over Sabino Creek while you meander through the low lying canyon. There are plenty of lovely cacti along the way and it is full of beauty. After an hour and a half, you began to near the end Bear Canyon and are rewarded with the sight and sound of 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. It is the perfect place to have a picnic along the base of the falls.

Hike to Seven Falls, Tucson, Arizona

Distance: 7.9 miles

Estimated time to complete: Takes about 3-4 hours to complete depending on number of stops, and if you break for lunch at the falls (highly recommended).

Difficulty level: The hike is not difficult unless there is a lot of water since the trail 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. Also pay close attention if hiking during monsoon season as there have been flash floods and people have been trapped and rescued in the canyon.

Start of hike: To reach the Seven Falls Trailhead, you follow the paved road or trail towards Bear Canyon which takes about 35-45 minutes. There used to be a tram service however as of June 2018 that service is in transition and not running. Regardless, I personally enjoy the extra time walking on foot, 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 three miles to and from the parking lot.

Best thing about this hike: The spectacular falls! It is like an oasis in the desert and so incredibly divine.

Tips: There are several water crossings over creeks and streams so it is very important to bring a set of hiking sticks for balance and also know your hiking shoes may very well get wet. It is best to do this hike in the spring time after the snow melts high above giving the falls their full glory however even after a hard rain the hike can be excellent. Can be a challenge with children due to the water crossings. Also can be very crowded so best to do early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and start a slideshow.

Hike to Hutch’s Pools

Although I’ve hiked in Sabino Canyon for over twenty years, I had not discovered this special hike to Hutch’s Pools until two years ago. Back then, the tram service was still running making the hike more accessible especially for families with kids. Now without the tram, it is a beefy 15.9 mile roundtrip hike! When the tram was running (and hopefully it will be running again soon) we took it all the way to the end of Sabino Canyon (3.7 miles) and got off at stop number 9 before beginning our journey back into the wild playground behind Sabino Canyon. I had never been back there before and it felt like being in another place all together.

As you hike behind Sabino Canyon, the trail meanders around two additional canyons until you arrive at a large open high plains desert. The grass is yellow and there are all kinds of different cactus. It is unlike anything I’d ever seen in the desert and reminded me a little of the pampas of South America in a sense. The cactus disappear and an entirely different kind of flora arrives up here with different kinds of scrubs, trees and flowers that you won’t see below in the more populated parts of Sabino Canyon. After hiking for a bit, you discover the real surprise! The creek that ends at Hutch’s Pools, a verdant oasis of green that pierces and surprises your eyes. It is unbelievable!

Distance: 15.9 miles roundtrip.

Estimated time to complete: 8 hours depending on speed and number of stops.

Difficulty level: Hard mostly due to the distance. Once you reach the end of the paved road into Sabino Canyon, you climb up through the wilderness behind the park and have an elevation gain of 2,116 feet. Other than that, it is just a long hike.

Start of hike: You can do it one of two ways. First, you can follow the paved road to the end of Sabino Canyon (3.8 miles on way) and pick up the trailhead for Hutch’s Pool Loop at the end of the road (The trail continues 2.5 miles to Sabino Basin and then you take the West Fork Trail 1.5 miles until you get to the turn-off for Hutch’s Pool and come back). After
completing the loop take the Phoneline trail back to give you a different perspective of the canyon or you can do it the other way around by taking the Phonline trail there, completing the loop and returning on the paved road.  I’d recommend option one. (Hopefully they will resume the tram service someday as that makes this hike much more doable).
Best thing about this hike: You really feel like you are way out there in the wilderness and the flora dramatically changes as you climb up and beyond the canyon. The pools are beautiful as well. Perhaps one of the most unique hikes within the area.

Tips: Bring lots of water as well as food. There is no water beyond the end of the paved road.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and start a slideshow.

These are just a few of many opportunities to get out and take a hike in Tucson’s amazing Sabino and Bear Canyon. If you have only two days to hike, I’d pick the Phoneline Trail and the hike to Seven Falls. If you have a week, then do all four! Each one is unique and will help you see why there is no place I’d rather be than on a hike in Sabino Canyon.

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The Best Four Hikes in Tucson's Sabino Canyon in Tucson, Arizona

17 comments

    1. Thank you! Yes I just love hiking in Tucson and am excited to be going back in a month and hoping to add more to the list.

  1. Lovely to see your two growing up sharing your love of the outdoors, Nicole. It’s been quite a journey for them already. 🙂 🙂 Wishing you all a happy festive season and many good times to come.

    1. Thanks Jo! Yes isn’t it crazy how fast time goes through children? My son is already way taller than me and I’m fairly tall for a woman. Happy Holidays! 🙂

  2. Thanks for the suggestions Nicole. I have only hiked the Phone Line Trail on your list so have pinned this post for a future visit.

    1. Wonderful LuAnn! I’m going again for a long weekend in January to visit my parents and am going to try a few more new hikes. Merry Christmas!

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