“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.
To reach the Seven Falls Trailhead, you follow the gravel path 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.