Ventana Canyon Trailhead, Tucson, Arizona

Best Hikes in Tucson: Hiking the Ventana Canyon Trailhead to Maiden Pools

For the past 25 years, I’ve been a regular visitor to Tucson and have fallen in love with her laid back, Southwestern disposition and charm. Tucson has become like a second home to me and there is no place I’d rather be in Tucson than on a hike in the desert or mountains. One of my all time favorite hikes in Tucson is along the Ventana Canyon Trailhead up to Maiden Pools. Located adjacent to Loews Ventana Canyon resort in the Santa Catalina mountains and less than five minutes from my parents’ home, this 4.7 mile hike up the canyon is one of Tucson’s finest.

Known for its spectacular beauty and magnificent views, the hike to Maiden Pools is a moderate two and a half hour hike depending on speed and stops. If you really want a challenge, you can continue on to “The Window” or “Ventana” in Spanish which the canyon is named after. This 12.8 mile rugged hike is quite challenging and takes pretty much the entire day. The majority of hikers opt for the hike to Maiden Pools where you can stop for a lovely picnic lunch and even dip your toes in the water if you like.

The hike

The Ventana Canyon Trailhead is located just to the west of Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. There is a parking lot right next to the trailhead for hikers. When you enter the resort, follow the signs which will lead you to the left side of the resort and the parking lot is just past the employee parking lot.

As you leave the parking lot and follow the trail you are inside the property of Ventana Canyon Resort. The walk brings you around some of Ventana’s rental condos and past the old Flying V Ranch who owns a chance of acres adjacent to the resort and trail.

After about twenty minutes, you reach a walk-through fence where you enter the National Forest boundary and begin the true trail. You can see the stunning steep cliffs of Ventana Canyon rise above you from below in the desert landscape where you are surrounded by cactus and majestic hovering saguaro.

Ventana Canyon Trailhead, Tucson, Arizona

The fence that is the boundary of the National Forest

Ventana Canyon Trailhead, Tucson, Arizona

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Old Baldy Trail Mount Wrightson

On Top of Tucson’s Highest Peak: Hike to Mount Wrightson

Hands down, one of the greatest hikes in Tucson is to the top of Mount Wrightson. Located about 40 miles south of the city in the lush Coronado National Forest of the Santa Rita Mountains, Mount Wrightson and lesser known neighbor Mount Ian comprise the backdrop of any picture taken in Tucson. At 9,456 feet, Mount Wrightson is Tucson’s tallest peak (Mount Ian is slightly smaller at 9,146 feet) and the views along the way and at the top are quite impressive. Where else in Tucson can you pass through four different ecological zones ranging from the last remains of the Sonoran desert to the Ponderosa pines and finally the majestic Douglas Firs. In a little over five hours, you can have it all and get a challenging hike too.

I first hiked Mount Wrightson over twenty years ago when I was visiting my parents in Tucson. It was in my early hiking years and at the time I found the hike pretty darn challenging. I remember when I reached the top, I realized that it was the highest mountain I’d ever climbed. I’d done a lot of hiking growing up in Minnesota and had even hiked in the Alps but I had never hiked over 9,000 feet before. I’d only skied at that elevation. Being on top of Mount Wrightson felt like being on top of the world. It was exhilarating and set in motion a strong desire to keep climbing.

Five years later, I made another attempt to summit Mount Wrightson but physically it was not meant to be. I was three months pregnant with my son and the morning sickness made the hike impossible. I only got to the first saddle at 7,100 feet. That was in November 2003 and it took another 15 years for me to finally get the opportunity to attempt the hike again.

Ventana Trailhead, Tucson, Arizona

At the top of Ventana Trailhead overlooking Tucson and a view of Mount Wrightson and Mount Ian far off in the horizon. January 2019. 

Why go

Reaching Tucson’s highest peak is always an accomplishment and the hike itself is truly quite stunning, affording sensational views all the way into Mexico and beyond as well as getting a feel for Arizona’s incredible ecological diversity. Of course there are plenty of stunning hikes to do in the desert surrounding Tucson yet a climb to the top of Mount Wrightson is truly special and unique. If you are lucky you may also even see wildlife that only lives in higher elevations like the Whitetail and Mule Deer, Wild Turkey, Black Bear, Coati or even a fox. Plus what is not to love about a nice, demanding leg burning hike.

The Hike

There are two trails to choose from to reach the top of Mount Wrightson (or Mount Ian if you prefer to climb that peak). For those who want to get there faster and have a more challenging hike, follow the Old Baldy Trail, a ten-mile hike through the forest with switchbacks weaving you up to the top. If you want an easier, less trafficked yet longer hike you can follow the 13.1 mile Super Trail (Also known as the Loop Trail). I prefer the Old Baldy Trail.

Both hikes begin right next to the parking lot at the Madera Canyon Trailhead located at the end of the Madera Canyon Road. The 11-mile drive into Madera Canyon is quite spectacular in itself as you leave behind the dusty desert landscape of cactus and mesquite trees and enter the lush Coronado National Forest composed of Evergreen Oaks, Arizona Sycamores, Fremont Cottonwoods and Alligator Junipers.

Along the way are tiny cabins and a few B&Bs where birders from around the world come to spend a night or two. With over 250 species of birds identified in the area, Madera Canyon is one of the most renowned birding destinations in the United States and it is evident by the number of birders walking around with their binoculars, sun hats and enormous cameras.

The start of both trailheads is at 5,450 feet and by this time you have already left behind the desert landscape that surrounds Tucson and have entered the Coronado National Forest lush with a wide variety of trees. The start of the Old Baldy trailhead is wide and a bit rocky until you reach the woods and the first of many switchbacks winding you up to the Josephine Saddle.

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Ebensee, Austria

A Hike on the Feuerkogel in Ebensee Austria

Located a short distance off the shores of Lake Traunsee in the lovely Austrian town of Ebensee is the hiking region of the Feuerkogel. Accessed either on foot or via cable car, the Feurerkogel is one of Austria’s sunniest high altitude plateaus with astounding panoramic views of the Salzkammergut lake region and the Austrian Alps. For those hiking enthusiasts, the Feurerkogel has a variety of traditional Austrian lodges where you can grab a delightful bit to eat or spend the night hiking hut to hut along the many high alpine trails. For us, it was yet another fabulous area for us to hike that was not far from our farm stay at the Landgut Wagnerfeld in Altmünster.

We left for Ebensee shortly after breakfast, following Hauptstraße/B145 south for about thirteen kilometers as it swerved around the edge of Lake Traunsee and finally turned inland towards the mountains. We passed through a lovely residential area that was built around the Traun river as we headed towards the cable car station. As I looked around at our surroundings, it was hard to fathom that such a beautiful town was once home to one of the most horrific Nazi concentration camps of all time. Today a memorial is all that remains of the Ebensee Concentration Camp. The barracks and camp were destroyed after the Liberation in 1945.

Ebensee, Austria

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Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

A Hike On Top of the World on Heilbronner Circular Trail in Dachstein Austria

After days of late June rain, we finally rose to a glorious robin egg blue sky at our farm stay in the lakes district town of Altmünster in Austria. We could not have been more thrilled! Finally the sun had arrived and we could see The Salzkammergut region of Austria in all her glory. The view of Lake Traunsee juxtaposed against the incline of the Austrian Alps was even more spectacular than I had pictured in my dreams.  It was going to be a perfect day for a hike and we knew exactly where we intended to go: Back to The Dachstein Krippenstein in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hallstatt and Daschstein where we would complete the Heilbronner Circular Trail on top of the Alps. We had been to the Dachstein Ice Cave a few days ago in the rain and knew that once the clouds lifted it was going to be a magical place to see.

We left Altmünster around nine o’clock and arrived in Obertraun an hour later to find a full parking lot, a far cry from what we had the rainy day before when we visited the Dachstein Ice Cave. To our dismay, the queue for the cable car was very long, filled with families, hikers and tourists who were waiting just like us to be carried up to the top. Normally I would have been perfectly patient but I had waited so long to see the sun and get out on a hike that I was getting a bit restless. Unfortunately we waited over an hour until it was our turn to continue on up however once we arrived, it was so breathtaking that I soon forgot the long wait to get there.

Austria is a country filled with mountains. Did you know that the Alps take up almost two-thirds of Austria? It is a hiker lover’s dream!

We walked off the platform of the Dachstein Krippenstein Mountain station to the surreal beauty of the Austrian Alps. At roughly 6,886 feet (2100 meters), we felt like we were on top of the world. While the majority of the visitors veered to the right towards the 5fingers viewing platform, we choose to go to the left and take a hike on the Heilbronner Circular Trail, a two-hour roundtrip hike with dazzling, jaw-dropping views of the snow-covered peaks of the Alps, the Hallstätter Glacier, and the lovely town of Hallstatt and the brilliant blue lake Hallstätter See, in the green valley far below. We would head over to 5fingers after our hike.

Dachstein Krippenstein , Austria

Getting off at the mountain station into a breathtaking world.

Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

Max and Sophia smiled for the camera.

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Blackett's Ridge Hike, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Best Hikes in Tucson: Blackett’s Ridge Trail

Tucson is a hiker lover’s dream. With plenty of sunshine, 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, Tucson is like my second home as 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 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.

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 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.

During a recent visit to Tucson, my dad and I decided to take a mid-morning hike to Blackett’s Ridge as I realized I hadn’t done this hike in years and had never written about it on my blog. Despite the sore knees and exhaustion once we finally reached the top, I was really glad we did it. I had simply forgotten how incredibly stunning this hike is and why it has now become one of my favorite hikes to do in Tucson. If you have only one hike to do in Tucson and want to go for the most incredible views, then the hike to Blackett’s Ridge is the one to do.

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Lake Möserer See, Seefeld Austria

Our First Family Hike in Austria: The Circular Walk from Seefeld to Lake Möserer See

One of the most important reasons why we chose to visit Austria over all the other amazing European countries was for the Alps. I am absolutely obsessed with mountains and I believe that Scottish-American environmental philosopher and advocate John Muir’s famous saying “The mountains are calling and I must go” is one of my life’s mantras. Hiking is one of my most beloved activities and any opportunity I get to be in the mountains, I will wholeheartedly take.

My last real hike in the Alps was back in the summer of 2012, when my dad and I spent six days trekking in Vanoise National Park in the heart of the French Alps of Savoie. During that hike, we left town and spent the next week hiking hut to hut in the Alps and by the end of the week I felt incredibly refreshed and rejuvenated. It was so amazing to escape modern day life for awhile and spend every minute of the day outside in nature. There were no phones, no internet and nothing to do at the end of a day’s hike but take off your boots and relax with a glass of local wine in hand.  I don’t think I ever feel so alive and at peace as I do after a week in the mountains.

For our trip to Austria, we couldn’t escape the entire time to the mountains since we had my two children along, but we could spend as much time as possible doing day hikes. My son could have handled some longer overnight hut to hut hikes but my eleven year old daughter was new to the experience and the last thing I wanted to do was scare her away from my passion. Instead, I had to make sure to select the right amount of hiking to do and be mindful of the distance and difficulty. I would learn that there are three different levels of hiking in Austria: Beginner (mostly flat, wide open paths for all ages and abilities), Intermediate (uphill, high altitude paths that have some steep ascents and decents and narrow paths at points) and Advanced (no way would I bring my daughter on these ones as there are points where you need to grab on to a railing and one slip and you could stumble down very very far). Obviously we stuck to the beginning and intermediate trails but learned on our second hike that proper footwear and hiking poles are an absolute must for intermediate trails and these trails can be a bit scary for a kid who has never hiked way up high).

After a hearty lunch in town at a local Austrian restaurant, it was time for us to get out and do our very first hike in Austria. The sun had finally come out from underneath its hiding place in the clouds and we could finally see the mountains. At first glance of the breathtaking snow-capped peaks of the Austrian Alps, I smiled. I was going to love this place, I could feel it in my bones.

Seefeld, Austria

The Olympiaregion Seefeld is surrounded by the Kerwendel National Park, the Wildmoos Nature Proetcion Area, the stunning Wetterstein Massif and the Hohe Munde mountain. It is a stunning area for skiing, hiking and enjoying the glory of the Austrian Alps.

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Hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

Our First Family Trip to Europe: Eight Days in Austria

This past June, my children and I had the wonderful opportunity to take a big trip to Europe. As an avid traveler and a Europe lover, it was something I had dreamed of doing for years and my husband Paul agreed that it was the perfect time to bring our middle school-aged children to Europe. The idea for the trip hatched after my mother decided to do a transgenerational girls trip with me, my daughter, my sister and my niece to London and Paris in early June. Since we were going all that way, why not add on our own family trip as well? Paul and I thought long and hard about where else in Europe we would like to go and after much consideration we chose Austria as it offered the perfect mix of hiking, mountains, history and castles for our family to enjoy. We bought a Lonely Planet guidebook  and began the arduous task of trying to decide where to go and what to try to squeeze in within 8 days.  I realized shortly after researching the trip that we could have used an entire month to truly get to know Austria. It is an amazing place especially for an outdoor lover like me. With careful planning we were able to figure out how to best schedule our time and see the best of Austria for our family of four.

As often happens in life, there were a few unexpected bumps along the road. Unfortunately a few months before the trip, Paul threw out his back and traveling anywhere was out of the question. By that time, we had everything planned and booked. We could have canceled the Austria portion of the trip but then my son Max would not have been able to go either as he was supposed to fly over with Paul and meet us in Munich. Thankfully my father was able to take his place and despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t come, there was a silver lining. My dad got to spend twelve unexpected yet priceless days with his daughter and his grandchildren in Germany and Austria.

We met in Munich and head off to our first destination, the town of Schwangau near the border of Austria, where we spent two nights. The main reason for visiting Schwangau was to show my children King Ludwig II’s magical castle, Neushwanstein, where Paul asked me to be his wife 19 years ago. It ended up being a rather emotional visit since Paul was not able to be there with us but we still enjoyed exploring the castle, visiting neighboring Füssen, and staying in the beautiful Bavarian countryside. My thirteen year old son Max, who is already a whooping 6’1″ tall and has a voracious appetite, also truly loved the food! Thankfully we would find just as hearty and delightful food in neighboring Austria where we would be spending the next eight days before heading back to Germany to fly home.

The heart of our Austrian adventure began two days later when we left Germany for our short hour and a half drive to Seefeld in Tirol, our first stop, where we would stay for the next three days. We left Schwangau after yet another hearty German breakfast in an assault of rain. Ironically, it reminded me of the day of my engagement roughly 19 years ago when my husband and I rode the horse and carriage up the hill to see Neuschwanstein in the rain. The thick gray clouds blanketed the surrounding Alps and I was dismayed that what was supposed to be a beautiful drive was shrouded in rain, clouds and fog. It didn’t take long until we reached the Austrian-German border and had to do a quick stop at the nearest petrol station to get a Vignitte (a motorway tax that is imposed on all cars who travel on Austria’s autobahns). I had no idea that this was necessary until my dad told me how he once got a ticket in Austria because he didn’t have a Vignitte. Thankfully this time we were prepared and were only set back about 9 euros.

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Parque Andino Juncal, Chile

A Magical Hike in Chile’s Parque Andino Juncal

“Frigid winds blow as we turn into the glacier’s gorge. Without foreseeing we begin to step on ice that shines in between the fallen rocks of surrounding towering mountains” – Nicolás Echenique, our guide and the founder of Coigüe Expeditions. 

One of my absolute favorite things to do is to hike and there is no one I’d rather hike with than my dad. Growing up, my dad instilled a deep love of hiking and being outdoors. Over the years, we have continued to hike together as much as possible when I visit my parents in Arizona or on one of our annual trips. Together, we have hiked the Andes of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, and there was no way we were going to Chile without doing some hiking on our trip.

I was thrilled to discover that many amazing day hikes are reachable right outside of Santiago. On our first full day in Chile, we did an incredible “warm-up” hike to El Morado Hanging Glacier with our own private guide, Nicolás Echenique (Nico) of Coigüe Expeditions and it was a wonderful adventure. We knew we were in for a special treat when we signed up to hike with Nico again in the pristine Parque Andino Juncal, home of the largest glacier in Central Chile.

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Morado Hanging Glacier, Chile

At the Doorstep of the Andes: A Hike to El Morado Hanging Glacier

When most people plan a trip to go hiking in Chile, they immediately head south to the Chilean Lakes District and Patagonia, a landscape lover’s paradise awash with too many stunning national parks to count. While some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Chile are found south of Santiago, I was surprised to discover that equally as divine landscapes exist right outside of the bustling cultural mecca of Santiago, where over half of Chile’s population live.

When my dad planned a week’s getaway to Chile basing ourselves in Santiago, I confess that I was a bit skeptical that we would find any good hiking in Central Chile. As an avid hiker who has trekked in some of the best parks in Patagonian Chile and Argentina, I naively thought that the best hiking would be down south. However, I was proven wrong and was wonderfully surprised with the intense, dynamic beauty of the day hikes we found right outside our base in Santiago.

While the Andes stretch all the way from the southern tip of Chile to their terminus in Tierra del Fuego, it is in Central Chile where the Andes rise to some of their highest elevations. Just east of Santiago near the Chilean border with Argentina lies the mighty Aconcagua which at 22,841 feet (6,962m) is the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere.

Perhaps what makes Chile such an exciting destination for hikers is the amazing diversity of its landscape. In the north is the Atacama, the driest desert in the world with its salt flats and open barren stretches of land. In the Center, the Andes rise dramatically high with vast glacial valleys and snow-capped peaks whereas in the South, their appearance is startling different: Craggy, jagged mountains rimmed with glacial lakes and temperate rainforest. Finally, at the southernmost tip in Patagonia it is filled with ice and glaciers and is home to the second largest contiguous ice field in the world, the The Southern Patagonian Ice Field. No wonder Chile is such an amazing place to explore! 

Andes, Chile

Flying over the incredible Andes as the morning sun rises

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Morado Glacier, Chile

A Father/Daughter Trip to Chile

On the morning of my departure to Chile, I woke up feeling the normal jittery rush of anticipation and excitement that travel brings me. You would think that after all these years, I’d somehow get used to it but that same restless nervousness about going on an adventure far from home never seems to leave me. After a restless night’s sleep of tossing and turning, it was finally time to start the long haul to Santiago. The babysitter had arrived to help out with the kids and our family dog, the dinners were made and frozen in the freezer, and my bags were packed with everything I’d need for the next nine days. All I needed to do was get into the cab and I was off.

This trip marked the 13th trip I’d taken with my dad since I graduated college. Over the years, we have been to many special places together ranging from the Himalayas of Nepal, to the vast stretches of rugged earth of Iceland, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the bush of South Africa, the urban jungle of China, and the mountains of Argentina, Bolivia, France and Peru. Together we have experienced a lot of adventures, and in all of my travels, I have never ever met another father-daughter traveling duo before.

It took me some time to realize that it was unusual and not something you see every day. Mother and daughters traveling together is much more common and I too have been fortunate to have traveled with my mom. But a father and a daughter traveling together was something unique. Despite the occasional awkward stares of those who thought I was his much younger wife, traveling as a pair has started many conversations of curiosity among strangers and opened many unexpected doors. It is something I would never trade for anything and an experience I hope to continue with my own children down the road.

Sunrise over the Andes

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Mount Kilimanjaro

Atop a Mountain is Where I Long to Be

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – . John Muir

I have always loved mountains. Perhaps it is their breathtaking beauty or their earthy mystique or even the challenge of getting from the ground on up atop a mountain that lures me to love them so much. I’m not sure what it is about mountains but I long to be near them, in them and a part of them. I love to hike them, climb them, ski them and just see them. If I could pick one place to be, I’d be in the mountains.

Unfortunately we don’t really have mountains in Minnesota. The highest peak, Eagle Mountain, in Northern Minnesota is only a meager 2,301 feet (701 m) tall. So when the mountains are calling, I must board a plane and fly to them. I am beginning to get those itchy feet again, longing for lacing up my hiking boots, throwing on my pack and heading to the mountains. I’m not sure which ones are calling me now. There are the Himalayas in Bhutan and India that I long to see but don’t have the two-three weeks available to climb them. There are the unknown peaks of the Peruvian Andes. And there are even those beautiful Canadian Rockies that call my name thanks to all those Alberta bloggers and Instagrammers I follow.

There are no immediate plans to go to the mountains so instead I will reflect on some of my most favorite mountains I’ve had the luxury of being atop of.

July 2015 – Mount Kilimanjaro

Me in front of the mighty beast, Mount Kilimanjaro

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro July 2015


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Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon: A Hike Along the Phoneline Trail 

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

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