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

The Best Hikes in Tucson’s Sabino Canyon

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.

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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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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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Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

Sabino Canyon: Hike to Hutch’s Pools

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 Phone Line Trail. This time, I wanted to try something new. My dad remembered that there was a special hike beyond Sabino Canyon into the pristine nature leading out of the park. It is known as the hike to Hutch’s Pools.

There are two ways to get to the trailhead. You can either walk the 3.8 miles one way on the paved road into the canyon or you can take the Sabino Canyon shuttle bus. The hike to Hutch’s Pools is an additional 4 miles behind the end of Sabino Canyon thus 8 miles round trip. Therefore, unless you want a 16 mile, eight hour hike, it is best to purchase a roundtrip ticket on the shuttle and ride it to the start of the trailhead and back to the entrance at the end. (Note: As of June 2018, the tram service has been suspended until the Park Service selects a new shuttle service provider).

We took the shuttle to the end and got off at stop nine where we started our hike. It was a beautiful day as common in Arizona (it is sunny on average 300 days a year), and we had a picnic lunch packed and plenty of water for our hike.

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

It was the perfect day for hiking to Hutch’s Pools as the temperatures were in the low 70s. If it was any hotter, this would not be a good hike since there is very little shade (unlike the Phone Line Trail). A nice gentle spring breeze kissed our skin and cooled us down. Spring flowers were bringing color into the desert landscape and yellow-brown high desert plains. It was serenely beautiful.

We were on a three-generational hike: My father, my eleven-year-old son Max and me. I had grown up hiking with my dad and am blessed to be passing my love of hiking on to my children. Even a broken arm didn’t stop Max from hiking every day while we were in Arizona.

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

Sabino Canyon Tucson Arizona

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Bear Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Best Hikes in Tucson: Bear Canyon’s Hike to Seven Falls

“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.

Bear Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

After leaving the Visitor Center, you can follow the trail to Bear Canyon through the desert. There are lots of birds and all kinds of cacti. If you go in the spring, the cactus are in full bloom which is an additional treat.

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.

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Phoneline Trail, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

Discovering the raw beauty of Sabino Canyon

As I always say, there is no better way to experience the raw beauty of nature than to do it by a good hike.  Sabino Canyon is just one of those places. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

Nestled in the southeastern foothills of Tucson, Arizona in the Santa Catalina  mountains, Sabino Canyon is a true gem. The formation of these mountains began over 12 million years ago, long before the first sign of man.  Over time, a significant canyon formed that would eventually turn into a lush, verdant desert oasis deep inside the canyon.

A massive earthquake in 1887 centered in Northern Mexico caused even more change to the canyon.  Massive 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 up 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 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.

A tram service runs daily every half an hour up the canyon and back.  For only a few dollars, you can ride along and listen to an informative narration on the history, geology and flora and fauna of Sabino Canyon.   This is a great thing to do as a family and of course we have done it many times.  However, the best thing to do in Sabino Canyon is to get out there and experience it firsthand with a hike.

There are several hikes in Sabino Canyon and over the years I’ve done many of them.  However, my most favorite hike of all is called The Phoneline Trail, which is about an eight mile round trip hike, located about two-thirds of the way up the canyon, giving you a bird’s eye view of this spectacular place.

The start of the trail is flat but not for long. 

 There are many types of cacti found throughout Sabino Canyon.  The Saguaro Cactus is perhaps the most well-known.  It takes on average 65-70 years for this cactus to grow an arm.  They also can live for over 200 years!  What also is amazing about the Saguaro cactus is its root system.  Saguaro’s roots only go down about twenty inches deep, however, the roots spread out as wide as they are high.  Pretty unbelievable!

After a mile or so of flat walking, it is time to climb up!  It is best to be prepared with tons of water, hiking polls, lots of sunscreen and of course extra stamina.  It is not uncommon to see college aged kids running up the trail!  I even saw some people running barefoot.  Crazy given all the rocks and obstacles. 

Soon the hike leads you gradually and then steeply up the side of the canyon walls. 

My favorite barrel cactus which bloosom beautifully in the springtime.

Finally after a couple of hours hiking we are nearing the top of the hike where the Phoneline Trail flattens out and you basicaly walk along the edge of the canyon.

Down below is the paved trail which is another option for seeing the canyon.  But I prefer to view from up top!

At the end of the canyon in back is Mount Lemmon, a beautiful area that hosts many pine trees as well as a ski resort. 

Sabino Canyon is home to a wide variety of wild life including the elusive mountain lion, bobcats, ocelots, skunks, foxes, deer, javalinas, raccoons and coyotes.  They also have lots of different kind of venomous and non-venomous snakes (I’ve seen a rattlesnack but not on the trail) as well as scorpions and tarantulas (yes, unfortunately I’ve seen these two things yet at my parents house!  Not on the trail!).

 

I only wished this photo could have turned out better but we were hiking right into the sun.  I have never seen the canyon as verdant as this in December.  It was simply spectacular.  Who would have ever imagined a desert could be so green?  It is even better in March and April when the brilliant desert flowers are in bloom and the green is a vibrant lime-color that almost hurts your eyes.

There has been a ton of rainfall and snow in the upper mountains causing the streams to flow with force. 

The Canyon also has an ample and diverse supply of beautiful trees such as the Cottomwood (in this picture, which still has its golden leaves on from the fall), the white-barked sycamore trees, and the dark-wooded mesquite trees.  Another favorite is the Palo Verde tree which means “Green Stick” and has green bark and green leaves. 

The white-barked tree in back is an Arizona Sycamore.  The bark is lovely. 

This is a mesquite tree which proves great firewood as well as a food source for many animals within the canyon.  The tree produces bean pods which are enjoyed by many small canyon critters. 

After an eight mile strenous hike through record-high heat (who would have believed it was December?), I was exhilared and fatigued.  It was a great hike and I can’t wait to do it again!  

Stay tuned…I am headed back to a wintery Minnesota tomorrow.  I’ve heard that we finally have a few inches of snow and am looking forward to it!  I am not looking forward to the cold January weather, though. 

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