Bear Canyon/Sabino Canyon Loop (Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ)


Jan 11, 2018
Start/end: Sabino Canyon Visitor Center parking lot (Tucson, AZ)
Mileage: ~16.9 miles; option to shuttle the Sabino Canyon road back (with a fee) during shuttle season
Elevation gain: ~2465'
Navigation: Junctions are signed, and the trail was well worn. A trail map (e.g. Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains) may be helpful for reference, but wan't absolutely necessary. Bear Canyon is one of the eastern most trailheads, so continue passing the trail junctions until you see signs for Bear Canyon/Seven Falls.
Filterable water: seasonal
Fees: parking fee (or Nat'l Parks pass)
Dogs: not allowed in Pusch Ridge Wilderness due to desert bighorns
Nearest town/gas: Tucson, AZ
Date hiked: 24 Dec 2018

Approximate Route

Trip Report
Lured by the 70F temps and great trails, I headed down to Tucson for a few days of climbing and hiking over the winter holiday. I climbed at Mt Lemmon the first day and did a shorter hike with my friend on the 23rd.

The Sabino Canyon lot was relatively busy on Christmas Eve, but as usual the crowds quickly died off as I got further from trailhead. From the visitor center there was a network of mostly flat trails that paralleled the road and campground.

Once in the canyon proper the trail followed and crisscrossed the stream bed, which had ample water this time of year.


Being a holiday and a popular route to the scenic Seven Falls, there were quite a few people until I passed the Seven Falls junction. From there the trail switchbacked east, eventually crossing back into the Bear Canyon drainage to the west.





The trail followed Bear Canyon until switchbacking up a steep hillside to a saddle NE of Thimble Peak. Then came the descent into East Fork drainage, following the Arizona Trail.
I saw only 2 people along this remote section.

After a short distance I turned south down Sabino Canyon trail, which climbed high above the canyon proper.

Sabino Canyon drops down the paved road, so I opted for Phoneline trail instead (again completely quiet).



I made it back to my car with just enough light and just enough time to catch the Korean BBQ restaurant before they closed early for the holiday.
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Now I have a good friend who every winter as of late has gone south to winter in Tucson. This area is one of his most favorite places down here near Tucson. Nice Photos! Thanks for posting. Enjoy yourself there in warm Tucson!
Well, that’s funny, we were within 1/2 day of passing you on the Phoneline trail, we hiked it yesterday!!!! It was also spectacular on the paved road back along the creek with the cottonwoods still a little yellow.
Awesome weather. Very scenic canyon, huge amount of Saguaro. It paid out to do it Christmas day, very quiet towards the end of Sabino Canyon. Very happy the trams were not running, otherwise it would be busy.
We might do Bear Canyon in February when we return!
Beautiful photos - thanks for sharing!
Thanks @Kmatjhwy and @Titans! There were a handful of people on the Sabino Canyon road, but almost no one on Phoneline. Kmatjhwy, it's the second time I've been down there for the winter holiday. Have a great rest of your trip, Titans.