Sabino Canyon is a beautiful and serene natural area located in the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona. It is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, offering a variety of hiking trails, picnic areas, and wildlife viewing opportunities. My husband and I just returned from visiting this hidden gem during the Christmas holidays. I hope this post will serve as the complete guide to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area near Tuscon, Arizona.
The main attraction here is a 7.4-mile round-trip Sabino Canyon paved trail that takes you through the stunning landscape overlooking the canyon. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, making it suitable for hikers of all abilities. Along the way, you’ll see a variety of desert flora and fauna, including saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus, agave, and desert scrub. You may also spot some of the local wildlife, such as rabbits, birds, and lizards.
In addition to the Sabino Canyon Paved Trail, there are several other trails available for those looking for a more challenging hike. The Seven Falls Trail in Bear Canyon takes you to a series of waterfalls and pools, while the Phoneline Trail offers panoramic views of the canyon and the surrounding mountains. There are also several shorter trails available for those who prefer a shorter hike. Read on for great hiking recommendations that will give you a chance to soak in the unique beauty of this place. The US Department of Agriculture has a great map with detailed trails, amenities, and shuttle stops.
Overall, Sabino Canyon is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a day in the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a more strenuous hike, there is something for everyone in this stunning natural area.
Absolutely! My husband came across this offbeat gem in Arizona and I am so glad he did! We were looking for a relatively warmer escape from the Chicago winters during the Christmas holidays, and this was the perfect getaway. There are direct flights from Chicago and several other cities to Tuscon and the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is about half an hour’s drive away from the airport.
The area is absolutely gorgeous with towering saguaros and the Sonoran desert landscape. You’ll be surprised by how green the landscape looks, with the mountainside filled with saguaros, prickly pear cacti, and other desert shrubs.
Sabino Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona. To get to there, you can follow these directions:
1. From downtown Tucson, take East Broadway Boulevard towards the mountains.
2. Turn left onto North Sabino Canyon Road.
3. Follow North Sabino Canyon Road for approximately 3.5 miles until you reach the Visitor Center.
If you are coming from the airport or another location outside of Tucson, you can also rent a car or take a taxi to Sabino Canyon. There is ample parking available at the Visitor Center for those who are driving.
There is a fee to enter the canyon with a vehicle, which goes towards the maintenance and upkeep of the area. The day pass costs $8 and week pass costs $10. You can also buy the annual pass for $40. The fee is waived for those with an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.
That said, there are some great vacation rental condominiums within walking distance from Visitor Center. There is no fee if you are arriving by foot.
There are several permutations and combinations that you can use to create a fun loop or out-and-back trail at Sabino Canyon. Here are a few options of trails we enjoyed during our visit.
1. Sabino Canyon Paved Trail (7.4 miles) – This paved trail has great views of the canyon on one side with the creek running through it. Be prepared to roll up your pants and cross the bridges with water flowing over them if there has just been recent rainfall.
2. Sabino Walkway, Esperero, and Rattlesnake Loop (2.5 miles) – Start on the paved Sabino Canyon Walkway from the Visitor Center and take the left that takes you deeper into the mountains. After 0.5 miles, you will come across a fork where you can take the right to get on the Rattlesnake Trail. This trail descends into the old creek path and merges back on the paved road.
3. Phoneline and Sabino Lake Loop (4.12 miles) – Start off on Bear Canyon Road and take the left at the fork to get to Phoneline Trail. About a mile later, take the Phoneline Link Trail, Creek Trail, and Sabino Lake Trail to make your way back to Bear Canyon Road and the Visitor Center. Along the way, you will get great views of the creek and dam with the opportunity to go for a swim if you’d like.
Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Sabino Canyon. However, they are allowed in the parking lot and in the designated picnic areas. It is important to keep your dog on a leash at all times and clean up after them. There are also several water stations available in the picnic areas for dogs to drink from.
Note that the desert climate in the canyon can be harsh for dogs, with high temperatures and little shade. It is recommended to bring plenty of water and seek shelter in the shade if needed.
Yes, there is a shuttle service available in Sabino Canyon called Sabino Canyon Crawler. The shuttle takes visitors through the canyon and provides a convenient and eco-friendly way to explore the area. It runs on a continuous loop with stops on the way back to allow visitors to get off and explore the area. It can also take new passengers for the return journey at this time. Shuttle tickets can be purchased at the shuttle stop outside the Visitor Center or online. We definitely saw several sold-out shuttle rides during Christmas week so I would highly recommend buying tickets beforehand.
There are two shuttle routes, both starting at the stop outside the visitor center. One is the 7.4-mile Sabino Canyon Tour that runs every hour from 9 am to 4 pm. It lasts from one hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. There is an individual automated narration on this tour in English and Spanish. Each passenger can plug in the earbuds provided during embarkation to learn about the natural environment and cultural history of the area. The shuttle takes about 45 minutes to get to the top and then stops for about 5 – 7 minutes at the last stop. The return journey takes about 25 – 30 minutes. After the rains, there is a High Water Tour where the shuttle only goes up to Stop #2 since the water level prevents the tram from going over the crossings. The tour still lasts for about an hour.
The second one is the Bear Canyon Shuttle which is a 2-mile tram ride to the Bear Canyon and Seven Falls Trailhead. It runs every hour from 9:15 am to 4:15 am.
The USDA map in the introduction has detailed map of the stops for both shuttle routes.
Pro tip: If you “hop off” at the last stop, space may not be available later for a ride down. Be prepared to walk the rest of the way if you leave the shuttle.
The Sabino Canyon tram costs $15 per adult and $8 per child (3 – 12 years) for the roundtrip. One-way hop-on fare is $8 for the return journey.
The Bear Canyon tram costs $8 per adult and $5 per child (3 – 12 years) for the roundtrip. One-way hop-on fare is $5 for the return journey.
Check out the Sabino Canyon Crawler website for the latest rates, availability and booking the tickets.
The Sabino Canyon Crawler mentioned above is a great way to enjoy a guided journey into the canyon. The tour is auto-narrated but feels very realistic. It is a human voice and the narration is paced in sync with the locations you will be passing on the tour.
There are several naturalist volunteer-led hikes in the area like the plant and bird walk, cellphone photo walk, and Sabino Canyon hike. Check out the informational boards outside the Visitor Center or enquire within for the latest schedule of hikes.
Yes, Sabino Canyon is open year-round. The best time to visit is during the cooler months from October to April, when the weather is more comfortable for hiking and outdoor activities. We visited in the last week of December and the weather was very pleasant, especially compared to our cold abode in Chicago.
During the summer months, the temperatures can be extreme, with highs reaching into the triple digits. It is important to take precautions and stay hydrated if you plan to visit during the summer. Check out this monthly forecast for an idea about average highs and lows.
Visitors can access a variety of amenities, including restrooms, water stations, and picnic areas. Refer to the USDA map for a complete list of amenities and their locations.
Yes, Sabino Canyon is accessible to individuals with disabilities. The main Sabino Canyon trail is paved and wheelchair accessible, and there are some other trail sections that are also suitable for those with mobility impairments. The Visitor Center, restrooms, and picnic areas are also wheelchair accessible. The shuttle service that operates here is also wheelchair accessible, with ramps and space for wheelchairs.
We definitely saw visitors in wheelchairs enjoying the scenic beauty of the canyon which is often hard to find in other national parks and outdoor recreation areas.
There are several guidelines and restrictions in place for visitors to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all visitors and to protect the natural environment. Some of the guidelines and restrictions include:
1. Stay on designated trails: It is important to stay on the designated trails to protect the natural environment and respect wildlife. Off-trail hiking is not allowed.
2. Leave no trace: Visitors are encouraged to leave no trace and take all trash with them when they leave. This includes litter, food scraps, and other waste.
3. Respect wildlife: Visitors are asked to respect the wildlife and not feed or disturb them. This includes not approaching or trying to touch animals, as they may be dangerous or carry diseases.
4. No smoking: Smoking is not allowed in Sabino Canyon, including e-cigarettes and vaporizers.
5. No dogs: Dogs are not allowed on the trails in Sabino Canyon, but they are allowed in the parking lot and in the designated picnic areas. It is important to keep your dog on a leash at all times and clean up after them.
6. No camping: Camping is not allowed in Sabino Canyon. There are several campsites and hotels available in the surrounding area for those looking for overnight accommodations.
7. No hunting or fishing: Hunting and fishing are not allowed in Sabino Canyon.
Hiking is one of my passions – whether it is in Yosemite valley or in the Carribean island of St. John. Arizona remains one of our favorite states in the US given the friendly people and great winter weather and I’m always excited about discovering more hiking destinations in the state. We definitely saw a lot of locals rather than out of state visitors in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. We loved it so much here that we are even planning a repeat visit next year!
I hope these FAQs help you plan your trip to Sabino Canyon. If you have any more questions, feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. And if you are already familiar with the area, I’d love to hear your insights and recommendations.