Hiking in Arizona: Sabino Canyon

We recently took advantage of a free January weekend and Alaska Airline points to chase some sunshine and hike among the saguaro cacti in Tucson, Arizona. This was my second time in Arizona but my first time to this part of the state, and I really enjoyed the laid back pace of this area.

We spent a good portion of our Saturday morning in Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area hiking the Seven Falls trail. There is a fee to access this area, but we were able to use our America the Beautiful national parks pass to get in for free.

After parking and hitting the amenities at the visitor center, we opted to complete the full 8.2-mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall. There is also a shuttle from the visitor center to a turnaround point that cuts the hike in half if you’re short on time or energy!

After crossing through several miles of sunny and open cacti fields, we reached the shuttle turnaround spot. At this juncture, the trail heads into the canyon where it winds back and forth across the river, primarily hugging the shaded bank on either side.

In total, there are seven river crossings each way. And by river crossing, I mean hopping from rock to rock – no man-made structures here! We were very happy to have our trekking poles as we navigated the increasingly slick, wet rocks across the current. We both did really well on the way to the falls – no falling in! I must have been tired on the way out though – I got a wet shoe on two occasions and was happy to have several miles of hiking to dry out before we returned to the car.

This section of the hike was mostly in the shade, and we enjoyed the different trees and plants along the water as well as the saguaro cacti towering overhead on the exposed hillsides.

After the final river crossing, the trail ascends via several relatively easy switchbacks to a split. You can head left and down to the face of the waterfall or continue right to a viewpoint above the falls and on into the canyon. We headed left and finally caught some views of Seven Falls! Thanks to our morning hike timing the sun was almost perfectly spot lighting the water cascading down into the canyon.

The lower falls were shaded and we joined a few dozen people resting in the shade and admiring the view. After a snack, some water, and a few photo opportunities, we were restored and ready for our hike out.

We always liked to hike earlier in the day, and I’d say that was the right decision for us with this hike as well. There were lots of people hiking in as we were hiking out, the sunny section of trail was a lot warmer than our hike in, and the parking lot at the visitor center was pretty full when we left.

Overall our hike ended up being 9 miles with 808 feet of gain, and it took just under 5 hours with 30 minutes of stopping time at the falls. I can see why this is the highest rated hike in the area – it was a perfect blend of terrains, lots of interesting elements between the cacti and river crossings, and the wonderful reward of the falls at the end!

One thought on “Hiking in Arizona: Sabino Canyon

  1. Pingback: Exploring Saguaro National Park’s West Side – Heather's Compass

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