Sabino Canyon is a spectacularly beautiful place to hike. Halfway up the side of the canyon, the Phone Line trail contours along length, offering great vistas. Other trails include Blacket’s Ridge. A paved road runs along the bottom, along which runs a tram.
Bear Canyon, the next canyon over from Sabino Canyon, while not as spectacular, has its own treats for the avid hiker. With the exception of the trail, the canyon is undeveloped. Like Sabino, water flows year-round. Many hikers enjoy rock hopping back and forth across the stream as they follow the trail. Many find the bear Canyon trail a more natural riparian experience compared to the paved road in Sabino.
Sycamore trees, boulders, and water in Bear Canyon
The boulders, sycamore trees, and water make bear Canyon worth the trip. The coolest feature, however, is Seven Falls. About two and one half miles in from the mouth of the canyon (four miles from the parking lot), there is a fork in the trail. The fork that goes down to the left, will take you to an area of slickrock with waterfalls both above and below. While none of these seven waterfalls are particularly tall (the largest not more than about 20 feet), but they are all pleasing to the eye and ear. The water flows across the slick rock forming a number of small pools. The place is ideal for sunbathing, sitting quietly and listening to the mantra of the water, or if you are so inclined, climbing up the rock cliffs to the next fall. A note to parents: kids love this place, and opportunities to slide or fall off cliffs abound.
Falls, pools, and slickrock at Seven Falls
The other fork in the trail, the one to the right, will take you further up the canyon eventually joining the trail that runs from the Prison Camp area to Upper Sabino and Hutch’s Pool. The upper part of the trail provides access to Thimble Peak, the distinctive and aptly named high point on the ridge that separates Sabino and Bear Canyons. Ambitious hikers and trail runners make a loop combining the trails of the two canyons.
To get to Bear Canyon, park at the Sabino Canyon recreation area parking lot (permit or fee required). Take the dirt path from the parking lot to the road, then the road to the bridge over Sabino Creek – the crossing of which will put you face-to-face with the trailhead for both the Phone Line and bear Canyon Trails. Soon after stepping on the trail, there will be a sign pointing to the left for the Phoneline Trail, and right for the Bear Canyon Trail. It will be about another mile to the actual mouth of Bear Canyon.
There is, for those who prefer, a road that parallels the trail for that one mile segment. I generally prefer taking the trail, having already done some pavement walking from the parking lot. In fact, on our last hike there I saw three white tailed deer foraging not far from the trail.
White Tail deer foraging near Bear Canyon Trail
The relatively low elevation makes Bear Canyon a good choice for winter hiking. Remember, however, that canyons such as Bear Canyon often active as drains for cold air in the higher elevations, making the bottom of the canyon somewhat cooler than the surrounding area. Summertime can be enjoyable to, as long as the water is flowing and peak high temperatures are avoided.
The traffic in both Bear and Sabino Canyons is substantial – they are just north of town. However, Bear Canyon is still an excellent choice for those who like to hike along a stream, and experience waterfalls, while avoiding long drives.
The mouth of Bear Canyon