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Bear Canyon Loop, Santa Catalina Mountains

Summary: A nicely graded loop hike that offers some nice desert scenery and a side trip to a series of waterfalls in the Santa Catalina Mountains just outside of Tucson.
Directions: From I-10 take the Ina (pronounced eye-na) Road exit #248 near Tucson. Turn east onto Ina Road and follow it as it becomes Skyline Drive and then Sunrise Drive. After 14.5 miles, when you reach the end of Sunrise Drive and a stop sign, turn left. The Sabino Canyon Visitors Center and parking lot are immediately on your right. There is a $5 per car entry fee ($20 for an annual pass).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Easy
Length: 17.6 miles
Date Hiked: April, 2005
Weather Conditions: Sunny & windy
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the large parking lot, pick up the trail to Bear Canyon (Trail #29) which starts behind the bathrooms. The path is wide and flat as it heads east through the creosote flats of the bajada. Soon you'll reach a road, turn right and walk down the road a short distance to where a path parallels it on the right (you can walk on the road or the trail, but the trail is a little nicer). The path crosses 2 washes and 0.7 miles after starting crosses the road once again to reach a junction with the left branching Phoneline Trail #27, stay right on the Bear Canyon Trail. The path passes through typical desert vegetation consisting of: mesquite, creosote bush, palo verde, saguaro, prickly pear, cholla, and ocotillo. At the 1.2 mile point you'll reach a sign for Bear Canyon Rd. which is 0.5 miles to the right and Bear Canyon, which is 0.3 miles to the left, turn left and left again 0.1 miles later at a sign for Seven Falls. At the 1.5 mile point (1.7 miles according to the map below) you'll reach the end of Bear Canyon Rd. and a sign pointing up canyon for the East Fork and Sycamore Reservoir Trails which are 6.5 miles away (6.8 miles on the map). Continue up the trail which winds it's way up Bear Canyon at a very mild grade on one side of the stream (flowing when the author was here) or the other. The trail eventually crosses over to the right (facing up canyon) and climbs a distance above the streambed on the hillside until you reach an obvious left branching spur trail and sign for Bear Canyon Trail (straight). Seven Falls is a short distance down this spur trail and well worth a look. When ready, continue up the trail which continues to ascend at a moderate grade up a series of broad switchbacks before bending left and continuing up along the right side of the drainage that feeds the falls. Eventually the path drops down, crosses the stream, then begins climbing up and away from the wash on the other side. At the top of the climb, the trail bends to the left enters a broad basin where multiple drainages that come from Mt. Lemmon meet and join. The trail then soon drops down to a signed 'T' junction with the East Fork Trail #24A which heads left and the Sycamore Reservoir Trail #39 which goes right (8.5 miles). Turn left onto the East Fork Trail which begins descending down a few wide switchbacks at a comfortable grade to eventually reach a dry wash and signed junction with the Palisades Trail which continues straight (9.5 miles). Turn left and remain on the East Fork Trail which parallels the wash on the hillside on the left as it descends to the junction with the right branching Box Camp Trail #22 (10.6 miles). Stay straight on the East Fork Trail, then straight again a short time later when the East Fork Trail ends at a junction with the Sabino Canyon #23  (though the sign is a little hard to spot since it's only 6" high and sits under a juniper tree)and the right branching West Fork Trails #24. The Sabino Canyon Trail climbs a short distance onto the hillside to the left of the drainage then bends left where the east and west forks of Sabino Canyon meet to parallel this combined drainage high on the left hillside. The path follows this route down at a gradual grade to a spot above the end of Sabino Canyon Road and a junction with the Phoneline Trail #27 which continues straight and a spur trail which leads to the right 0.5 miles to the road (12.6 miles). Those that are tired may wish to head right and catch a bus back to the parking lot (as long as the busses haven't stopped running for the day), we, however, will continue straight on the Phoneline Trail as it winds its way down canyon along the hillside above the road. Stay on the Phoneline Trail for the next 4.2. miles (I'll gloss over this part of the hike since there's not much to describe along this section) ignoring any branching trails along the way until you reach the road (16.8 miles) and end of the Phoneline Trail. From there, cross the road and walk across the bridge on the other side to Shuttle Stop #2. Turn left and you can soon pick up a trail on the left side of the road that continues the remaining distance to the Visitors Center (17.6 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed this hike at a moderately quick pace in 8 hours. 
Maps: Santa Catalina Mountains - Rainbow Expeditions Inc., available in the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center ($6). Recommended!
Books: None used
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Bear Canyon. Nearing the East Fork junction.
Along the East Fork Trail. Descending towards the Sabino
Canyon road end.