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Sabino Canyon, Santa Catalina Mountains

Summary: An interesting loop hike (half on-trail, half off-trail) through the main fork of Sabino Canyon. This trip requires some climbing and swimming, but offers some great scenery and solitude as the reward. Be aware that the rocks on the off-trail portion of the trip are very slick. Care is required and shoes with good traction won't hurt either. This hike is best done in warm weather.
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: Starting from the visitor center - 12.5 miles
Taking the shuttle to the Sabino Canyon Road end - 5 miles
Tickets for the shuttle are $7.50 per person (as of this writing). The shuttle runs until 5pm.
Date Hiked: September 2005
Weather Conditions: Sunny & warm
Required Skills:
Hike Description: If starting from the Visitors Center, simply walk up the paved road. It's 3.8 miles to the end and there are a few interpretive signs along the way. Once at the end of the road (3.8 miles) pick up the Sabino Canyon Trail as it heads up a series of steps to switchback steeply up the hillside. After 0.5 miles you'll reach a junction with the right branching Phoneline Trail (4.2 miles), turn left (remaining on the Sabino Canyon Trail) which leads upstream at a fairly level grade, high above Sabino Canyon. Eventually the path drops down into Sabino Basin to the junction with the East Fork Trail, which heads straight, and the West Fork Trail which heads left (6.2 miles). Leave the trail at this point and turn left, walking down stream in the rocky wash. Your route, at this point, is the same as that taken by the water. Follow the water downstream and soon the West Fork of Sabino Canyon enters from the right, follow the water left into the main fork of Sabino. The canyon features some very large boulders, that will require climbing and route finding to negotiate. The route finding doesn't come in the form of "Which way did the water go?", you can't get lost in the steep walled canyon. Instead, you may have to route find around some drop offs formed by house sized boulders that block your path. Along the way you will also encounter several pools that you must wade through and one short swim. Eventually, you will start to see more footprints from those that have walked upstream from below, and the road will appear on the hillside on the left. Continue walking until you reach a prominent path which leads up to the left to a restroom and Bus Stop #7 (8.7 miles). If you miss this path, don't worry, a short distance later the road itself crosses the canyon. If you've purchased a shuttle ticket you can ride back to the visitors center, otherwise follow the road back to your car (12.5 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed this trip as part of a larger hike on a warm September day. The pools in Sabino were quite warm in the late afternoon and a welcome respite from the heat of the day.
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.
Sabino Canyon.