Sabino Canyon

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April, 2017 – My first visit to Sabino Canyon was on a glorious spring day, made even better by the intense ocotillo blooming red against brilliant blue skies.

Sabino Visitor CenterSabino Canyon Tours/Trail
5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd. ♦ Tucson, AZ
520-749-286 (Recorded Info)  ♦ 520-749-2327 (Reservations)

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area (Coronado National Forest site)

(Click images for larger size in separate window)

I stopped in Tucson mainly to stay at Catalina State Park since I’d heard so much about the beautiful scenery, as well as how great the campground is.  When I posted on Facebook about staying there, I started hearing from friends that I shouldn’t miss a visit to Sabino Canyon. Once I finally made it over there, I was shocked that I hadn’t heard of this before, much less put it on a must-see list. It’s there for good now!

Sabino Tram on Road

The paved road going up the canyon is about 3.8 miles and is shared by the trams and hikers. I took the tram all the way up, enjoyed the info provided by the driver and walked down.

Sabino Mile Marker 0

This beautiful, scenic welcome is just a hint of the wonders awaiting up the road.

Sabino Shuttle Stop 2

There are 9 shuttle stops to the top. The brochure from the Visitor Center gives all the info on what attractions, hiking trails and facilities are at each stop, where there are restrooms, picnic areas, etc.  This is Shuttle Stop 2.  Some stops are simply a bench by the side of the road with no shade, so be sure you bring lots of water.

Sabino bridge

There are a few bridges to cross and depending on the recent rainfall, you may get your feet wet.

Sabino Vistas near & far

The vistas, both near and far, are breathtaking and the clouds this day were perfect!

Sabino End of Line - stop 9

End of the line at Shuttle Stop 9. There are also trails you can take from here to get up close and personal with these amazing mountains.  I got out here to walk back to the Visitor Center, wanting to take my time and see more than I could from the tram.

Sabino Creek from road

Looking down on this Sabino Creek scene from the upper road, I knew for sure I was going down there. Look at those interesting rock formations and colors!  The trail to get here is called Sabino Dam.

I hadn’t even walked halfway back and I could already say this is my favorite thing in Tucson. Crazy beautiful!

Sabino Hohokam peopleI also like learning about the ancient people who were here first. Besides this info on the grindstones found near here, they tell us:

“The Hohokam vanished for unknown reasons about 600 years ago. Now there are little more than scattered pottery fragments and grindstones to show they were ever in Sabino Canyon.”


Sabino Grindstones

Besides being useful, I thought the grindstones were beautiful with such interesting shapes, colors and textures.

Sabino Me at waterfall

Past the grindstones, I made it down to my destination and found a little waterfall I hadn’t seen from above. I took off my shoes and enjoyed dipping my feet in the refreshing cool water. I saw other people swimming in the water and under the falls, but the water was way too cold for that for me!

Sabino bridge 2

The sounds of trickling water in the desert, totally interesting rocks and mountains peeking out everywhere. Huge shade trees on a creek growing next to the saguaro dotting the hillsides – I’m in LOVE with this place!

Sabino Palo Verde

The bright yellows of the Palo Verde bushes added happy surprises around many turns. The diversity of what you can see here in such a short span of time and distance is truly amazing.

Sabino cactus bloom

Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get prettier, these desert flowers stopped me in my tracks to prove me wrong!

Sabino Saguaro

Given its close proximity to Saguaro National Park, I guess it’s no surprise there are so many of these stately creatures here. They really add a lot of interest and texture to the parts of the trail that are more of a desert environment.

More Info on Sabino Canyon Tours:

Sabino Canyon Tours offers a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.

From Coronado National Forest: The Sabino Canyon Tours operate under a special use permit with the Coronado National Forest and are a separate fee from the amenity fee for access to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area ($5 day or $20 annual passes available)

My Golden Age Passport was honored here for the $5 parking and entrance fee.

The tram tour is a separate fee of $10. I had no problem with the cost itself – I can justify paying that for the day since the narrated ride up there was good. It’s convenient that you can get on and off at any of the 9 stops within the canyon, especially as you get more tired. But it bothered me that once you went back to the Visitor Center, you could not just get back on it there. Unless you paid another $10, you have to walk 1.2 miles up to the first shuttle stop before you can start riding again.

They do make this clear at the window where you buy the ticket and the driver reminds you of it, but it wasn’t until I got up to the canyon and started walking back to explore some of the trails off the main road that I saw that I should have planned better. I had left a picnic lunch in the car and by the time I was starving and just had to go back to get it, I hadn’t seen everything I wanted to and wasn’t ready to leave the canyon. But after lunch, a 1.2 mile walk in the middle of the day just to get back to where I left off wasn’t much fun at that point.

I can see the extra charges for the trips to the more remote trailheads. But I think the $10 tram charge should be for all day, including going all the way to and from the Visitor Center instead of doubling the fee for that extra 1.2 miles.  Also, credit cards aren’t accepted, so be sure to bring enough cash.

Next time, I will bring a sandwich with me and plan on staying out in the canyon until I’m ready to leave for good.  All that being said, I’m so looking forward to a return visit here in December, 2017!  If you have any experiences or tips of your own to share, I’d love to hear from you in Comments below.

  • J.C. Webber III

    This post has made me want to return to Tucson very soon.

    • I know, right? There is so much more there than I had ever heard of and I’m giddy with excitement about heading there again on Sunday!

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