Sabino Canyon National Park – 10 Stunning Hiking Trails

Sabino Canyon - View of the desert and Catalina foothills
Best hikes in Sabino Canyon National Park

Is Sabino Canyon a National Park?

No. While commonly referrd to as Sabino Canyon National Park, it is not a National Park. Sabino Canyon National Park is technically called Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area, and it is a part of Coronado National Forest.

For ease of writing and to conform with common jargon, we’ll refer to it as Sabino Canyon National Park. I mean, Sabino Canyon National Park sounds WAY better than Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area!

Many Sabino Canyon hiking trails are easy and accessible for hikers of all ages. The park also provides access to many adult-oriented hiking trails, including connections to those in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area, which includes Mt. Lemmon. It is the perfect destination for hikers and backpackers of all skills and abilities.

Keep in mind there are a ton of Sabino Canyon hiking trails. We know how overwhelming it can be to choose a hiking trail in a new destination, especially if you are with your kids.

Hopefully this list of the best Sabino Canyon Hiking Trails will ease that burden.

Are Dogs Allowed in Sabino Canyon?

No. The US Forest Service does not allow pets of any kind into Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area.

Where is Sabino Canyon National Park Located?

Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area is one of most popular recreation sites in Southern Arizona. It is located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains just east of the city of Tucson.

The canyon is part of the Mount Lemmon watershed, so water (rivers, streams, pools, etc.) can be found on almost all hikes. The address is 5700 N Sabino Canyon Rd, Tucson, AZ 85750 in Pima County. Sabino Canyon National Park has miles of trails that all eminate from the visitor center parking lot.

Given Sabino Canyon National Park’s location in southern Catalina Mountains, wildlife abounds. You may see sheep, mountain lions, white-tailed deer, and maybe even a Gila Monster hiding out in the deep canyons among the prickly pear and Saguaro cacti.

Looking for another popular hiking destination in Southern Arizona? Then check out these great hikes near Phoenix!

What Amenities are Available at Sabino Canyon National Park?

Sabina Canyon offers a full range of amenities that are provided by the Forest Service. The park charges an $8 day fee which can be purchased at parking stations in the canyon parking lot. Credit cards are accepted.

The park has a large visitors center with water fountains, a main parking lot, picnic areas, a bookstore, clean bathrooms, and vending machines.

Does Sabino Canyon have a Shuttle?

Yes! The park offers a shuttle bus service for both Sabino Canyon and neighboring Bear Canyon. Both operate on a strict schedule starting from the parking area. They recommend that you purchase tickets in advance from Sabino Canyon Crawler. A information guide can be found here.

The Sabino Canyon Crawler route, which passes through lower Sabino Canyon, is 7.4 miles roundtrip. The ride is narrated via headphones and is $15 for adults, $8 for kids 3-12 yrs old and free for infants under 3.

The Bear Canyon tram ride is 2 miles long and goes from the visitor center to the Seven Falls trailhead. The cost is $8 for adults, $5 for kids 3-12 years old, and is free for infants under 3.

How Long is the Sabino Canyon Tram Ride?

The Sabino Canyon Tram Ride takes 1 hour, round trip, assuming you do not get off at any of the nine shuttle stops. The tram ride will be longer if you hop on and off at multiple stops. The shuttle comes every half hour to each stop.

How Long is the Bear Canyon Tram Ride?

The Bear Canyon Tram Ride is 30 minutes long, round trip assuming you do not get off at any of the three stops. The tram ride is longer if you hop on or off at different stops.

Key Takeaway: 
Sabino Canyon National Park is one of the most popular recreation areas in southern Arizona. It is a great destination for hikers of all ages and the Sabino Canyon Crawler makes it very wheelchair friendly.

Sabino Canyon Hiking Trails – Something for Everyone

Sabino Canyon National Park/ offers many kid and grandparent friendly hiking trails, like this one crossing the river

Sabino Canyon is home number of great hikes for kids of all ages, even if they need a stroller. We have broken them down by age to help you pick out the best for your family.

This handy guide provides a full map of all hiking options and is available at the visitor center. The visitor center also hosts a Junior Ranger program!

One thing to watch is the water level in the rivers. During monsoon season, water levels rise and water crossings can become difficult, if not impossible. We’ve found that early spring is a great time of year to visit as the water is running but not like a torrent! But, as with any adventure the best time to visit is the time that you’re actually able to!

Sabino Canyon Hiking Trails with Babies & Toddlers – Stroller/Wheelchair Accessible

There are a number of great hiking trails in Sabino Canyon National Park. Some are on paved roads where private vehicle access is prohibited, so they are safe and stroller and wheelchair friendly!

Sabino Canyon Tram Road

This is the same road that the Sabino Canyon Crawler, also referred to as the Sabino Canyon Shuttle, takes up to the top of the canyon. It is closed off ot private vehicles so you will have to park atthe main parking lot.

Besides the trams, which operate once per hour, the only other traffic you will encounter are bicyclists. When our kids were younger, we would take the tram to a random stop, walk around for a bit, pick up the tram again, and continue our journey. Using this strategy you can keep the hiking simple and still visit some fun sites like Anderson Dam or the many picnic benches along the way!

Bear Canyon Tram Road

Like the road above, this is reserved for the Bear Canyon Tram, which is often called the Bear Canyon Shuttle. It is much shorter and with far less elevation gain than Sabino Canyon Road.

There are foot trails that parallel the paved road which are great if you have one kid in a stroller and another that needs some adventure! If you can, hike from stop number 2 to Sabino Dam and let the kids go for a quick swim!

Sabino Walkway

The Sabino Walkway is an easy hike that parallels the Sabino shuttle road. It is a about 0.5 miles each way.

We would have one parent push the younger kid in the stroller up the road and the other parent and toddler could hike on the unpaved path. The hike takes you to the Cactus Picnic Area which has picnic tables, a shelter, bathrooms, and drinking water. It is perfect for a hike with a picnic with amazing views!

Key Takeaway: 
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area offers many hiking trails suitable for infants and toddlers. We like that the paved trails also have an unpaved trail next to it so the older kids can still explore.

Sabino Canyon Hiking Trails – Little to Medium-sized Kids

Kids playing at Sabino Dam in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area near downtown Tucson, Arizona

Whether your kid falls into this category or not is all dependent on your family’s hiking style. Our kids lived in baby carriers until about four years old. We were used to the weight and they were used to sitting and looking around.

If you fall into this category, some of the advanced trails in the next section could be options. If your kids are new to hiking or just aren’t ready a long or steep trek, then these Sabino Canyon hiking trails will be perfect.

Bajada Loop

This 0.5 mile lollipop loop takes almost no time at all and is one Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area’s most popular trails. It starts at the visitor center where you hop on the Bear Canyon Trail for 0.1 miles before turning left onto the Bajada Loop.

This is a fun hike that takes you through a traditional Sonoran landscape full of cactus, including a rare crested saguaro. In the spring you will find a ton of flowers in bloom.

Sabino Dam Trail

This is one of our favorite hikes and it starts at the visitor center. Like The Bajada Loop, you will take the Bear Canyon Trail for about 0.3 miles. The trail will cross the Bear Canyon Tram road, after which just stay on the road, veering left at the fork.

When you get to the roundabout where the tram turns around, cross the bridge over the river and continue up the Sabino Dam Trail for about 0.2 miles. It sounds more confusing than it is. There is ample signage to steer you in the right direction.

The best part of this hike is that the kids can get their feet (or whole bodies) wet at a couple of river crossings and at Sabino Dam. There is a lot to explore and it is quite safe as long as you aren’t there after a large monsoon or other high-water event.

This hike is sometimes referred to as the Sabino Lake Loop.

Creek Trail

If you liked the Sabino Dam trail, but wanted a little more adventure, you can continue past the dam on Creek Trail. This easy trail follows the creek for 0.5 miles before coming to the junction with the Phoneline Link trail. You can either hike back to where you came from OR take a left on the Phoneline Link trail which will bring you to the road and the Sabino Canyon Crawler (just make sure you have tickets!).

This is a great option for kids that are ready for a longer hike but not quite ready for the big hikes below. We like it because you can cool your feet at the creek crossings towards the beginning/end of the hike.

Sabino Creek Trail

This is a short 0.2 mile hike that starts from Sabino Canyon Crawler stop #9. Once off the tram, take the trail to the left (west), which will zig zag down the canyon before it comes to the Sabino Creek.

If your kids are like ours, they love water. We try to plan each of our hikes to river, lake, or stream to make sure they have a fun goal to focus on. If it is hot out the cool water will feel amazing!

Key Takeaway: 
Budding hikers will love Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area. Our favorite hike is the Sabino Dam/Sabino Lake Loop, which takes you to a wonderful swimming hole not far from the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center.

Sabino Canyon Hiking Trails – Older Kids and Adults

River crossings abound on some trails in Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area near Tucson, AZ

There are a ton of other hiking trails in Sabino Canyon that are good for older kids and adults. Many of these trails connect up with the greater Mount Lemmon/Pusch Ridge Wilderness area hikes, which can be multiple day adventures.

Given the overwhelming number of options, we’ll focus our attention here on the most accessible and rewarding day hikes starting in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. All of the hikes we list can be found on the brochure here. Another option not mentioned below is the Rattlesnake Trail.

Phoneline Trail

Phoneline Trail is a classic Sabino Canyon Recreation Area hike that follows the canyon on the east side. This trail leads from the Sabino Canyon Recreation Center/Visitor Center to the last stop on the tram. Our preferred option is to take the tram to stop #9 and then to hike back down to the Visitor Center.

The hike is 4 miles each way, hence our preference to hitch a ride for half. The trail can be rocky and steep at times, but is perfectly doable for kids 10 and up, or even younger if they are experience hikers. We would even take our 6 year old on this hike.

If you are looking for a longer hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, Phoneline Trail connects to Sabino Canyon Trail which takes you deep into the wilderness (see Hutchs Pool below)

Seven Falls

Seven Falls Trail takes you into Bear Canyon, which parallels Sabino Canyon to the east. The hike is 4.3 miles one way and begins at the Visitor Center. You can also begin this hike from the Bear Canyon Trailhead a short distance out of the park. Navigation is easy.

Follow the Bear Canyon Trail from the Visitor Center until you get to the falls! Seven falls is a beautiful set of small waterfalls that empty in to a large pool. Don’t forget your swimsuit!

Hutchs Pool

This is a fantastic hike that takes you up to a natural pool far from the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center. It is about 13 miles round trip (assuming you take the crawler/tram).

At the last stop on the bus you start your hike on the Sabino Canyon Trail. Stay left when you get to the intersection with Phoneline Trail. After about 2.5 miles you will come to the intersection with with the West and East Fork Trails. These trails take you out of Sabino Canyon and into the greater wilderness!

Take a left on the West Fork trail and continue for 4.1 miles until you find a cairn (stacked rocks) marking a spur trail right to Hutch’s Pool. It is easy to find and has a nice sandy beach.

We went for a swim in the icy waters before heading down, but did not have our kids on this one. While they are great hikers but I think I’d wait another year or two (they’d be 10 and 8).

Key Takeaway: 
Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area is home to some iconic hikes. If you are looking for a real challenge with a cool dip at the end, we’d recommend Hutch’s Pool.

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We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 

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