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Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Tucson, AZ

 



Nestled in the foothills of Arizona's southern Catalina Mountains 12 miles from downtown Tucson, the oasis of Catalina Canyon is one of the most scenic spectacles in Arizona. A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing 9 stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end, a popular drop-off in summer because of the swimming holes at Hutch's Pool and The Crack.

Winding through the canyon, visitors who follow the road have views of the creek, the riparian vegetation, magnificent Saguaros on the canyon walls, and towering rock formations. Picnic areas are scattered along the road, as are trailheads leading to other sections of the National Forest or paralleling the road. Within the canyon, visitors travel by foot or horseback. Bicycles are permitted before 9am or after 5pm any day except Wednesdays and Saturdays .

The only motorized vehicles allowed on the 3.8-mile paved road that leads through the canyon are the Sabino Canyon/Bear Canyon shuttles and Park Service vehicles. Ramadas at the entrance give canyon visitors a place to sit and watch the wildlife while waiting for the shuttle.

General Information

Seasons / Hours

  • Park: Sunrise to sunset, daily
  • Visitor Center: 8:00 am to 4:30 PM daily

Rates & Fees

  • Sabino Canyon Trail

    Summer Hours: (July through mid-December)
          Monday-Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
          Weekends & Holidays 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

    Winter Hours: (mid-December - June)
          Monday-Sunday 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

    Visitor Center:
          Monday-Sunday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

    Fee Information:
          $8.00 adults, $4.00 children 3-12.  Children 2 and under are free.

     

    Bear  Canyon Trail

    Summer Hours: (July through mid-December)
          Open 365 days a year with rides available every hour on the hour.

    Visitor Center:
          Monday-Sunday 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

    Fee Information:
          $3.00 adults, $1.00 children 3-12.  Children 2 and under are free.

     

    Evening Rides & Group Chartered Rides

    Call (520) 749-2327

Visitor Center

The Sabino Canyon Visitor's Center has restrooms, beverage machines, and information about trails in the canyon. Books, tapes mementos of Sabino Canyon and Southern Arizona are offered for sale, as are inexpensive maps of the canyon. Receptionists at the Center also provide information about scheduled activities for the public, and coordinate guided field trips for elementary school classes. An excellent nature trail begins at the right of the Visitor's Center, identifying many of the desert plants found in the region.

Rules, Regulations, Precautions

  • Operating unlicensed vehicles is not permitted. All vehicle operators must be licensed.
  • Drive only on designated roadways.
  • Camping is allowed only in designated areas. Saving or reserving campsites is prohibited, even if prepaid.
  • Fires are permitted only in the fire rings and grills provided.
  • Collection of fire wood within the park is prohibited.
  • All plants, animals, rocks, minerals and historic artifacts within the park boundaries are protected by state law. It is illegal to destroy or disturb these features.
  • Pets prohibited in Sabino Canyon.
  • Use garbage dumpsters provided. Do not bum or bury garbage.
  • Quiet hours in the park are from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am.
  • Visitors are responsible for knowing all park rules and regulations, which are posted in the park

Climate, Geography, Setting

Setting

Sabino Canyon is located in the southern foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountain range within the city of Tucson, Arizona. The visitor's parking lot is just north of the intersection of Sunrise Drive and Sabino Canyon Road. The primary entrance to Sabino Canyon is to the north of the parking lot. Another entrance to the canyon is found on the east side of the parking lot.

Climate

Sabino Canyon experiences desert temperatures during the summer, but can have snow and frost in the coldest upper part during the winter. Two annual rainy seasons provide more moisture than most other Sonoran Desert regions.

Description

Cultural History

Native Cultures
Archaic nomads used the Sabino Canyon area for thousands of years who hunted small game in the canyon. The earliest visitors were probably of the Clovis culture 12,500 years ago, and later, as the climate changed, the Cochise culture became dominant about 8,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found metates, projectile points and other artifacts in Lower Sabino Canyon

About 1500 ago, farmers of the of the Hohokam culture occupied the canyon and archeological excavations of their culture continues in the canyon to this day. They disappeared about 1500 and were replaced by the Pima and Tohono O'odham Indians, who still inhabit the Tucson area today.

Exploration & Settlement
Spanish explorers traversed the area from the 16th to the 18th century, and Father Eusebio Francisco Kino named the village of San Cosme de Tucson and the Santa Catalina Mountains when he visited the area at the end of the 17th century.

U.S. Congress established the Catalina Forest Reserve in 1902, which included Sabino Canyon, and in 1908, it came under the control of the newly created Coronado National Forest. Various attempts to dam the canyon failed until the 1930s, when improvements like bridges, roads, picnic tables, and toilets were made by the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corp.

Sabino Canyon continued to grow in popularity over the next decades as Tucson's population grew. The Forest Service constructed the road into Lower Bear Canyon in 1960, and a Visitor's Center in 1963. Eventually, overnight camping and private cars were banned in the canyon. A shuttlebus service began in 1978 to replace private cars. Today, Sabino Canyon has over 1 million visitors every year.

Natural History

Sabino Creek begins 6,000 feet above the desert floor, in the pine forest that shades the slopes of Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina mountains. It winds its way 10 miles through the mountain canyons before reaching the desert, where much of it eventually sinks into the ground, adding to Tucson's supply of groundwater.

Plants
Sabino Creek flows 9 to 12 months of the year, making it unique in the Tucson area. The canyon has good examples of riparian and desert flora. Riparian areas have cottonwoods, willow; walnut, sycamore and ash trees. Foothill plants include Mesquite, Palo Verde, Brittlebush, Saguaro and many other cactus.

Animals
Animal life is abundant, if not always highly visible in Sabino Canyon. Adaptations common to desert wildlife enhances their chance of survival. Many birds and other mammals have colors that blend into the landscape, other animals are nocturnal and avoid the extreme heat of the day by foraging for food at night. Some animals that are often found near the entrance to the canyon are the ground squirrels and White-tailed Deer, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Coyote, Fox, Cactus Wren, Roadrunners, Canyon Tree Frog and Red-spotted, Gila Monsters, and rattlesnakes.

Geology
The Santa Catalina Mountains were formed 12 million years ago when the western North American continent was being stretched. As land around the Catalinas sank forming valleys, the mountain range was left standing. Subsequent erosion produced the thousands of feet of sediments Tucson now sits atop. The rocks of the Catalinas are primarily granite and hard, banded, metamorphic Catalina gneiss. Geologists say that this gneiss formed nearly 1.5 billion years ago.

Things To Do

Shuttle Bus

The shuttle bus operates 365 days a year. A narrated round trip is 45 minutes and travels one of the most scenic regions in the Tucson area. Moonlight rides three nights per month are available by reservation April through December.

Picnicking

Sabino Canyon has been a favorite Tucson picnicking spot for more than a century. There are numerous areas available with picnic tables and restrooms reached either by shuttle, hiking or biking.

Bicycling

Bicycles are permitted after 5 pm and before 9 am except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when no bicycles are allowed. All bicycles are restricted to the pavement.

Hiking Trails

There are many trails, from easy to difficult, for hiking in Sabino Canyon. Check at the Visitor Center for information and maps.

Archeology Dig

The non-profit organization Old Pueblo is conducting a long-term scientific research program at the Sabino Canyon Ruin, where Hohokam lived from 1000 to 1300 or later. They offer archaeological training programs and tours at the Sabino Canyon Ruin, as well as a volunteer membership program to provide the public with opportunities to learn how archaeologists excavate, analyze, and interpret ancient sites. They also have a specially created replica of an archaeological site that we call "OPEN1" specially designed for both children and adults to learn about archaeology through hands-on experience. For information or reservations call at 520-798-1201.

Camping & Lodging

Camping

Day use only; no overnight camping. Backpackers may hike to other parts of the National Forest, but must camp at least 1/4 mile beyond the end of the paved roads.

Lodging

There are hotels and motels in Tucson, AZ with something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list. Click Here. (Rates, availability and reservation online)

Rules, Regulations, Precautions

  • Do not harm or remove any plant or animal. Hunting and fishing are not permitted.
  • Do not release unwanted pets or other animals in the Recreation Area. Past introductions of non-native species have caused serious ecological damage.
  • Glass containers are prohibited
  • Carry out your litter or, if you can't, deposit it in designated bins.
  • Day use only; no overnight camping. Backpackers may hike to other parts of the National Forest, but must camp at least 1/4 mile beyond the end of the paved roads.
  • Build fires only in designated grills, using your own wood or charcoal. Wood cutting is not permitted.
  • Weapons are permitted on designated trails only.
  • Bicycles are permitted after 5 pm and before 9 am except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when no bicycles are permitted. All bicycles are restricted to the pavement.
  • Pets are prohibited.
  • No unauthorized motor vehicles are allowed.

Resources & Nearby Attractions

Resources


Cities & Towns

Parks & Monuments

Recreation & Wilderness Areas

  • Buenos Aries National Wildlife Refuge: 40 miles southwest.
  • Sabino Canyon Recreation Area: 25 miles north.
  • Coronado National Forest: Surrounds Saguaro East.
  • Cochise Stronghold Recreation Area: 77 miles east.

Historic & Points of Interest


Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
5900 N. Sabino Canyon Rd. Tucson, AZ 85750
Visitor Center: 520-749-8700.
Information / Tour Schedules: 520-749-2861
Moonlight Reservations & Group Tour Rates: 520-749-2327


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