If a desert hike along a perennial creek to a series of impressive waterfalls and pools appeals to you, this is your hike.
The hike up the Bear Canyon trail is an enjoyable hike starting at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. This area serves as a welcoming environment to the many hikers, bikers, equestrians, and tourists who seek to enjoy the Sonoran Desert. A warning: Sabino Canyon is very popular. On a lovely Saturday morning in February I arrived at the park at 9am to find the parking lot was completely full. Miraculously after a second swing through the parking lot I was able to find what may have been the last spot. So get there early. As of February 2012, the fee is $5 to park.
First, head to the booth to get your shuttle ticket. At the time of this hike, the price was $4 (cash only, first shuttle leaves at 9am and every 60 minutes after that). This saves you only 1.5 miles of walking so you can save the money and hike this short section if you would like. After 5 minutes, the shuttle will reach the final stop #3 and the start of this hike.
From the shuttle area, follow the dirt road further up Bear Canyon. After you reach a bench and a water spigot, you'll leave the road and follow a well worn trail for the rest of the hike. The first 2 miles of this hike stays near the perennial creek running through Bear Canyon. Likely you'll be sharing this trail with a healthy number of people all headed to Seven Falls. It's a popular spot. The creek feeds a number of trees rare in the desert including Cottonwood and Evergreen Oak. There will be a number of creek crossings on the way to the Seven Pools, but none of the crossings are difficult. Look for the helpful Cairns to show the best places to rock hop. After 2.2 miles you'll reach a signed trail junction. If you would like to head to the base of the Seven Falls, turn left and head towards the creek for 0.2 miles. For this hike, we stayed right to continue heading up Bear Canyon. After a few switch backs, you'll start to get some great views of the falls. One waterfall gives way to the next, forming seven pools that are appreciated for their beauty and potential for swimming. Most hikers will have stopped and the rest of the trail will be much more secluded. Continue following the Bear Canyon trail as it continues to climb steadily up Bear Canyon. The trail stays up above a bench overlooking the creek for the next 1.5 miles of hiking. Leaving the canyon floor from here, the trail switchbacks up the west wall of the canyon, eventually reaching a saddle and fantastic views of Bear Canyon and Thimble Peak, with the city of Tucson in the distance. To the North, you see Sycamore canyon and Windy point vista in the distance. Although the trail continues to the intersection with the Sycamore Canyon trail in another 0.3 miles, this is a good turn around point.
When ready, retrace your tracks and head back to the #3 bus stop.