Sabino Canyon offers some of the most amazing hikes in Tucson. From the airy grandeur of Blackett’s Ridge to the splendor of Seven Falls to the amazing Phoneline trail, Sabino Canyon and its environs are immensely popular. However, you can still find peace and tranquility on the trails. Get out and take a hike!

From spectacular viewpoints of the Santa Catalina Mountains, beautiful waterfalls, and thick saguaro forests, Sabino Canyon holds some of the southwest’s most fascinating and inspiring botany and geology in its dry, searing, lonely open spaces. The writer “Cactus Ed” Abbey no doubt had this region in mind when he said there “are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” The good news? Many of the best sights can be reached on day hikes from a couple of hours to a full day.

“Storms on the desert, sunset on the mountains
Tall saguaro forests, the mighty Grand Canyon
Bright cactus flowers and the wild monsoon rains
Starlight from heaven shines down on the range.”

I wrote and recorded the tune Arizona Stars with my friend Pete Evans. I was and still am inspired by the natural beauty of the southwest. It is a well-known fact that Arizona is spectacular, often breathtakingly so. Tucson and its vicinity contain some of the most extraordinary, wondrous, and secluded hikes in the southwest, a staggering diversity of landscapes, perfect for Arizona Day Trips and adventures. But where do you draw the line with so many unique places to trek? Allow us to present some of the most breathtaking hikes in Tucson, the perfect destinations for your next hiking adventure.

Blackett's Ridge

One of the supreme hikes in Tucson, Blackett’s Ridge Trail highlights thick stands of saguaro cactus and beautiful Sonoran Desert panoramas. Located in the Coronado National Forest, which spans numerous scattered mountain ranges or "sky islands" rising dramatically from the desert floor The mountains support plant communities as biologically diverse as those encountered on a trip from Mexico to Canada. The view at the summit of Blackett’s Ridge will take your breath away and afford an incredible glimpse of Mt. Lemmon and Sabino Canyon, which cuts through the heart of the mountain range.

Blackett’s Ridge is located at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a huge gash in the foothills of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. Sabino Canyon is popular for its sublime desert vistas and running water, which is derived from snowmelt and rain runoff from the mountains. Many pools and waterfalls can be viewed along Sabino Creek, which courses through the canyon, creating a splendid riparian habitat.

To access Blackett’s Ridge trail, walk over to the Bear Canyon trailhead after you park your car in the lot. It will be off to the right of the visitor’s center. Shortly after you start the hike, you will come to a paved tram road, turn right, and walk along the paved tram road until you come to a small building, cross the bridge to your right, and start along the Phoneline Trail, very shortly you'll see the trailhead sign for Blackett’s Ridge Trail. At the top, you'll have incredible views of Thimble Peak to the Northeast and a fantastic view of the Phoneline Trail way down below.

The trail climbs high above Sabino Canyon and ascends the ridge. This steep track affords a great workout, complete with amazing views of the Catalina Mountains and the riparian corridor below. Start by taking a wide dirt path at the northeast corner of the Sabino Canyon parking lot, which leads to the Phoneline Trail. Once on the Phoneline, hike gradually uphill for one mile and turn right onto the signed Blackett’s Ridge trail. This is where the fun begins!

Initially, the trail climbs modestly but quickly ascends more steeply, utilizing switchbacks. As you climb on the ridge’s south face, you’ll be compensated with riveting views of the Tucson Valley and the canyon below. After another mile of steep walking, the trail will climb up to the top of the ridge. Grand vistas of 9100-foot Mount Lemmon, Thimble Peak, and Bear Canyon will spread out before you, a dazzling scene. After another mile, the trail continues up the ridge, allowing glimpses of the canyon of Seven Falls to the right. Then, you will go around a hill and approach a saddle to reach the top of Blackett’s Ridge, and a fabulous view of Thimble Peak will emerge. There will be a sign signaling that you have reached the end of the Blackett’s Ridge Trail. Spend some time at the summit to enjoy the stupendous panoramas and head back down the way you came.

This is one of the "Must See" hikes in Tucson. If you're in town for a short while and want a hike with spectacular views of the Coronado National Forest, then you must do this one.

Here is a summary of Blackett’s Ridge, epitomizing the best hiking in Tucson.

Difficulty level – Challenging

Elevation change – 1836 feet

Distance – 6.5 miles

Seven Falls

Hiking in Tucson allows you to experience arguably some of the best hiking in the world. The city and surrounding environs serve up lush Sonoran Desert vegetation and picturesque mountain ranges, the drawing cards that attract hikers to this corner of the world. As you gaze upon towering saguaros and beautiful sky island mountain ranges in the distance, you will understand why hiking in Tucson should be on every adventurer’s travel bucket list. This region's diversity of climate, flora, fauna, and landscapes is second to none. You are surrounded by peace, tranquility, and splendor within this area. From the staggering scenery atop Mt. Lemmon to the often-snowcapped Santa Rita Mountains, few places on the planet provide the variety of terrain coupled with indescribable beauty as Tucson does.

Seven Falls is one of the most beautiful hikes in Tucson. It is a 6-mile moderately challenging out-and-back jaunt at Sabino Canyon. It features colorful spring wildflowers, great mountain and desert vistas as well as a spectacular series of waterfalls. The best time to hike this trail is early mornings from October through April. Hikers will gain about seven hundred feet from start to finish as the trail winds through one of the most beautiful canyons in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It’s a fantastic hike at the Visitor Center near the Sabino parking lot, ending at stunning Seven Falls. Beneath each waterfall, there are clear pools and sculpted rock walls, perfect for swimming on warm sunny days.

To access Seven Falls, drive north on Bear Canyon Road and take it to the end. There will be a short gravel road leading to the parking lot. The hiking trail begins here; follow it towards Seven Falls. There are ample trail signs in the area to help keep you on the right path.

Hikers must cross Bear Creek several times en route to the falls, often resulting in wet feet. Stop occasionally and admire the scenery, the cool creek beneath impressive canyon walls. There are some uphill stretches before you reach the falls, however the trail is gradual, not steep.

Once at the falls, nimble hikers can climb to the left of the first two pools to gain an even more spectacular view of the torrent of Seven Falls. Take care while climbing, as the rock can be slippery. There is a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch or swim.

Here is a summary of Seven Falls, one of the best hikes in Tucson.

Difficulty level – moderate

The elevation change 917 feet

Distance – 6 miles

Phoneline Trail

The Phoneline is one of the best trails for experiencing the cacti-filled landscape, a bubbling creek, and the massive metamorphosized granite rock walls of Sabino Canyon. You'll witness the stunning beauty and wonder of this region and get a taste of the geology, botany, and flavor of the Sonoran Desert and Sky Island mountains. This makes it one of the most scenic hikes in Tucson.

The Santa Catalina Mountains are one of about thirty sky islands in southeastern Arizona. Sky islands are abrupt mountain ranges above the desert and grasslands, often featuring pine-forested terrain in the higher reaches. The Phoneline trail cuts right through this impressive massif. The sky islands, part of the basin and range province of North America, range from northern Mexico to eastern Oregon. They were formed approximately thirty million years ago by tectonic activity deep within the earth’s crust. Much of the western half of North America is still being stretched by tectonic plates extending the land to the northwest. This results in the thinning of the crust and many southeast to northwest-trending mountain ranges.

The Santa Catalinas and Sabino Canyon are composed of metamorphic gneiss, which was once granite. This extraordinary rock was underground and transformed under tremendous heat and pressure, metamorphizing it to gneiss. The prominent light layering in the rock represents stretch marks caused by the elongating of the earth’s crust. The Catalinas, like the Rincon Mountains to the east, are referred to as a metamorphic core complex, granite rising sharply above the land.

The Phoneline trail is a beautiful way to experience this splendor. The trail starts at the east end of the Sabino Canyon parking lot. About 1.5 miles from the start of the trail, a mammoth wall of granitic gneiss looms above to the right. Take a breather and admire this photogenic spectacle.

A large rock shelf can be accessed on the left about a mile from this point. Climb on top and experience the peace and tranquility of Sabino Canyon, Mount Lemmon, and the often-roiling creek below. The rock shelf is a comfortable place to sit and take it all in. The trail continues for another two miles, where it meets up with the tram road and approaches another trail that leads to Hutches Pool, a clear swimming hole chiseled out of the rock walls of the high desert. The hike to Hutches Pool will add another 3 miles for 7.5 miles each way. Robust hikers can do this in a day. However, we recommend you access the hike to Hutches Pool through the tram and save it for another day. You can return to the trailhead by backtracking on the Phoneline trail or walking downhill on the tram road, shaving a mile off the hike while returning to the parking lot. No vehicles are allowed on the tram road except for the trams, rendering it a delightful walking path through spellbinding scenery with streamside access. Creating a loop in this fashion will make the entire hike around 9 miles, a moderate jaunt through the lush Sonoran Desert.

Here is the summary of the Phoneline trail, a spectacular hike in Tucson.

Difficulty level – moderate

Elevation change – 961 feet

Distance – 9.8 miles