Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Into the heart of a Bear
Overview: Bear Canyon is one of the major landmarks of the Catalina Mountains. Broken up in sections, there are wonders everywhere. This hike takes a trip through the heart of Bear Canyon country to a wonderful hidden fall near Seven Cataracts. Sycamore Reservoir is the ticket in.
Hike: From the trailhead at the end of the road leading through Hirabiyashi Camprground take off on the Sycamore Reservoir trail. The first mile or so is along an old jeep track that passes by the old foundations of the Prison Camp, then parallels a wash before climbing more briskly up to the majestic Shreve Saddle. In summer this early section passes through several flower fields. From the saddle, which overlooks Sabino Basin in grand fashion, the trail drops down to your left and descends about 1.2 miles to Sycamore Reservoir. It's nice to see the progressive recovery from the fire as you track along this roughly 600 foot drop. Expansive views are the rule the whole way down.
Once you hit the bottom an old rusted sign announces your arrival. It's always worth a quick left here for the 2 minute walk to the dam at Sycamore Reservoir to check out the falls. Head back to the sign and continue straight past the large cairn piles to Bear Creek.
Now instead of crossing Bear Creek turn right. We are going the hike along the canyon bottom and follow Bear Creek northeast for almost 2 miles and 500 feet of gain. The going is mostly easy for canyon walk with no trail. Bear Canyon is huge and thus there is nearly always a route to pick as you move up. Being a large canyon, it often has water running. Running water in Bear means frequent little waterfalls and multitudes of pools. The opportunity to get wet is a beautiful option along this hike. For the most part you can just stay along the streamcourse and you'll likely make innumerable creek crossings as you go. Just pick the route that works best, depending on how wet you want to get. As you travel you can actually see the Catalina Highway towering above you way out in the distance. As you get a little higher in the canyon the juniper and pine kick in making for extremely pretty scenery. As you get near Willow Canyon and the Cataracts you can also see parts of old vehicles that have plummeted off the highway and washed down the canyon...a little creepy addition to the hike. After about 1.9 miles the canyon narrows down significantly and almost dead ends in a box. There is a thigh deep pool here guarding a magnificent tiered fall dropping in from your right. The splash of the fall down the rocks creates an exhilarating mist. There are trees and moss and all sorts of green plants growing off the walls lending to a magical feeling in a magical place. I don't know if this waterfall is actually called Bear Falls or not, but that is it's name for this hike. You can wade throught the pool, climb up the rocks on the right and cross over the fall, getting doused as you go. You can actually climb up the falls on the left side but be EXTREMELY careful if you do: you'll get soaked going up the falls, the rock is unbelievably SLICK and you are VERY EXPOSED. Anyway, have fun in this majestic little enclave near Seven Cataracts. Return the way you came and remember, you'll have a nice little climb out of the Reservoir back up to Bear Saddle on your way out.
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