register help

Bear Canyon to Sycamore Dam, AZ

AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
1 new
23 1 0
Guide 1 Triplog  1 Active Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson N
5 of 5 by 1
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance One Way 1.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,957 feet
Elevation Gain 445 feet
Accumulated Gain 496 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 3.45
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible & Connecting
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
23  2018-02-13 rvcarter
Author rvcarter
author avatar Guides 34
Routes 306
Photos 2,171
Trips 238 map ( 1,445 miles )
Age 74 Male Gender
Location tucson, az
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  5:42am - 7:15pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Paradise, with year round water
by rvcarter

Bear Creek begins at Bear Saddle, a nice viewpoint reached out of the General Hitchcock Campground off Catalina Highway. The saddle is roughly between the Green and Guthrie Mountains. Along its path to the southwest, it picks up the drainage known as Willow Canyon (home to the famous Seven Cataracts), and arrives eventually at the Sycamore Reservoir, which is located on East Fork Trail #39 about 1.7 miles west of the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site (known locally as Prison Camp).

Continuing southwest it passes over the Sycamore Dam, then through a wild, densely vegetated canyon with no hint of a trail where it joins a trail most Tusconan hikers are very familiar with, Bear Canyon #29. Bear Canyon #29 is probably best known for the fabulous, heavily visited Seven Falls, reached most frequently by hikers out of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Most visitors never go past Seven Falls, but some of the most beautiful parts of Bear Canyon, although nothing rivals the falls, are north of the falls.

This description addresses just the extraordinary but uncharted, 1.8 mile portion of the canyon between Sycamore Dam and the uppermost point where Bear Creek crosses Bear Canyon Trail #29. You can reach either end of this section by hiking existing trails (i.e., East Fork #39, and Bear Canyon #29) that are well groomed, well marked, and well described elsewhere on HAZ.

We hiked upstream from the Bear Canyon Trailhead and exited at Prison Camp, and this is the suggested direction for first timers. My hiking buddies climbed Seven Falls and hiked in the streambed for about a mile for some extra fun scrambling before exiting to the trail for lunch. On that day, there was virtually no flow over the falls, only some pools with slowly stagnating water. After the trail turns back to the NNE, there were several pools with substantial water and some flowing water. One eventually reaches the last crossing of Bear Creek, where #29 continues up a switchbacking route toward its terminus with East Fork #39. This is where one departs upstream ENE for the bushwhack up to Sycamore Dam.

You are immediately immersed in a densely vegetated wetland area with lots of boulders (some as big as your house), pools of water, and large cypress trees. Our hike was at the end of a very dry period, but there was still a lot of flowing water. It was like an oasis, where one could boulder hop, swim, and just marvel at the lush wetland that could exist in the desert after such a drought. I should note that headway would be a lot more difficult during wetter conditions, and maybe inadvisable after a significant rain.

There are surprising few thorny bushes and plants, and almost no catsclaw, in the canyon. But, the going is slow because one has to navigate around the pools and downed trees to make way up the canyon.
There are a couple of places where the scrambling is class 3 and most people will want to climb around a few dicey spots where a mistake could result in a quick dip. However, there is little significant exposure along the entire route.

As you near Sycamore Dam, watch for the sharp left turn up mostly slickrock for the final few hundred yards. One earlier track on HAZ showed a group exiting the canyon straight toward #39. If you continue up to the dam, you have the pleasure of a class 3 scramble to reach the top. Watch your footing here, because the exposure, and the consequences of a slip are considerable, all when your boot soles may be wet and you may be tired.
Take a rest here and enjoy the marvelous dam and the special canyon you have just seen, then head up East Fork #39 to the Prison Camp parking lot.

People who are not used to hiking off trail will probably not enjoy this hike. However, if you like rock scrambling, boulder hopping, and wild canyon bushwhacking, try it, but with a partner.

None of the areas mentioned in this description are included in the restricted area associated with the Big Horn Sheep Reintroduction Project.

Check out the Official Route and Triplog.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2018-02-22 rvcarter
  • sub-region related

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Permit $$
Visit this link for full details.

There are four specific day use areas that require a Coronado Recreational Pass or a National Pass/America the Beautiful Pass.
1) Sabino Canyon - located on the Santa Catalina Ranger District (520)749-8700
2) Madera Canyon - located on the Nogales Ranger District (520)281-2296
3) Cave Creek - located on the Douglas Ranger District (520)364-3468
4) Mt. Lemmon at 11 day use sites.

Catalina State Park $6 per day. Sabino Canyon Tram is $10 extra.

Coronado Forest
MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To Sabino Canyon Recreation Trailhead
From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Grant/Kolb Rd head northeast on Tanque Verde. Turn left at the second light on Sabino Canyon Rd. Go about 8 miles up Sabino Canyon Rd and you come to a four way stop with Sunrise. Go straight through the intersection and take the next right into the parking lot of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Signs marking the way start on North Kolb road.

This is the universal directions to Sabino Canyon Recreation Center. Hikes take off from all directions and some you might need to hike another trail to get to the start of your hike. Reference the hike summary for details.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 117 mi - about 1 hour 57 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 14.1 mi - about 30 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 261 mi - about 4 hours 1 min
page created by rvcarter on Feb 22 2018 11:10 am
90+° 8am - 6pm kills
prehydrate & stay hydrated
11.5 inch Teflon Coated Umbrella
Super Wide Brim Sun Hat for Men or Women
help comment issue

end of page marker