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Bear Canyon to Sycamore Dam, AZ

Guide 1 Triplog  0 Topics
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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
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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23  2018-02-13 rvcarter
Author rvcarter
author avatar Guides 36
Routes 310
Photos 2,235
Trips 241 map ( 1,467 miles )
Age 75 Male Gender
Location tucson, az
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  5:37am - 7:22pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimetersacres
🔥 2020 Bighorn Fire119.5k
🔥 2003 Aspen Fire87.7 mi*
🔥 View All over Official Route 🔥
*perimeter length in miles

Paradise, with year round water
by rvcarter

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Bear Creek begins at Bear Saddle. An excellent 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). It arrives eventually at the Sycamore Reservoir, 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 only addresses 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 the trail for lunch. There was virtually no flow over the falls on that day, only some pools with slowly stagnating water. After the trail turned back to the NNE, several pools with substantial water and some flowing water were present. 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 an arid period, but there was still a lot of flowing water. It was like an oasis, where one could boulder hop, swim, and 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 significant rain.

There are surprising few thorny bushes and plants, and almost no catclaw, 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

    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.
    2021 - FAQ
    $8 per vehicle per day
    $10 per vehicle per week
    $40 per vehicle per year (valid for one year from date of purchase)

    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.

    2021 Catalina State Park
    Per vehicle (1-4 Adults): $7.00
    Individual/bicycle: $3.00

    2021 Sabino Canyon Tram is $12 extra. [ website ]

    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
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