Bicycling Magazine

Tucson, AZ: Sabino Canyon 

Bob and weave below a 1,500-foot Sonoran Desert ridgeline and across nine bridges on this easy 7.5-mile out-an-back through the Coronado National Forest's Sabino Canyon, just outside Tucson.

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Author: Bicycling Magazine
Date: 25 Sep 2009 4:22:02 AM
Activity: Bicycling
State: Arizona (AZ)
Distance: 7.54 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 635 ft
Total Loss: 614 ft
Net Change: 21 ft
Difficulty: 2 / 10
Tags: Arizona, Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson
Rating: Unrated   Rate it

The Sabino Canyon Road is a high-traffic part of the Coronado National Forest just northeast of Tucson. Its towering ridgelines, flowing creek, and Sonoran desert plant and wildlife form the picturesque backdrop for this easy ride. Starting at the visitor center parking area, the paved canyon road climbs to a short hilltop at mile 0.75 where you'll catch your first glimpse of the lush desert habitat supported by Sabino Creek's perennial flow.

A short descent to the base of the canyon lands alongside the creek, which the road crisscrosses nine times, starting with a short bridge near mile 1.5. During high water (especially after storms), some of the lower bridges can be flooded; a brief portage may be required. You'll climb about 500 feet in 2 miles, with the last mile of the climb getting steeper and offering views of the lower canyon. The road ends at the #9 Shuttle Stop and a trailhead that offers deeper canyon access by foot. Turn around and enjoy the easy coast to the parking area.

Note: Popular with walkers and runners, and serviced by a regular shuttle, the narrow, winding canyon road is only open to bicyclists before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. every day but Wednesdays and Saturdays, but is worth the early wake-up call and $5 per car entry fee to the parking lot. For regulations, road conditions, or more information, call the Santa Catalina Ranger District at (520) 749-8700.

-Mapped by Scott Morris,

TO TRAILHEAD: From downtown Tucson, head east on Tanque Verde Rd. Turn left onto Sabino Canyon Rd. and drive 2.1 miles. Turn left to stay on Sabino Canyon Rd. and drive another 2.3 miles. Just after the 4-way stop on Sunrise Dr., turn left into the Sabino Canyon Trailhead and Visitor Center.

Position Format: Datum:

Sabino Canyon

Distance: 7.54 mi Points: 535
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 32.309968, -110.822976
There is plenty of parking, restrooms, a gift shop, and (if you're feeling lazy) a shuttle service at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center, the start point of this ride. There's a short warm-up climb from here before your descent into the canyon.


Location: 32.317476, -110.813824
Bypass the Cactus Picnic Area and stay on the main road. At mile 0.7, you'll reach the top of a small hill. Enjoy the full view into the canyon before the short descent.


Location: 32.324928, -110.805745
At mile 1.5, you'll cross the first of nine bridges across Sabino Creek. These low-water bridges are typically dry, but can be inundated with water and damaged (as they were in 2006) by major flooding.


Location: 32.327743, -110.801556
There are 11 restroom facilities in the canyon, like this one between shuttle stops 3 and 4. But, drinking water isn't available at these facilities, so plan to bring your own.


Location: 32.340195, -110.784631
The final 0.4 mile to the trailhead at the top of the canyon road is steeper than the rest, approaching 9-percent grades.


Location: 32.343711, -110.780575
The top of the canyon road serves as a trailhead for several scenic hikes and is also the turnaround point for this ride. As you begin the fast descent, look south toward 5,325-foot Thimble Peak and the Saddleback Ridge.


Location: 32.310794, -110.822243
A trailhead sign warns about mountain lions, but sightings are extremely rare. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.314786, -110.818191
White-tailed rabbits dart across the road. Watch out! © Scott Morris


Location: 32.315468, -110.817301
Saguaro stands dominate the scenery on both sides of the canyon. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.316818, -110.814876
Cyclists share the path with walkers and runners. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.322114, -110.811047
Bird watching is a popular activity in the canyon. Watch for species like this robin, or other well-known residents including: Gambel's Quail, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrows, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Brown-crested Flycatchers, and Bell's Vireo. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.322373, -110.810854
Cycling is only permitted before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., so sunrise and sunset views are typical for cyclists. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.324949, -110.805846
Nine rock wall bridges highlight the scenic ride up the canyon. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.329029, -110.798325
Though the ride's first half climbs the canyon, the road dips and dives as it crosses Sabino Creek. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.329456, -110.797193
Sabino Creek is one of few perennial streams in the Tucson area and draws visitors and tourists year-round. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.331073, -110.792266
Water overflows several of the "low water" bridges. Though water levels are typically low enough to ride over, it can be several feet deep, especially in the early spring or after rain. Turn around if you aren't comfortable fording the creek. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.340504, -110.783430
Flowers are a major draw to the canyon and are visible in spring, summer, and fall. © Scott Morris


Location: 32.331648, -110.791572
A classic Sabino sign. Don't do what the sign shows! © Scott Morris

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