Arizona Hiking – Sabino Canyon and Pinnacle Peak

with 24 Comments

 

Deep blue skies
Deep blue skies

Hiking in sunny Arizona is always a welcome winter break from gray-skied Pittsburgh, even if the trip experienced unseasonably low temperatures.

Sabino Canyon Hiking, Tucson

Located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, the Sabino Canyon is a relaxing recreational area not to be missed. Rock formations, cactus of every variety including the grand saguaro, and the backdrop of deep cerulean skies.

We opted to pay for the tram (not run by the park service) to the top, through multiple flooded creeks, rather than hike in and out. You pay the same price for one way or round trip and frankly, $10 a person is too much. While the driver was helpful, she really didn’t provide much information about the canyon—she spent most of the time telling us the tram rules. Repeatedly. The things she did tell us:

  • You can get on and off the tram at any of their marked stops.
  • Hohokam Indians lived here, but disappeared.
  • The canyon has been used in multiple movies.
  • Saguaro grow for 70 years before sprouting side arms.
  • There are restrooms located at select stops.

So disappointment in the “tour” aside, it was worthwhile to start at the top and walk the 5.5 miles down. Phoneline trail follows the southern side of the road. It’s clearly marked at the few junctures you come to except at the very end and by then it doesn’t matter.

Before leaving the visitor’s center, a ranger said that hiking down we would have to walk through the last creek, but that it was only 2-3” of flood water.  He has a distorted view of measurements! We both removed our shoes and socks. The water was over my knees, wetting the bottom two inches of my shorts. At first, the brisk and forceful water was startling cold, but in a quick moment our hot feet felt refreshed.

The park was formed by a failed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. The CCC was attempting to build a road through to Mt. Lemmon, but ran out of money in 1939. The road disappeared and the spot got left a canyon and became a recreation area. Up until the 1970s cars were allowed to drive in—you can only imagine the chaos of cars from that era passing each other on a narrow, winding one lane road.

Hike moments:

A Saguaro that looked like a peace sign.

Trail hopped with a couple from Philadelphia—he wore a Penn state hat and we discussed the polar opposite natures and locations of our home state cities.

We learned names of cactus when we toured the Desert Museum—go there first and you’ll be a step ahead of us.

Notes:

Don’t be fooled that the mere 900 foot descent will be easy. You go up and down a lot, and in some places the trail is narrow and rocky.

It was our only 80 degree day and the hike took from 9:30 – 2:00 so remember to wear sunscreen, take hats, water, snacks and wear sturdy shoes.

I was glad of my hiking poles.

It’s $5 per car to park at the visitor entrance. The lot fills up fast, so get there early or park at the alternative location.

Hiking in sunny Arizona is always a welcome winter break-try #SabinoCanyon Click To Tweet

Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale

This is not a hike I’ll repeat because it is extremely busy and, while there is a vista, the main views are of multi-million dollar homes more than of scenery.

Pinnacle Peak Park contains 150 acres and has an elevation gain of 1,300 feet.

The highest peak on the trail is 2,889 feet, but hikers don’t actually get to the top of the 3,171 foot peak. That craggy top is left to rock climbers. If you’re one of those folks, make sure you check out the website first.

It’s about an hour trek in and out. It was hard only in the way that Diamond Head was hard—it goes up, up, up, which means down, down, down and then up some more.

From various spots along the trail, you can view McDowell Mountain or Camelback.

If you only have a short time for a hike, then choose this one for location and distance, otherwise, head somewhere more remote and enjoy the solitude.

Notes:

Same as Sabino Canyon, make sure you have sunscreen, hats, water and snacks.

Horses use the trail, but we didn’t encounter any.

It’s 3.5 miles, dusty, tons of people of all ages and fitness levels.

 


Also published on Medium.

24 Responses

  1. Luna
    | Reply

    The trails, the rock and the view look gorgeous in both places. I’ll plan to come here at the end of this year, does this place allow to make a campfire and is there a beautiful camping spot here?

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Hi Luna, camping is in designated spots only. I would recommend contacting the ranger stations and asking. Fires may be forbidden when the fire danger is high. Glad you enjoyed the views–we did, too!

  2. Bianca
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this, I would love to hike in Arizona, I love the terrain and wide open space. It looks perfectly doable for my son who is 7 and loves exploring.
    Bianca recently posted..How Hiking Changes Your Brain & Your BodyMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Hope you and your son get to go to Arizona, Bianca. We saw all ages during both of these (and previous) hikes on the desert terrain.

  3. Sushmita
    | Reply

    Hikes are always fun, I remember last I hiked almost a year ago, man that’s been a long time need to go soon.
    And Love the pictures dear they are some amazing Clicks 😀
    Sushmita recently posted..Is your Brand under the Spotlight, Or just one Among the Crowd?My Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Yikes, Sushmita! A year without hiking would find me losing my marbles (they are often rolling around without me!). I’ve got to be in the woods…or the desert…or the tropics! Somewhere away from buildings, and unsociable me, preferably few people.

  4. Erica
    | Reply

    Lots of beautiful pictures. Sorry the ride up to Sabinno Canyon was a let down. That is always frustrating. I’m not sure I could ever get my husband to do a 5.5 mile hike. He complains enough when we do the 2-3 mile hikes in our area! But I’m sure it is great exercise.
    Erica recently posted..7 Natural Ways To Keep Your Skin YoungMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Erica, we’ve been lucky to have excellent tour guides most of the time, so a less than great one now and then can be coped with! Come on, husband, Cowboy-Up! 🙂
      I don’t want to kill myself hiking, but I surely love being outside on a trail!

  5. Doreen Pendgracs
    | Reply

    You have pictured the beauty of Arizona very nicely, Rose. It is so picturesque. Love the Saguaro. I had no idea they live for 70 years before sprouting arms.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..women’s cocoa cooperatives of the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Those darned cacti amaze me everytime I see them, Doreen. How do they do that!

  6. Tuhin
    | Reply

    Last year our planned Hike got cancelled at the eleventh hour.. Planning again this summer.
    Your post has made me excited
    Tuhin recently posted..8 Ways to Overcome Negative and Pessimistic ThoughtsMy Profile

  7. Marquita Herald
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing your hikes with us RoseMary! I am definitely not a desert person so I’m living vicariously through your adventures in this case. 🙂
    Marquita Herald recently posted..The Problem of Settling for “Good Enough”My Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Glad to help you enjoy the desert, Marquita. It sure is a drastic change from Hawaii!

  8. Emily
    | Reply

    Ooo I love hiking so this would be something that I would love to do!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      It’s a good place to hike, Emily. My favorite places are the south coast of Wales, the Cinque Terre in Italy and Montana.

  9. Phoenicia
    | Reply

    You sure like your adventures Rose Mary!

    I would enjoy this hike though would struggle to move fast in the hot weather. It is surprising that hikes are done at the hottest time of day. The views really are breath taking.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      I think people hike these trails all day long, Phoenicia. Sometimes it so happens that we wind up being the numbskulls who are out there in the heat (okay, with other numbskulls). HA!

      I love adventures.

  10. Ken Dowell
    | Reply

    Both places look beautiful. I love the colors of the desert. I remember being stuck at a work conference in a hotel in Tuscon once and being able to escape for an hour or two for a short hike. Always wanted to go back.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Ken, with the way you like to find new places, I hope you get back to Arizona so you can discover some of the unique areas!

  11. Donna Janke
    | Reply

    In all the times I’ve visited Arizona, I have not either of these hikes. I would like to get to Mt. Lemmon someday, but might not be up to that hike just yet.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      We thought about Mt. Lemmon, Donna, but ran out of time and weather. We’ll meet up there!

  12. Jackie
    | Reply

    A very different hike than in Montana! I’m so glad that you get to experience so many different types of hikes!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Far less shade than our typical Montana hikes, Seester. Looking forward to getting a few more of those in real soon.

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