You’re probably thinking: How on earth is there a waterfall in the middle of the Arizona desert? We’re not sure, but there is! So if you’re near Tucson, then head over to the Sabino Canyon Recreation area where you can find this fun yet challenging Seven Falls hike.
We were lucky enough, to visit our wonderful friend Lauren in Tucson and she said that Seven Falls is one of the locals favourite hikes in the area. There’s actually more waterfall hikes in Arizona than we knew about but we had no idea there is one right here in Tucson.
So we took Lauren’s word on it and decided to take in the Tucson heat and see the famous 7 Falls waterfall. It didn’t end up being there because it was the middle of summer and had been so dry in Tucson lately but the hike was still gorgeous!
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links which means that if you decide to use them we get a small commission from the platform at no additional cost to you. Thank you <3
Here’s everything you need to know about the 7 falls in Tucson
We realized during our first desert hike in Phoenix that water and sunscreen are crucial to surviving on these hikes. It feels 100x harder than a regular hike anywhere else because it gets so damn hot in the desert. Especially when you’re exposed to the sun the whole day like you will be hiking to 7 Falls.
Practical information about 7 Falls
Distance: First option is 7.9 km return / 4.8 miles return
Distance: Second option is 13.7 km return / 8.5 miles return
Elevation: 324 m / 1062 ft. elevation gain
Type: Out and back
Length: First option is about 2.5-3 hours and the second option is about 4 hours return.
Difficulty: First option is moderate and the second option is hard.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Fee: $8 for entering Sabino Canyon per vehicle or included if you have an America the Beautiful Pass.
Some information to know before hiking up to Seven Falls
Let’s just start off by saying the hike itself isn’t too difficult. There isn’t a whole lot of elevation, the trail is quite easy to follow when it’s dry season. The rainy season is a whole other story. Because when it rains in Tucson it really rains.
The flash floods are crazy. Right after the flash floods are when Seven Falls is flowing with water. So if that’s what you want to see then be prepared for a few river crossings. Consider bringing waterproof hiking shoes or else you’ll be hiking with wet socks the whole way and that ain’t fun!
So the flash floods are the one extreme and the heat is the other. You can probably tell already from our pictures but we went during one of the warmest times of year. We went early in the morning and it was still crazy hot. So check the Tucson weather forecast beforehand to make sure everything looks ok.
We’re not trying to scare you or anything because the hike is very chill and relaxed if you’re prepared for it. So check through the hiking checklist to make sure you got everything you need and enjoy hiking next to all the cacti.
The packing’s never the fun part so let’s check out a little fun fact about 7 Falls:
One of the special things about this area in Tucson is the amount of Saguaro cacti you will see along the trail. Did you know that Saguaro cacti can only be found in Arizona, Mexico, and California? It’s true – and they’re massive! They make for some amazing backdrops for photos too.
Hopefully you have a friend or family member there to snap a few pics. If not you can always rely on the handy and travel friendly tripod to work its magic. At least that’s what we do. We find it silly sometimes but at the end of the day we get to capture some pretty epic pictures with it so it’s totally worth it.
For us being from Canada and Denmark the only cacti we usually see are on magnets and drawings of real cacti, so seeing the Saguaro’s in real life is really cool. We had no idea they got to be so big!! Haha, wow. I feel like I sound like a parent now.
The Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
All the locals say the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is the best place to hike in Tucson. You’ll see cacti that are over 30 feet tall and see Saguaros literally all over the place. On top of that, being able to see a waterfall in the middle of the Arizona desert is pretty unique and awesome. For more waterfalls in Arizona, you can get inspiration here.
The landscape is so unique and different than anywhere else we’ve ever been which makes Seven Falls in Tucson one of those hikes we’ll never forget. One of the best parts is that it’s only about a 15-minute drive from downtown Tucson to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Visitor Center where you park your car and begin your day hike.
The car park itself is pretty big and has restrooms and a water fountain to hydrate yourself before and after the hike. Make sure to bring your America The Beautiful pass if you have one so you don’t have to pay the park entrance fee. Because Sabino Canyon is in a National Park, the America The Beautiful pass works here.
Information about hiking Seven Falls via Bear Canyon
Lets get into the actual details about the trail and the hike itself. There are two different ways you can hike up to 7 Falls. Once you get to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Center you can either take a shuttle for a portion of the hike (essentially you skip the boring part) or you can walk directly from the parking lot and do the whole 8 miles (13km).
I (Dom) was slightly disappointed when we chose to take the shuttle for the first stretch of the hike. Because the longer the better for me. Soon after I realised that Lauren and Jo were right and that we made the right decision. It didn’t seem like much but in that heat 1 mile feels like 4. So we saved some time, energy, and chances of getting less burnt even though we did come prepared.
Option #1 taking a shuttle then hiking up to Seven Falls
On the given day in the heat this made the most sense. Jo and I also aren’t used to this kind of crazy heat being from Canada and Denmark.
The shuttle costs $6 per person (this is separate from the entrance free). It has 3 stops and will drop you off at the beginning of the Seven Falls trailhead. It will also pick you up from the trailhead once you are done with the hike. You will be very thankful for the shuttle after, trust us haha.
We were exhausted, thirsty, and hungry by the time we got to the shuttle stop and it’s hard to say if we would have made it back to the parking if we would have had to walk all the way.
The shuttle runs every 30 minutes or so (check the timetable at the main parking lot). Taking the shuttle you will save roughly 1.8 miles (3km) each way. So a lot of time and energy!
The hike after taking the shuttle felt like the perfect distance. It was long enough that it was a good workout and we got to enjoy the Arizona sun for long enough without being completely fried. So this was definitely the best decision for us. We did this hike in September for reference.
Option #2 hiking all the way from the parking lot to Seven Falls
This option is better when the weather isn’t as crazy. Or if you’re really looking for a workout and wanting to get your sweat on. You’ll leave your car at the car park and essentially just start walking on the gravel road until you reach the trailhead. This adds the extra 1.8 miles (3 km) each way.
The route takes you along the gravel road and you will have to follow the signs that say Seven Falls trail. You will continue until you see the trailhead which is where the actual begins. It’s definitely doable but we would highly recommend going early in the morning if you want to do the whole thing.
It seems very manageable but hiking in the desert and especially hiking in summer can be very very exhausting. So go prepared and make sure you’re ready for a hot day ahead.
Here’s a picture of the beginning of the trailhead up to Seven Falls in Tucson
If you’re looking for the best hike to do in Tucson it would have to be this one. I mean, a local told us so it must be true. Seven Falls has it all. And depending on the conditions, you may even end up doing a minor river crossing during the hike so come prepared with the right hiking shoes.
The day we did the hike it extremely dry and even the waterfalls were VERY small. Ultimately it was a wonderful hike with awesome views of Saguaros and other cacti we’ve never seen before.
If you have an America the Beautiful pass, just make sure you bring it. Since the parking is the National Park it would otherwise cost $8 for the day pass, and who wants to pay that if they can enter with your parks pass?
On top of that you will have to pay for the shuttle if you decide to do the hike the same way we did. So bring a little bit of cash with you. The ticket machine does take credit cards, but you never know with technology these days, so bring a bit of cash too just to be safe!
There are bathrooms and water fountains to fill up your water bottle. So stop there before making your way to the Seven Falls trailhead. There are also rangers and park workers who are very knowledgeable about the area and give insightful information about hiking in the area.
Here is some extra information on the Seven Falls Tucson hike if you’d like to know a little more about exactly what you will be getting yourself into.
How to get to 7 Falls
From anywhere in Tucson
If you’re in Tucson then it will be a maximum of 20 minutes to drive to Sabino Canyon Recreation Center from downtown Tucson. It is located on the north side, right on the edge of the city. Sabino Canyon also leads up to Mt Lemmon which is one of the highest mountains in the area.
From anywhere in Phoenix
It’s also a very doable hike if you’re coming from Phoenix since it’s only about 2.5 hours from the centre of Phoenix to Sabino Canyon Recreation Center. It’s a bit of a boring ride but for the majority of it you will be cruising on the 10 down from Phoenix to Tucson.
The best camping near Tucson
If you’re looking to enjoy some of Tucson’s beautiful desert and clear evening sky then camp at one of the campgrounds near Tucson.
You may be thinking that it’ll be way too hot sleeping in a tent or your van (like we did). But the desert actually gets quite chilly at night. And then by the time you wake up in the morning, it warms up very quickly. So don’t be afraid to camp a night or two under the stars near Tucson (as long as you have a good tent).
Gilbert Ray Campground
Gilbert Ray Campground near Tucson is a nice place to stay for a night or two while hiking around Tucson. There are some amazing trails right next to the campground in the Saguaro National Park so you will have lots to do.
If you’re driving from the campground to the 7 Falls trailhead then you can use these directions. It’s a bit of a drive but totally worth it. You can even go do the hike in the morning and then go set up camp later in the afternoon. Sites start at $10 and go up to $20 depending if you’re tenting or RV’ing.
Molino Basin Campground
We chose Molino because of it’s proximity to Seven Falls and the desert-like feel you get staying there. Molino Campground is ideal if you’re tenting or sleeping in your vehicle. There are 37 small to medium-sized sites and the drive is less then half an hour to the beginning of the hike. So it’s perfect for anyone cruising through Tucson and staying just for one night.
Molino Basin Campground does have restrooms but there is no drinking water, hence why we bring our Lifestraw everywhere! The campground is also only open from October – April so you will have to plan accordingly and may have to freedom camp if necessary. We don’t recommend this though (but who hasn’t freedom camped before?) 😉
Before you hike up to Seven Falls
Make sure to check the weather forecast for Tucson and plan accordingly. We went later in the year in September and it was very dry and hot.
Pack a lunch, water, and whatever else you may need for this hike. Near the waterfall there is an awesome place to eat lunch, relax, and enjoy the sun. We even found a shady spot and had the perfect afternoon picnic before going back to the shuttle.
What to bring
It’s most likely going to be very hot outside when you go. I mean, it’s Tucson, Arizona! So anything that can protect you from the sun is highly recommended!
- As long as you bring water you can forget the rest. Joking, but water is very crucial! Luckily you can fill up your Lifestraw at the beginning of the hike.
- Waterproof hiking boots are always nice to have. These Keen boots are light and perfect to bring wherever you go. They’re super light but also provide awesome ankle support which is a must if you have weak ancles like Dom.
- Your America the Beautiful pass to save the entrance fee.
- A sun hat or bucket hat to protect you from the sun! Sunstroke is a real thing and you definitely don’t want to experience that.
- Sunglasses to protect your precious eyes.
- Hiking Poles are nice to have to scare away any snakes in the dessert (we almost had to do this)! Also help protect any extra tension on the knees.
- Our trusty tripod always comes in handy for taking the best pictures.
- Sunscreen (eco-friendly, of course) is a must hiking anywhere in Tucson or Arizona! Even if you go early in the morning.
- Bring some food that you can snack on and will give you some energy. Dates, fruit, PB&J sandwiches, protein bars, vegetables, and smoothies are all great snacks for hiking.
- How does one carry all this stuff we mentioned? We love our Osprey backpacks. Super light but can handle so much.
Other useful info to know while hiking in Tucson
- Here is the forecast for the weather in Tucson.
- You can buy the America the Beautiful pass online if you’re planning on visiting a bunch of National Parks this year.
- Check out some of the other best hiking trails in Tucson.
- And check out this post if you want to go on some other amazing waterfall hikes in Arizona.
We hope you enjoy this hike in Tucson as much as we did! 7 Falls is quite unique because of its waterfall. One of the main reasons why we chose it. Enjoy and stay safe out in Arizona!
Dom & Jo
Red White Adventures