In the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in Tucson, Arizona, is one of the most popular recreation sites in the National Forest system, receiving over 1 million visitors a year. Sabino Canyon has become a local treasure to the residents of Tucson and a much-enjoyed tourist destination.
Sabino Canyon is a unique area in the Desert Southwest for several reasons. Sabino Creek runs almost year-round due to winter snow melt and summer monsoon storms. A paved road system exists through the area, but private vehicles are no longer allowed. Instead, a shuttle service began in 1978, and although that has been temporarily suspended, a new electric shuttle is in the works and will begin operating in the near future.
Because the area was originally open to public motor vehicles, restrooms with plumbing and running water were built throughout Sabino Canyon and remain today. Hikers and casual walkers can travel through the area on paved roads and trails. Along the way, they can see riparian areas in the lower canyon as well as the icon of Arizona, the majestic saguaro cactus.
Visitors can access Sabino Canyon from Tucson, Arizona, by taking Sabino Canyon Road north. The entrance is on the right, just past Sunrise Drive.
Weather At Sabino Canyon
Summer in southwest Arizona can be brutal, even dangerous. By early June, temperatures often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Monsoon season usually begins mid-June, bringing slightly lower temperatures but higher humidity. When hiking in Sabino Canyon, carrying plenty of water is essential. Fall arrives in late November, and the temperatures are generally in the 70s during the day. Winter at Sabino Canyon is quite pleasant, with daytime temperatures in the high 50s to mid-60s.
My wife and I love hiking throughout the Sabino Canyon area. One of the things I enjoy most about photographing there is having the Catalina Mountains as a background. The sharp peaks and contours of the mountains add a lot of interest to landscape photographs. For this photo, the conditions were perfect, with a gap in the clouds providing a serene glow on the mountains as the sun set.
I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a 24-105mm lens. A large number of my photographs at Sabino Canyon are taken at about 70mm, but there are times when I’ll use a longer lens to isolate saguaros or wildlife.
Photographing Sabino Canyon in fall or winter is best because the mountains are in shadow at sunset in the summer. The leaves of the many cottonwood, walnut, sycamore and ash trees begin changing in the riparian areas of the canyon sometime in late November. After a good winter storm, typically in January, the tops of the Catalina Mountains are often covered in snow, and sometimes the snow comes farther down the mountains, making for a pretty spectacular scene with saguaros in the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background.
Contact: U.S. Forest Service, fs.usda.gov/recarea/coronado/recreation/recarea/?recid=80532.
See more of Gannon McGhee’s work at g-rphotography.smugmug.com.