Hike Molino/Sycamore/Bear Canyon Trails Part 2
Directions: From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson turn north on Catalina Highway and follow it about 7 miles to the Molino Basin Recreation Area trailhead. There is free parking at the first part of the Molino basin road. You can hike from there. We hiked on the trail south and west on Molino basin trail, then proceed on the Sycamore Reservoir trail until it intersects the connecting trail. Take the connecting trail south and continue down Bear canyon down to the trailhead. This hike is about 13.5miles one way, it has an accumulated elevation gain of about 1,500 feet, and drop of about 2,300 feet. Many of the people who hike Bear canyon miss out the upper canyon beauty and vistas above 7 falls, but this canyon offers so much more than just 7 falls.
These three trails offer access to the dramatic landscape of the Santa Catalina Front Range, famous for its deep canyons and soaring ridges. When traveled as a loop, they form a long but rewarding day-trip that offers memorable views and access to the riparian environments they shelter. A trip along this trail will treat you to good views of the high ridges and peaks of the Front Range. Bear Canyon trail is also accessible from the extremely popular Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, which is convenient if you want to park your car overnight, and stop to camp halfway through the hike. Or you can park at the Bear canyon trailhead at the end of north Bear Canyon road. Bear Canyon Trail leads upstream from the Lower Bear Picnic Area at the end of the Bear Canyon shuttle route. The trail crosses the stream several times in its first two miles and provides spectacular views of Bear canyon as it climbs to Bear Saddle. There it intersects the East Fork #24A and the Sycamore Reservoir #39 trails. The East Fork Trail follows Sabino Creek 2.1 miles to the junction with Sabino Canyon Trail. Bear canyon is a spectacular canyon including plush desert, long distance views, backcountry access and Loop possibilities. It was a beautiful day when we hiked on this trail. The temperature was in the mid 70's and with a light breeze blowing and it was a beautiful partly cloudy day. The whole trail gains over four thousand feet, and is one of the most difficult trails on the santa Catalina Mountains. With AEG of slightly over 4,000 feet there is only a few other trails with more AEG. The length is about five miles, and you need to stop and rest along the way on this one with all the scrambling over rocks, and steep trail sections. I didn't complete the trail, because I started too late in the morning, and after walking about 4.0 miles, I ran into a section of slickrock that sloped down about like a roof on a house to a cliff. At that point I was about 2,500 feet up in elevation and a little tired, although I still had the energy to go to the top if I had about a half hour to rest. But when I saw that 50 foot section of slickrock, I decided that I wasn't going forward up that section, so slightly disappointed, I turned around and hiked back down the mountain. Although I was disappointed I did achieve my goal of getting good exercise, plenty of fresh air and lots of good pictures of the canyon.
The trail is very rocky and steep, with some sections of dirt and sand part of the way. The scenery in the first mile or so is "high desert" and rocky, and the next 3.5 miles are hiking on the side of a canyon.
I took sandwiches when I went on the hike. I ate half of a sandwich early in the hike to raise our blood sugar without having to exercise on a full stomach, and then I ate the other half after I turned around on the mountain to head back down. If you take this hike, don't forget to bring plenty of water, because the high desert is dry and you'll need at least 3 liters of water, and possibly more per person.
Almost all the way up the canyon you can see clear down the canyon, except for short sections when the trail turns toward the ridge before heading higher up the mountain. I'm looking forward to the next time when I attempt this trail to finish it. I'll be sure and start up the mountain before 11AM. I recommend starting up this mountain trail no later than 8AM. Actually, 7AM would be better, because once you get up to the ridge trail that connects the trail tops together, there's quite a bit to see. It's not a good plan to go down this trail after dark. You need the daylight to see where you're going to be safe. In my humble opinion, this would be a good trail to take up a sleeping bag with you and camp out up on top of the mountain. Remember that it's about 15 degrees cooler on top than it is at the base of the mountain. In the winter when it gets down to the low 40's, that can be important. Plus, there isn't any water up on top, so take a liter or two extra for the next day. Otherwise, you can hike over west to Pima spring or go east to the west fork Sabino canyon, on the North end of Cathedral rock trail, where you should find water in the winter, and possibly other times of the year. Remember to use a good charcoal filter, and possibly use tablets to purify the water, which has microbes that you don't want to drink.
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Last Update: January 29, 2015
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