Welcome to the America Series. A 3 part series documenting three places I traveled to after I finished working at summer camp. Entry number one documents a hike up to Seven Falls in Tucson, Arizona. I was in Tucson visiting Annie who I had met at summer camp. She had hiked seven falls with her family when she was younger and decided to take this British fool along with her on another hike up this amazing trail.
Now have no doubt, I am no morning person. In fact I will happily take any excuse for a lie in. There are only a few things in this world that’ll get me out of bed before sunrise – the smell of bacon is one of them. Nevertheless, despite this tendency for sleep, Annie and I rolled out of bed at 5.45am to travel to the Catalina Mountains just outside Tucson. Here we would hike 4 miles up the Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls.
The trail is a 2 or 4 mile hike through the Arizona desert and up the Catalina Mountains (2 if you get the shuttle from the visitor centre to the the official start of the trail) that winds its way up through a valley that finishes with a series of 7 small cascading waterfalls.
Falling out of bed at 5.45am allowed us to drive to the visitor centre car park for 7am. You don’t really want to get there any later because the heat on the hike back down will literally turn you into a boiled egg.
There is no shuttle Service until 9am so we started our adventure from the car park. Backpacks donned and water bottles full we were on our way. Surrounded by cacti and the backdrop of towering mountains we headed off on our two mile walk along a wide dirt/tarmac track to the trail head. Don’t worry, these two miles are like a stroll through the park; its flat, the path is good and there’s a nice little pond along your way you can dip your feet in. The added benefit of getting up early is that the low sun gives huge stretching shadows to the tall cacti as well as to people walking along the path which is pretty dramatic. The cacti vary in size so much – one even looked like my finger.
At this time in the morning there were already people who had completed the hike and were walking back down. We came across a relatively old guy walking towards us who had obviously had a fall and was pretty battered and bruised. He had a cut down his face and a couple on his legs that were bleeding. He came over to us as he couldn’t get his rucksack on so Annie helped him with that. We asked if he was OK; “I’ve been beat up worse than this before, the real trouble starts when I get home and my wife sees this”. He seemed like he didn’t want any help and quickly went on his way back to the visitor centre.We carried on walking until we eventually came to the start of the trail which marks 2 miles to the falls. At this point I’d woken up – without coffee! Heading off the Tarmac road onto the gravel path that runs up the valley felt good and started to feel like ‘real hiking’. The seven waterfalls are at the top of stream that runs down the valleys spine. Hiking up through the valley you have to cross this stream several times which is pretty fun to hop across and also provides good pit stop locations to recoup.
The path is pretty windy and after some of these stream crossings it is pretty tricky to find where the path continues. You have to look for small wooden poles stuck in the ground to show you the way. Sometimes they’re pretty obscure so you end up doing a bit of searching and backtracking after a wrong turn. Once you get back on track you climb higher up along the trail and it’s likely you will spot some cool Arizona wild life. We came across a ruddy boar. It was just casually strolling along the path in front of us until it took a dive into some bushes. I wanted to chase it but Annie said they’re vicious and hurt you. Another group saw “a couple of frickin millipedes the size of your hand dude” and hawks are constantly flying in the distance.
After working our way up, crossing the stream several times and fighting off a wild boar we started to scale the side of the valley. Soon enough after around an hour from the trail start, we had our first glimpse of Seven Falls. This is a great photo op as you can get all the falls behind you and we took full advantage – excuse the shorts.
After a the photo op pit stop there’s about 10 minutes more walking and you reach the first fall! The first pond is nice but there is a nicer one if you travel up a tier. It’s a quick but tricky climb and gets pretty slippy but once up there its chill time at the watering hole!
These crystal clear ponds are a decent depth and go no deeper than probably 8ft – they’re also teeming with loads of little fish. It’s so refreshing after the hike up to go for a swim so make sure to take some swim shorts – towel not essential because you’ll dry off in the heat pretty quick! We spent about an hour there eating some snacks, taking a dip and posing for photos. Here you are surrounded by mountains for miles giving you that awesome feeling of isolation from the outside world.
After we had our fill of snacks and swimming we knew it was only going to get hotter so the longer we delayed our decent the harder it would be. By this time the hourly shuttles had also started running so we tried to time our decent so we weren’t waiting around for the bus in the heat. We left the falls at around 10am hoping to catch the shuttle that left the visitor centre for the trail head at 11am.
We were not missing this bus.
Que fast walking and tonnes of sweating; we blasted it down the trail, passing people on the way who were slowing us down, we hopped over the streams like Mario on mushrooms – nothing was going to stop us. In Arizona a lot of the scenery looks the same and we found ourselves saying a lot of the time that the bus station was round the next corner. Then it wasn’t and we saw another corner. We did this multiple times but just as we had nearly lost hope of getting to the station in time we turned a corner at the top of a small hill and there it was in all it glory; the bus stop with shade, toilets and a water tap! We sat down and died.
We sat for a few minutes until the open top bus trundled towards us from distance. The bus ride back allows the wind rush through your hair and cool you down – it’s awesome after the hike – its also $4pp so you know. We returned to the car and went to grab some well deserved brunch after an awesome hike.
Arizona’s wildlife and scenery are truly B-E-A-utiful. The mountains, cacti and wildlife are like nothing I’ve really seen before. Seven falls is a great little hike with gorgeous views that you can complete in a morning. We had hiked up to the falls and back down all before 12pm. This was one thing that was well worth the ridiculous wake up time.