Getting to the beautiful Bear Canyon Trail usually involves starting in busy Sabino Canyon northeast of Tucson - and then riding a shuttle or hiking a heavily used 1.6-mile route to the trailhead.

Ah, but there's a more tranquil way.

An alternate starting point will get you to Bear Canyon in a mere half mile of hiking - free not only of crowds but also Sabino entrance and shuttle fees.

Using the alternate trailhead, near the northern end of Bear Canyon Road, also takes hikers to a stretch of Bear Creek they would miss in an approach from Sabino Canyon.

AN OLD ROADBED

Part of the half-mile path from the trailhead to the mouth of Bear Canyon follows a now-closed segment of unpaved road.

"It used to be the upper part of Bear Canyon Road," said Brock Swanson, who lives in the area and often walks the trail. "When I was in high school, you could drive up here. Now it's a place for hikers."

STREAM-SIDE SCENERY

Bear Creek, like other desert streams, creates its own little sliver of riparian habitat slicing through broad expanses of cactus-covered terrain.

Hikers cross the creek soon after starting up the old roadbed. It's an easy crossing most of the time, but the flow can increase dramatically with storm runoff or snowmelt.

SHORT AND LONG OF IT

For a short walk, follow the old roadbed, which eventually narrows to a trail, to the national forest boundary. Just beyond the boundary, you'll reach a paved road and turnaround point for the shuttle that runs from Sabino Canyon.

For a longer trek, pick up the trail leading into Bear Canyon. The trail, beginning at the shuttle stop, extends 2.2 miles to an overlook of Seven Falls.

GET TO THE TRAILHEAD

Take Tanque Verde Road to Bear Canyon Road. Follow Bear Canyon Road north and continue past "Dead End" and "Turn Around Here" signs to a "Bear Canyon Trailhead" sign. Continue on the unpaved road to a designated parking area on the right.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192.