It’s waterfall season in the Catalina Mountains.
Monsoon downpours high in the range north of Tucson have not only revived long-dry watercourses but also created dramatic — but temporary — waterfalls cascading over cliffs and down steep rock faces.
Backcountry hikers will find such “pop-up” waterfalls in some steep canyons after heavy rains. Meanwhile, drivers on the Catalina Highway might pass several short-lived waterfalls along the road in the wake of monsoon cloudbursts.
Some waterfalls, such as spectacular Seven Falls in Bear Canyon northeast of Tucson, are accessible only by trail.
It’s a bit more than an 8-mile round-trip hike to the falls on the Bear Canyon Trail from the Sabino Canyon visitor center — and the route involves seven stream crossings and some steep uphill sections. Some visitors choose to shorten the round-trip hiking route by more than 2 miles by taking the Bear Canyon shuttle to the mouth of the canyon.
Other backcountry waterfalls higher in the Catalinas flow after heavy monsoon rains.
Use caution when approaching waterfalls by trail or off-trail routes. Extreme summer heat, flash flooding and steep terrain pose serious dangers — especially for inexperienced hikers.
An alternative is to drive up the first 11 miles of the Catalina Highway and watch for small — and sometimes large — waterfalls above the road along the way. It’s important to drive safely and to stop only where legal parking is available along the way.
WET TODAY, DRY TOMORROW
Be aware that waterfalls in the Catalina Mountains often continue flowing for only a short time — hours or less— following rains.
If the mountain heights receive long, steady rains, waterfalls might continue to flow for longer.
But bear in mind that the Catalinas lie in an arid region — not exactly Yosemite National Park — and waterfalls usually disappear as quickly as they appear.