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Best Bet For Perennial Water
Best Day Hike
Best Deal On A Summer Cooler
Best Dog Run
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Best Leisurely Stroll
Best Mountain-Bike Trail
Best Place To Watch A Sunset
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Best Day Hike

Seven Falls
Sabino Canyon

READERS' PICK: The $3 shuttle ride to the trailhead might be a scream, and some passing pinhead might tell you that the path isn't overgrown when it clearly is, and your hiking companion might archly describe your course as "the Wal-Mart of trails," and you might agree, and you may have to hurdle a reeking saguaro carcass, but...soon you're deep into a luscious tapestry of canyon flora, switching back and forth seven times across concrete step-studded Bear Canyon Creek, gently ascending 2.6 miles from the trailhead until the grandeur of Seven Falls unfolds, a breathtaking amphitheater engirded by towering slopes and anchored by the cool rush of a multi-tiered cascade, which feeds a mosaic of pools and ultimately vanishes into a fantastic gorge. Allot 2.5 to 3.5 hours for the trek, depending on the vigor of your pace and hang time at the falls. And the parade of miserable faces and squealing lungs that pass on your way down will confirm that departing early, and with plenty of water, is the best course of action. Note: The shuttle, which nips a few miles of pavement treading off the hike, doesn't make its first departure until 9 a.m. Call 749-2327 for more information.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: There are several good day hikes in Catalina State Park, from Lets-Take-Grandma-And-The-Kids, to Let's-Take-Two-Gallons-Of-Water-Each-And-Hope-We-Don't-Die. Most of these start at the trailhead, but an exception is the Romero Ruins Trail (under 3/4-mile round trip), which loops through the ruins of a 1,000-year-old walled, Hohokam village and the 19th-century ranch of Francisco Romero.

From the trailhead farther up the road, you can take a Nature Trail that loops up the mesa to the west for about a mile and is an easy walk on a cool day. The 2.5-mile Canyon Loop Trail follows the Romero Trail across the Cañada del Oro (CDO). Immediately across the wash is the pleasant Birding Trail, which cuts to the right and loops for a mile or more along the CDO and Montrose Creek. The Canyon Loop cuts off the Romero Trail to the left farther on. Romero Trail continues on to the Romero Pools, and if you have the lungs, legs, water and time, over Romero Pass into Upper Sabino Basin. The Canyon Loop heads across the mesa before dropping into the shade and running water of Sutherland Wash. There are some great, undeveloped picnic areas along the often-flowing stream. They're a best bet on a hot day. Soon the wash and trail meet up with the CDO and head back to the parking lot.

Expect horses on most of these trails--pets are allowed but must be on a leash--and watch the kids. Catalina State Park is north of Tucson off Oracle Highway, just past the CDO bridge. Get some water and a hat and get out there!

CLUE IN: There's no mystery about what's happening to Tucson's outdoor recreation opportunities: They're getting stuffed in the trunk of developer tycoons and NIMBY property owners who figure their adjacent lots entitle them to exclusive use of your public lands. A host of outdoor riches have been grabbed off the street, given a pair of concrete flippers and thrown in the East River. A few examples from our case files, if you will: Honeybee Canyon--the Vistoso Cartel has put the squeeze on hard in the past five years. Charouleau Gap--the Golder political machine has got the fix in tight. The southern flank of the Rincons--walled off by the X-9 goons seemingly resurrected from prohibition days. Agua Caliente Canyon--still holding out, but going down fast from the fiefdom mentality of a bunch of private dicks, so to speak. It's enough to make you grab your Tommy Gun. Still, there are a few places where an honest Joe can get away from the mean streets for a while. Our favorite is a little operation the Feds have going called Saguaro National Park. In particular, the Douglas Spring Trail at the east end of Speedway can carry you out of the gritty urban scene just as fast as your saddle shoes can take you.

Case History

1997 Winner: Mount Lemmon
1996 Winner: Sabino Canyon

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