Sabino Canyon Recreation Area: Roads, Bridges and Dams – Tucson AZ


Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is in Coronado National Forest at the northeast corner of Tucson AZ. At the behest of the city of Tucson and Pima County, it was developed out of former mining and grazing land in the Santa Catalina Mountains by New Deal agencies, which built roads, dams and recreational facilities.  Relief workers hired under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and Works Progress Administration (WPA) all contributed to the park’s improvement. 

A major recreational lake never materialized, as funds ran out in the mid-1930s and, beside, dams in the desert quickly fill with sediment in heavy summer rains and floods.  Nevertheless, Sabino Canyon is so popular today that it can only be entered on foot or by bus up Sabino Canyon road from the Visitors Center.

“The development of the Sabino Canyon recreational area was one of the highest priorities for the City of Tucson and Pima County; funds were assembled from a variety of federal New Deal agencies.  In the fall of 1934 local workers were hired with funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to build Sabino Canyon Road to bring tourists into the mountains and they also began the series of bridges that cross Sabino Creek. WPA funds were secured in 1935 to complete the nine bridges and build [Sabino] dam and lake for swimming.  In 1933 and 1934 Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees from the Madera Canyon camp, F30A, and the Tanque Verde camp, F42A, built Lowell Ranger Station, picnic shelters, stairways, picnic tables and fireplaces. Despite repeated damage from flooding from Sabino Creek, many beautiful stone facilities are still in place today and appreciated by more than one million visitors to the park each year.” (Univ. of Arizona library website – emphasis added)

The present-day photographs of road and bridges shown here are along the Esperero and Sabino Dam trails. The lower dam is slowly collapsing. (Modern photographs of Sabino Canyon road and Sabino Dam are needed)

There is an informational display on New Deal work in the area at the visitors center.  




Source notes

National Archives Record Group 69-N

"The New Deal in Arizona: Connections to Our Historic Landscape," University of Arizona, The New Deal in Arizona Chapter of the National New Deal Preservation Association.

Robert Audrestsch and Sharon Hunt, 2014. The Civilian Conservation Corps in Arizona. Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing. pp. 24-25.

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on December 14, 2017.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Sabino Canyon Rd
Tucson, AZ 85750

Coordinates: 32.3167634, -110.8240710

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