Spring sunshine has seared the last snow from the heights of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson - ushering in the season of green.

It's a perfect time for a trek in lush woodlands a vertical mile above the city.


Just as desert areas are slipping into those hot, drab days when the wildflowers are gone and the monsoon hasn't yet arrived, nearby pine-topped mountains have a more inviting tale to tell.

Green is the theme.

Fir trees sport fresh green tips on their needles.

Ferns unfurl in emerald hues.

Aspen and maple trees dress up in spring-green leaves.

Grasses carpet small meadows, and streamside plants show off in shades of olive, jade and shamrock.

Meanwhile - even though the most showy mountain wildflowers wait for summer - plenty of white and yellow spring blooms stand out against the verdant backdrop.


Many trails - some short, some long, some easy, some steep - meander through forested terrain in the woodsy elevations between about 7,000 and 9,000 feet.

The Catalina Highway, which begins along Tanque Verde Road northeast of Tucson, provides easy access to many of the trails.

Some good options:

• Butterfly Trail

The moderate 5.7-mile trail is a wonderland of sky-scraping ponderosa pines, gardens of ferns and early-blooming wildflowers. One of its trailheads is between Mileposts 22 and 23 on the Catalina Highway.

• Aspen Draw Trail

A small stream flows near the foot of the somewhat steep 1.7-mile trail, and aspen trees higher on the path are leafed out for spring. To get there, drive past Milepost 24 on the highway to the village of Summerhaven. In Summerhaven, turn onto Turkey Run Road and follow it 0.4 of a mile to a point where it is closed to vehicles. Hike half a mile up an old roadbed to the Aspen Draw Trail on the left.

• Meadow Trail

This short, easy route near the top of Mount Lemmon winds through woodlands broken up with inviting expanses of grass. It connects with other trails in the upper reaches of the range. Follow the highway to Mount Lemmon Ski Valley and then continue uphill on a narrow road 1.7 miles to a parking area and trailhead.