Many of the most beautiful and popular sites in the Catalina Mountains escaped the ravages of the recent Burro Fire.
And now abundant monsoon rains have enhanced the range’s surviving splendor with intense greenery, dazzling wildflowers and cascading streams.
A drive up the 25-mile Catalina Highway northeast of Tucson will take you past countless photo-worthy sites — from uncommonly green desert terrain in the first few miles to forests of evergreens and ferns higher in the range.
Take the time to stop at vista points and trails along the way for a closer look at the mountains’ rain-washed summer attractions. Here are some sites worth a visit:
- Molino Canyon — A short trail at this site, at the 4.3-mile point on the highway, leads past dense stands of emerald-green ocotillos on the way to a scenic stream overlook. After periods of rain higher in the Catalinas, water flows out of a woodland area before tumbling down a steep watercourse with small waterfalls.
- Seven Cataracts view point — This site, with a parking area at the 9.2-mile point on the highway, affords stunning views of a steep rugged canyon with plunging cataracts, or waterfalls, when rain runoff is plentiful.
- Sunset Trail — From a trailhead on the left side of the highway at the 22.9-mile point, the 1.6 mile trail winds through tranquil forests on its way to Marshall Gulch. The trail — at altitudes ranging from 7,400 feet to 7,750 feet — is graced with colorful wildflowers and clumps of ferns in this summer rainy season.
- Marshall Gulch — This verdant area, with picnic sites and trailheads, can be reached by hiking the Sunset Trail or driving a mile south from the mountain village of Summerhaven. The village is at the 25-mile point on the highway. Hikers can set off from Marshall Gulch on the 3.7-mile Aspen-Marshall Gulch Loop Trail.
- Mount Lemmon Ski Valley area — A signed turnoff for Ski Valley is along the Catalina Highway just before it enters Summerhaven. The ski area, which includes a restaurant, is in forested terrain with aspens and evergreens.
- Meadow Trail — This route, just under the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon, takes hikers to a beautiful meadow about a half-mile from the trailhead. To reach the trailhead, drive to Ski Valley and follow a narrow road uphill beyond the ski area to a parking area at the end of the road.
Along the way, watch the weather and postpone hikes if thunderstorms are in the area because they pose serious dangers from lightning and flooding.