Goodbye withering desert heat. Adios parched cacti. Hello cooler air, lush greenery and blooming wildflowers.

That could be the mind-set for many of the thousands of people who escape Tucson in June for a day or more in the nearby pine-topped Catalina Mountains.

The 9,000-foot range, jutting well over a vertical mile above the city, is a haven of evergreen forests, shady glades and meandering trails at its upper altitudes.


A visit to the verdant mountain heights, easily reachable on the 25-mile Catalina Highway, is a refreshing counterpoint to the brown, prickly world of the desert. The soothing scenery includes:

  • Emerald-green ferns, often growing in large clumps in meadow and hillside areas.
  • Wildflowers, including golden columbines, blue lupines and others at various locations.
  • Evergreen forests of pine and fir trees.
  • Groves of aspens with tall, white trunks.
  • Maple trees with bright green leaves at this time of year.
  • Wild raspberries growing in a few locations, including along the Mint Spring Trail.

Here are some places to find forest greenery:

  • Along the Catalina Highway across from the Palisade Visitor Center near mile marker 20 on the highway.
  • On the Butterfly Trail, which begins at a trailhead at the 22.8-mile point on the highway.
  • Along the Mint Spring Trail. Follow the highway past mile marker 24 to the village of Summerhaven. Drive south through the village and watch for a right turnoff for Carter Canyon Road. Follow the road to a broad turnaround area and park there. Find the trailhead on the left before you reach a boundary with private property.
  • On the Meadow Trail near the top of Mount Lemmon. Follow the Catalina Highway past mile marker 24 and turn right on a road leading to Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. From Ski Valley, continue uphill on a narrow road to a parking area and the trailhead at the end of the road.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz