It’s a lazy summer day at Rose Canyon Lake high in the Catalina Mountains.

Anglers have their fishing lines in the water, patiently awaiting a bite. Picnickers sample sandwiches and sip soft drinks. Kids walk along a pine-shaded path beside the water. The sky is blue and the air is cool at the lake’s altitude of 7,000 feet.

Little wonder it’s a popular destination for Tucsonans seeking relaxation, recreation and an escape from the heat and bustle of the city.

Rose Canyon offers “a wonderful opportunity to access a cool lake in a piney forest within a relatively short drive from the urban center of Tucson and the desert heat of the city and surrounding areas. It soothes the spirit,” said Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest.

The National Forest is in charge of the site, but a private concessionaire operates it on a day-to-day basis — charging a $10-per-vehicle day-use fee. The entrance to the lake is at mile marker 17 on the Catalina Highway northeast of Tucson.

“Rose Canyon Lake provides a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, picnicking, bird-watching, botanizing and fishing in a lovely forest setting,” Schewel said.

Fishing and picnicking appeared to be popular options — along with just lazing in the shade — one day this week.


A sign near the lake offers this description of the dam project that created the lake: “In 1954, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, USDA Forest Service and Pima County Parks and Recreation Department provided a budget of $79,000 for construction of Rose Canyon Lake Dam. Prison crews completed construction of the dam in 1960.

“The lake is filled up by rain and snowmelt,” the sign says. “During drought, the lake level may be low. When water is plentiful, water spills out of the lake and travels downstream.”

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