The Santa Catalina Ranger District governs the Santa Catalina Mountains, commonly referred to as the Catalina Mountains or the Catalinas, on the north and northeast of Tucson, Arizona. The mountain range is the most prominent in the Tucson area, with the highest average elevation. The highest point in the Catalinas is Mount Lemmon at an elevation of 9,157 feet (2,791 m) above sea level and receives 180 inches (460 cm) of snow annually. Due to the surrounding climate and the large elevation difference between the highest and lowest points, the mountain range also boasts several different “biome” types–or ecosystems dominated by certain groups of vegetation, from saguaro cactus to fir- and pine-dominated forests–allowing for a multitude of year-round recreational opportunities.
Originally known by the Tohono O’odham Nation as Babad Do’ag, the Catalinas were later named in 1697 by Italian Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino in honor of St. Catherine who was the patron saint of Kino’s oldest sister. Mount Lemmon is named after Sara Lemmon, a plant collector and the first white woman to ascend the peak in the 1870s.
Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), on Mt. Lemmon, is a project to discover comets and asteroids, and to search for near-Earth objects (NEOs). More specifically, CSS is to search for any potentially hazardous asteroids that may pose a threat of impact . Its southern hemisphere counterpart, the Siding Spring Survey (SSS) was closed in 2013.
The district also includes the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area, created in an attempt to preserve one of the few remaining Arizona populations of Desert Big Horn Sheep. A reintroduction effort of 31 adult big horn sheep took place in 2013, which resulted in at least two naturally-born lambs the following year. Due to the sensitive nature of this effort, there are are certain restrictions on recreational use in this area that do not apply elsewhere in the district.
Latitude: 32.3457 Longitude: -110.6485
Counties: Cochise, Pima & Pinal
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus breviflorus)
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)
Single-leaf piñon pine (Pinus monophylla)
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
American black bear (Ursus americanus)
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Canyon Tree Frog (Hyla arenicolor)
Desert Big Horn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)
Mountain lion/Cougar (Puma concolor)
Highest Point: Mt. Lemmon: 9,157 ft (2,790 m)
Lowest Point: Sabino Canyon: 2,800 ft (850 m)
What To Do
Mt. LemmonThat's Babad Do'ag to you
Mount Lemmon (O’odham: Babad Doʼag), with a summit elevation of 9,159 feet (2,792 m), is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Mount Lemmon was named for botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon, who trekked to the top of the mountain with her husband and E. O. Stratton, a local rancher, by horse and foot in 1881. It is reported that Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, on the mountain’s northeastern side, receives 200 inches (508 cm) of snow annually. The summit of the mountain is approximately twenty degrees cooler than the base. Therefore, large amounts of snow falls during the winter months, making it a cool escape and popular tourist attraction for Tucson and Phoenix inhabitants.
Summerhaven (pop. 40) rests at the top of Mount Lemmon and can be accessed by the Catalina Highway on the southeastern side of the Santa Catalinas, or via an unpaved dirt road through Oracle, Arizona on the northern side. The Catalina Highway attracts motorists and cyclists, while the unpaved road attracts ORV drivers and mountain biking enthusiasts.
Several campgrounds are dotted along both sides of the mountain, along with numerous hiking trails, look-outs and picnicking areas.
60 miles from Tucson, AZ
The Catalinas are a significant focus of recreational activity, with areas such as Sabino Canyon providing streams and perennial pools for visitors. Sabino Canyon is also a dayhiking, backpacking, and horse-riding access point for several trails of various distances, with some connecting to other major recreational areas such as Romero Pools in Catalina State Park and Summerhaven in Mount Lemmon.
There are bicycling opportunities on the 3.8 miles of paved road into Sabino canyon, along with a tram service and guided tour.
5 from Tucson, AZ
Hundreds of years ago, a small trail on the natural saddle between the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountain ranges connected the Santa Cruz River Valley (present-day Tucson) and the San Pedro River Valley. This trail, through periodic, increasing use between the 1800’s and 1900’s, became Redington Pass.
The pass was expanded into a dirt road, but due to rough terrain has remained mostly unpaved. It offers several recreational amenities, including dog-friendly hiking (and seasonal swimming opportunities at Tanque Verde Falls), hunting and target shooting, ATV and other motorized vehicle paths, and equestrian paths.
25 from Tucson, AZ