Santa Catalina Passage on the Arizona Trail

Alternate Bike Route
By Kelly Tighe & Susan Moran
  |  Gorp.com

Nature Highlight: Gigantic ponderosa pine trees announce the cooler elevations of the Transition life zone; next stop, Canada.
Maps: Coronado National Forest map.

Click to see overview map

Difficulty: Difficult. This is a long, steep, uphill climb.

Length: 19.3 miles, one way from Molino Basin.

Elevation: 4,370-7,840 feet. Mount Lemmon, 9,000 feet.

Recommended Season: All year, depending on the weather. In warm weather, the temperature can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the lower elevations. In winter, upper sections of the highway may be closed because of snow.

Water:
Rose Campground

Summerhaven

Camping:
Molino Basin Campground—A picturesque campground in a Sonoran bajada setting that offers grills, picnic tables, and privies. A fee area. There is no water. Bring your own firewood. It is closed during the hottest months of the year.

There are several campgrounds along the route of the Mt. Lemmon Highway. Check with the Coronado NF, Santa Catalina Ranger District for camping information and availability of water.
Summerhaven— This small community offers a variety of accommodations, ranging from a lodge to bed-and-breakfast establishments. Reservations are recommended.

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This is a steep but popular ride on a paved, winding, mountain road that takes you on a climatic journey that is the equivalent of going from Mexico to Canada in 20 miles. As the elevation increases and the temperature drops, you abandon the heat of the Sonoran Desert for coniferous forests, cool mountain air, and stunning views.

Following the paved road west through the Molino Basin Campground, travel the first 2 miles of Trip 10-b to the site of an abandoned federal prison camp. Turn right and ride 0.25 mile to the Catalina Highway and turn left. Between mileposts 8 and 10 are pullouts on the left with views of Bear Canyon. Shortly thereafter, the highway passes through a shady riparian area of Bear Canyon.

Six and a half miles from Molino Basin, at 6,000-foot elevation, is the General Hitchcock Campground, which has no water. Passing the campground, the road climbs through a mixture of desert chaparral and pine forest to Windy Point, an overlook with far-reaching vistas. From Windy Point the route travels through some weirdly eroded granite rock formations.

Milepost 17 marks the entrance to Rose Canyon Campground, which offers a panoramic view of the San Pedro River Valley and the Galiuro Mountains beyond. This is a fee campground that has water available.

Fourteen miles from Molino Basin, Palisades Ranger Station is a good spot for a break. Visit the visitor center and bookshop.

You'll come to a fork in the road 19.3 miles from Molino Basin. Turn left to go into Summerhaven, or you can continue straight up the highway to Mount Lemmon.

This trip is potentially dangerous because of the high-speed traffic on the Catalina Highway (also known as the Mount Lemmon or General Hitchcock Highway), especially on weekends. A safer option would be to transport your bicycle to the Red Ridge trailhead.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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