Coronado National Forest
Spanning over 1.7 million acres of diverse landscapes, the Coronado National Forest offers an exciting experience for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers alike. With its various waterfalls, swimming holes, and dramatic mountain ranges known as “sky islands,” the Coronado National Forest is a must-visit.
Santa Catalina Mountains
Two sky islands within the Coronado National Forest bookend Tucson from the north and south. Look north and feast your eyes upon the dramatic Santa Catalina Mountains, home to Mount Lemmon, which stands tall at 9,159 feet. The Santa Catalinas are home to some of the best mountain biking and rock climbing in Tucson, AZ. The range also has first-rate hiking, birding, memorable camping, secret waterfall-graced swimming holes, and the highly scenic Catalina Highway.
Santa Catalina Mountains Flora and Fauna
Black bears, brown bears, white-tailed deer, javelina, coyotes, coatimundi, mountain lions, Mexican spotted owls, desert bighorn sheep, and rattlesnakes all call the Santa Catalinas home.
Among the plant life in this portion of the Coronado National Forest, you’ll see Ponderosa pines, Douglas fir, cottonwoods, bigtooth maple, aspen, Arizona walnut, and velvet ash.
Mountain Lion at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
When to Visit the Santa Catalina Mountains
Coronado National Forest is a year-round playground, with each season offering its own unique allure and outdoor adventures.
During the spring, watch the forest come alive with vibrant flowers and wildlife. Spring is a great time to birdwatch on the forests' numerous hiking trails.
As summer arrives, beat the Tucson heat by cruising up the Catalina Highway to Summerhaven for cooler temperatures and tasty eats. The high elevations of Mt. Lemmon offer a refreshing mountain breeze and cool hidden alpine lakes for you to enjoy. Summer is a great season for camping, picnics, and spending quality time in nature.
With the arrival of fall, the forest transforms into a stunning display of autumn colors. The changing of the leaves creates breathtaking views and offers the perfect time for photographers and nature lovers to capture the beauty of the Coronado National Forest. Fall also brings pleasant temperatures, making it ideal for longer hikes and scenic drives through the forested areas.
In winter, the higher elevations of the forest become a winter wonderland. Snow blankets the mountain peaks, providing opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, and of course, building snowmen and sledding.
Snow at Finger Rock in Coronado National Forest
Santa Rita Mountains
Travel south of Tucson to another sky island, the Santa Rita Mountains, for more Coronado National Forest wonder. You'll find tons of opportunities for hiking, biking, and camping. The range is home to Mount Wrightson, Southern Arizona's tallest peak at 9,159 feet. You'll definitely want to check out Madera Canyon, a world-renowned birding destination.
Santa Rita Mountains Flora and Fauna
Madera Canyon alone is home to more than 230 bird species, including 15 species of hummingbirds and 36 types of wood warblers. Other highly sought-after birds to see are the painted redstart, sulfur-bellied flycatcher, and elegant trogon. Non-winged inhabitants of the Santa Rita Mountains include black bears, foxes, raccoons, deer, Bobcats, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes.
The top of the range boasts a breathtaking pine forest. Further down, this mixes into an oak-pine forest. You’ll also see white fir, alligator juniper, and Douglas fir.
An American Robin in Madera Canyon
When to Visit the Santa Rita Mountains
When visiting the desert, you'll find that the time is almost always right to head to these high-elevation areas. The Santa Rita Mountains do not have skiing, but there's plenty of opportunity for snow fun in the winter. Like the Santa Catalinas, the Santa Rita's offer a cool escape in the warmer months. Along these same lines, the fall and spring hit this section of the Coronado National Forest to experience the changing seasons at a high elevation.
Chiricahua National Monument in Coronado National Forest
For more information about Coronado National Forest, visit fs.usda.gov/coronado