Sky Island Parkway National Scenic Byway (Catalina Highway)


  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2005)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
  • LocationAZ
  • Length27.2 miles
Byway Visitor Information
USDA Forest Service
Statewide Byway Partners
Arizona Department of Transportation
Downloadable Arizona Byways Map
The byway winds past many unusual rock formations
Public Domain Photo


The journey starts among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert and climb to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 ft., passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Spectacular views and recreational opportunities abound -from hiking and camping, to picnicking and skiing.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

This route showcases mountain forests, canyons, deserts, and breathtaking vistas. and begins in the Lower Sonoran region. Climbing up to the forests of the Canadian zone, it provides a unique chance to experience four seasons in one trip! Name for the areas of biological diversity in the Coronado National Forest, as it rises dramatically from the desert floor to stand wreathed in clouds as twelve widely scattered "sky islands." The route has one of the few paved roads leading up to the top of Mt. Lemmon. There are several places to enjoy wonderful vistas of the forest and desert far below. The trek up to Babad Do'ag Vista is the perfect place to pull out your picnic basket, take a rest from your climb and enjoy the view of the sky islands spread out before you. Aspen Vista and Windy Point Vista also offer dramatic views.

The Sky Island Parkway provides recreational opportunities such as mountain-biking or horseback-riding on its many trails, remote backcountry hiking in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Mt. Lemmon offers alpine skiing in the winter and an escape from the desert heat in the summer. The civilizations of the Tohono O'odham and the ancient Hohokam visited these mountains long before Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo settlers arrived. Gordon Hirabayashi refused a relocation order during the Second World War and served a prison sentence here. Rife with historic importance along with its scenic beauty, the visually stunning Sky Island Scenic Byway offers much or the traveler.

Driving Directions

The Byway, also known as the Catalina Highway, begins on the east side of Tucson and winds its way through the Coronado Forest on one side and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness on the other side where it ends a Mt. Lemmon.

Points of Interest

  • Coronado National Forest

    An area of about 1.78 million acres spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

  • Mount Lemmon Ski Valley

    This is the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States and located on the slopes of Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson


  • Sunset at Windy Point

    Starting from Tucson, pack a picnic and travel 25 miles northeast to the Catalina Highway, then head west for 7 miles to reach Windy Point Vista. A short pedestrian path takes you to the lookout, which provides a view over all of Tucson and the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. The range of elevation showcases diverse geography and wildlife. Enjoy a leisurely picnic over a spectacular sunset before continuing on the byway to Summerhaven or Ski Valley.

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