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The Catalina Highway (officially the General Hitchcock Highway though nobody uses that name) climbs more than 5,300 feet and passes through five of North America's seven distinct life zones. As the road starts in the Lower Sonoran Desert and climbs to alpine forests, it offers the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada in a stretch of only 27 miles!
The vast majority of climbing areas in the Santa Catalina Mountains are accessed via this highway. Mount Lemmon provides an equal amount of diverse rock climbing, from classic multi-pitch traditional routes to bolted sport climbs. Crags are generously distributed in elevations and aspect, making it possible to comfortably climb year round.
As of 2012 there are no fees to climb due to a ruling
by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Developed areas on the mountain, such as the summit parking lot, require payment. Read the nearby signage and purchase a Coronado National Forest pass if required. Both free, primitive and pay, developed camping can be found along the highway.
After winter storms the highway may close at the base while snow and debris is cleared. Vehicular and bicycle traffic can be heavy on weekends. The sub-areas of Mount Lemmon (Catalina Highway) are listed from lowest to highest elevation.
The Catalina Highway is accessed via Tanque Verde Rd. on Tucson's east side. Any amenity you could possibly desire is available at the bottom of the highway, and some basic supplies can also be acquired at the general store in Summerhaven, a small mountain community at the highway's upper terminus. Allow about 45 minutes to an hour to drive the entire 27 mile stretch.