- 27.2 miles (43 km)
- Plan for 3-6 hours to drive, including backtracking.
- Certain stops along the byway require a $5.00 use pass to access.
Travel along one of the most scenic highways in the Southwest, complete with mountain forests, canyons, deserts, and breathtaking vistas. One of the only paved roads leading up to the top of Mt. Lemmon, it begins in the Lower Sonoran region and climbs up to the forests of the Canadian zone, providing a unique chance to experience four seasons in one trip. The parkway gets its name from areas of biological diversity in the Coronado National Forest that rise dramatically from the desert floor to stand wreathed in clouds as twelve widely scattered "sky islands."
You'll find several places along the Parkway that have wonderful vistas of the forest and desert far below. In particular, 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 also offers a fantastic view; your reward for making your way up there will be a panoramic view of the San Pedro Valley. Windy Point Vista offers dramatic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains with its deep canyons, and the Tucson Basin below invites you to explore.
The Sky Island Parkway provides a wide range of recreational opportunities, such as mountain-biking or horseback-riding on its many trails, or 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 a well-rounded trip for the traveler.
Points of Interest Along The Way
Aspen Vista (AZ)
Aspen Vista offers travelers a fantastic view of the San Pedro Valley and distant sky islands to the north and east. One interpretive sign draws the visitor's attention to copper mining evident in the valley below. Another encourages visitors to ponder changes in vegetation seasonally, altitudinally, and over geologic time. Aspen Vista offers the best view of recent large wildfires and recovering plant communities.
Babad Do'ag Vista (AZ)
This Vista provides a first look at the Tucson Basin and surrounding mountain ranges, or "sky islands." Amenities include paved parking, a concrete walkway, and interpretive signs. Babad Do'ag is a centuries-old Tohono O'odham name meaning "Frog Mountain." As visitors leave this site and continue up the mountain, desert vegetation transitions tograsslands, chaparral, and oak woodland.
Coronado National Forest - Arizona (AZ)
This Forest ranges from 3000 feet to 10,720 feet in twelve widely scattered "sky islands" that rise dramatically from the desert floor, supporting biologically diverse plant communities.
Cypress, Middle Bear, and Chihuahua Pine Picnic Areas (AZ)
Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site (AZ)
The site was built in 1937 as a Federal prison camp; these prisoners built the highway. During WWII, some prisoners were conscientious objectors; some were Japanese Americans protesting the relocation. Gordon Hirabayashi refused a Relocation order and served his sentence here after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction. Visitors learn about this civil rights story here. Facilities include picnic and campsites, horse corrals, Arizona Trail access, and an interpretive trail.
The southernmost downhill ski area in the continental US, Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley offers four-season recreational opportunities. In winter, lifts take skiers to the top of the slopes. Other times, the lift is a sky ride offering spectacular views through aspen and fir to the San Pedro Valley to the north, and provides easy access to high-elevation hiking trailsconnecting to the mountains' extensive trail system.
Turn right on Ski Run Road and drive 1.4 miles to Ski Valley.
Rose Canyon Campground, among the pines at 7,200 ft., is the largest campground along the Byway. Adjacent to the end of the campground is a fishing lake that provides visitors with angling opportunities, an uncommon activity in Southern Arizona. A perimeter trail encircles the lake. Interpretive campfire programs in the summertime entertain and inform visitors.
Village of Summerhaven (AZ)
Summerhaven is a quaint village of shops and restaurants rebounding from the ashes of the 2003 Aspen Wildfire. Discovered by Tucsonans in the early 1900s as an escape from the desert heat, Summerhaven is still enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Visitors can shop for a variety of souvenirs and necessities. They can have a snack or a meal, or walkalong Upper Sabino Creek to the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area and Trailhead.
Windy Point Vista (AZ)
At 6,600 ft. elevation, Windy Point offers dramatic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and its deep canyons, the Tucson basin below, and the other sky islands surrounding Tucson. One gets a feel for the ruggedness of the sky islands and their abrupt rise from the surrounding desert. A variety of vegetation types and rock formations are visible fromhere. Several interpretive panels inform the visitor about the natural world. Sunsets are spectacular from Windy Point.