Mount Bigelow from General Hitchcock Highway
High on the Catalina Highway, just a few miles from Summerhaven, sits Mount Bigelow, namesake feature of the USGS Mount Bigelow quad. Its summit studded by communications towers, its slopes heavily wooded, many motorists cruise right over the southern slopes of this peak without a second glance. From the south, the peak looks mellow, heavily wooded in dense evergreens and unassuming, but from roadside overlooks higher up the road, the step northwestern slopes are more dramatic, and this peak beckons to be climbed.
Views are limited from the USGS benchmark immediately under the large communications towers at the summit, but nice views to the east, south and west can be enjoyed from clearings just below the summit. The summit, in fact, is a bit of a mess, with winds howling through the towers and structures. Yet the summit of Mount Bigelow would be a nice place to avoid the heat of summer or even stomp through some light winter snow gracing the Santa Catalina Mountains.
highest peak in Arizona
Rank & Prominence: Lists of John
This peak can be accessed by trail or service road from at least four different directions, though most visitors would be content to gain the summit from the General Hitchcock Highway, also known as the Catalina Highway or the Mount Lemmon Highway. The Palisade Visitor Center (milepost 19.5), a great jumping off spot to reach the summit of Mount Bigelow, can be reached within an hour of downtown Tucson. Take Tanque Verde (often pronounced “TANKy VURdy" by the locals) diagonally across the northeast edge of town to East Catalina Highway. Follow East Catalina Highway North for about 4.5 miles to the Forest Service boundary. Here the road becomes the General Hitchcock Highway…or the Catalina Highway…or the Mount Lemmon Highway.
Note that the highway is paved, but longer vehicles (22 feet or greater) or those towing a trailer may have difficulty negotiating tight curves.
Rocks and Ponderosa Pine on the southern slopes
Use of the Mount Lemmon area, including the Catalina Highway, is subject to a $5 vehicle / use fee.
Visit this National Forest webpage
for detailed regulations governing use of this area.
Bigelow from Kellogg USGS Marker
My boys at the summit Summit Communication Tower
The Santa Catalina Ranger District operates several campgrounds along the Santa Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon. These are (in distance up the highway from the valley):
• Molino Campground
• General Hitchcock Campground
• Rose Canyon Lake
Weather & Seasons
| || Mount Bigelow is a year round mountain. Predictably, spring and fall would be delightful times to visit this peak. In the summer, the heat blasting up from Tucson could make it hard to escape the heat, but at more than 8,500 feet above sea level, the peak offers some escape from the heat. Winter should typically be sunny and pleasant, but can be cold, windy and snowy. Occasional snowstorms slamming the Santa Catalina Mountains might close the “highway with many names,” or at least encourage the Forest Service to put a “4x4 or chains only” rule in effect.|
Before planning a trip to Mount Bigelow, I suggest checking the weather both for Tucson, Arizona, as well as for Mount Lemmon or Summerhaven, as the road to the peak will cover both extremes and everything in between.