Best Of Tucson®

Best Recreation Area In Southern Arizona

Mount Lemmon

READERS' PICK: A mere one-and-a-half hour drive from the city, the Coronado National Forest gives us access to something resembling actual seasons, perennial water, trees that change colors, a scrubby high desert that yields to soft ponderosa pine forest with each successive bend in the newly widened highway. Whatever your level of outdoor enjoyment, you'll find a way to indulge it here: moderate to rigorous day hikes, leisurely picnicking lakeside or creekside, rock climbing and rappelling, skiing (when the Snow Miser smiles upon Summerhaven), wilderness camping, wildlife viewing, watercolor painting, star gazing, or even pie eating (a tradition at Summerhaven's Mount Lemmon Café, after a hard day's hike). The sky's the limit, and you can almost reach it here at just over 9,000 feet.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road. (See Best Place To Cool Your Heels Runner-Up, page X).

LOOSE CHANGE: San Pedro Riparian Area. Hiking the San Pedro could be considered an extreme sport these days, what with it being a popular corridor for illegals attempting to evade La Migra. Discarded Jumex cans and gallon water jugs confirm that this ribbon of greenery is being used by more than just migratory ducks. But it's way worth the risk, as there is such a lot to see along the 40 miles of meandering watercourse from Benson south to the Mexican border. There's the Murray Springs Clovis site for you archaeological buffs and the interpretive sign-posted, short-lived Quibiri Mission site not far from the campground at Fairbanks and its nearby Boot Hill-type cemetery. Why not bring your binoculars and check out the chicks along the trails and ponds of the San Pedro House Birding Area? Or maybe you'd like to visit the extensive, well-preserved ruins of the ghost town of Charleston. Its remaining adobe walls blend into the surrounding brush, appearing one after another on a high cliff above a river bend. On our most recent visit we stood humbled by nature, gaping at one of the reintroduced beaver's dams. Only three feet high and twenty across, it nevertheless completely changed the environment of the river upstream for several hundred yards. Birds descend to forage while frogs plop into the murk. See it while you still can, before the rapidly growing Sierra Vista sucks it dry.

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