Control Road #38 Scenic Drive

Area Status: Open

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This rough, winding road that snakes up the northeastern slopes of the Santa Catalinas was the first major access route built to the upper reaches of the Santa Catalina Mountains. While some residents refer to the road as the Old Mt. Lemmon Highway, the name Control Road is as old as the route itself. When this was the only road up the mountain, it was so narrow in some places that, if two cars met going in opposite directions, they would be unable to pass. The only way to avoid total gridlock was to control the road by making its narrow upper segment a one-way road on which the direction of travel was switched at regular intervals. Though the paved Catalina Highway is now the major access route to the mountain top, the control road still serves as a popular sight-seeing route for those willing to brave a little rough driving.  In addition to the fact it is not paved, the Control Road differs from the Catalina Highway in another significant way. The highway, and most of the trails that scale the Santa Catalinas, are concentrated on the range’s southwestern slopes. The Control Road winds down Mt. Lemmon’s northeastern shoulder, offering a different perspective on the mountain and its surroundings. If you approach the old road via the Catalina Highway, it drops off a high ridge just north of the Loma Linda Picnic Area. As it winds its way down the mountain, through an area of old mines and ranches, the road provides broad overlooks of the grassy, oak-covered foothills to the east. In the distance, the San Pedro Valley stretches to the Galiuro Range. Farther in the distance, the upper slopes of the Pinaleno Mountains and their northern neighbors, the Santa Teresas, are visible through low passes in the Galiuros.

At a Glance

Restrictions: Road opening and closure is weather and seasonally dependant. Gates are locked for passage during winter months. It is best to check with the Ranger District for road status before travelling at 520-749-8700
Closest Towns: From the town of Oracle to the upper reaches of Mt. Lemmon.
Operated By: Santa Catalina Ranger District

General Information

Directions: From the town of Oracle, follow The Old Mt. Lemmon Road to the Forest boundary where it becomes FR 38 and continue up the mountain. From Tucson, follow the Catalina Highway to milepost 24.5 , just beyond the Loma Linda Picnic Area, and turn right (northeast) onto FR 38. Follow FR 38 (the Control Road) straight past the Mt. Lemmon Fire Station and a road that forks to the right and continue down the mountain But can be snow covered and impassable in winter.


Scenic Driving

Broad panoramas/sky island views. Subalpine to desert diversity. Historic mining, ranching area. Dispersed camping and picnicking. Developed camping/picnicking (Peppersauce). Allow 4 hours minimum for a round trip up the Catalina Highway, down the Control Road, through Oracle and back to Tucson. The Control Road makes up about 25 miles of this loop.This gravel road is suitable for high clearance vehicles.

Related Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  Area/Length : 
25 miles

  Elevation : 
4,600 feet - 8,000 feet