Gordon Hirabayashi Campground

The Coronado National Forest includes a popular recreation area called the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground, opens a new window. Known as the Catalina Federal Prison Camp (or Catalina Federal Honor Camp) during WWII, it was renamed for Gordon Hirabayashi in 1999. 

Inmates at the camp built over 20 miles of road through the Coronado National Forest, which would become the Catalina Highway. During WWII about 40 of the camp's prisoners were Japanese Americans and, according to a 2014 article in the Arizona Daily Star, there were "many conscientious objectors, such as Hopi Indians and Jehovah's Witnesses, whose religions forbid them from serving in the armed forces, doing time there."

Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi, who was a college student during World War II, was imprisoned in the Catalina Federal Prison Camp after resisting the curfew and internment of Japanese Americans on Constitutional grounds. Hirabayashi was convicted of violating a curfew and sentenced to the Catalina Federal Honor Camp in 1942. Dr. Hirabayashi’s conviction was overturned by a Supreme Court panel in 1987.

The Catalina Federal Prison Camp closed in 1951 upon completion of the Catalina Highway. The camp itself was torn down in the 1970s, and the area came to be known as “Prison Camp”. In 1999, the Coronado National Forest renamed the ruins of the Catalina Federal Internment Camp in honor of Dr. Hirabayashi. 

Today, visitors can wander among the camp ruins and learn its history from a series of information panels. The Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site is located on the left side of the Catalina Highway between mile markers 7 and 8, and includes a campground, trailheads, and a restroom.

As noted by the Tucson Citizen, interpretive signs describing the history behind the campground have been made available for visitors.

Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area
N. Prison Camp Rd., Tucson AZ | map, opens a new window


Lafleur, Michael. "Internees to revisit camp in Catalinas." Tucson Citizen. November 6, 1999.

Lopez, Julian. "Ex-prison site in Catalinas named for inmate." Tucson Citizen. November 8, 1999.

Erickson, Jim. "Site of prison camp renamed for inmate interned during WWII." Arizona Daily Star. November 8, 1999. Page 1B.

Goldstein, Richard. "Gordon Hirabayashi, 93; Challenged Wartime Internment." New York Times. January 4, 2012: A16(L). Gale Biography In Context.

"Japanese-American Wins Internment Appeal." New York Times. February 11, 1986. Gale Biography In Context.

Leighton, David. "Road gets name from old prison camp." Arizona Daily Star. August 19, 2014. Page A9.

Kreutz, Doug. "Onetime internment camp in Catalinas full of history." Arizona Daily Star, December 24, 2016. Page A8.

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