Part two of the America Series sees a trip to Mount Lemmon which is just north of Tuscon, Arizona. This was another awesome trip Annie had planned for us. Weirdly, I didn’t see a single lemon on the mountain.
Mount Lemmon stands at a reasonably hefty 9159 ft. Now, you can choose to hike this, Summitpost describes the hike as “long and strenuous”, or you could hop in a car and take the hour long drive along its winding roads to the top. Now I love a hike, but a whole ruddy mountain? Not yet thank you. So we hopped in the car and set off.
The winding roads are an attraction in themselves. They snake around the mountain freely and every corner offers new views with vantage points you can pull over at. With Mount Lemmon the drive on the way up and down is the highlight and where you will see the best views. The top has some decent vantage points but the vantage points on the way up really provide the most stunning views so be sure to pull over. Be warned, there are a lot of vantage points – if you stop at all of them you wont come back down until the next day so pick the best ones you see!
Some of the vantage points give you great views of the mountain range whilst others give you great views over Tuscon.
As you ascend there are markers along the road for every 1000ft in elevation. Once we passed about 5000ft Annie’s ears started to pop, mine started to pop at around 7000ft – it probably had something to do with me being at 30,000ft on my flight over from Boston the day before, but who knows!
As you ascend the mountain two environmental conditions around you change. The first is the flora; at the base you have Arizona desert with cacti, brush and scorpions. As you work your way up, trees start to creep in, with small trees at first then tall pines until at the top you have full blown pine forests. These pine forests provide habitats for bears and deer although we didn’t see any :(. The second noticeable change is the temperature! At the base Tuscon can be basking in 90-100 degree heat while at the top you’re in the 70’s with a breeze. Take a jumper (yank translation: sweatshirt). Tip – there’s also a Mount Lemon Science Tour app that is free and gives a guided tour on the trip up – sweet as!
Once you’re close to the summit you’ll enter a little village and you have to visit Mount Lemon Cookie Cabin where the cookies are the size of your face.
Once you’ve stuffed your face I suggest you follow East Ski Run Road then Summit Road to the observatory. It will seem like your’e going somewhere you’re not allowed as you see no other cars but keep going! When you go as far as you’re allowed park in car park and head towards the big information board then take a right along a gravel path. Up here there is a nice rock formation that is a great photo op. You can angle it so it looks like your on a precarious edge with a deathly drop!
Whilst we were up there we also stumbled across a ski lift and got talking to the operator who seemed pretty lonely as it was summer! He said the ski season is pretty booming on Mt Lemmon. They have around 20 runs and it is the southern most ski valley is the USA -that just shows how cold it gets up top!
After chatting to him for a bit we started our drive back down and were distracted again by all the viewpoints. We found ourselves saying “OK one more little adventure to take pictures”- we said that about ten times. The views and opportunities for climbing rocks to get a better view are just too good!
It is well worth your time to drive the road up Mt Lemmon. The changing environment as you ascend is awesome and its nice to get up high and escape the Arizona heat. You need your camera ready at all times because the views will just hit you around each corner. Stop at the vantage points and take in the scenery – although I can’t promise you’ll see any lemons.
- Visit on a week day as weekends are very busy
- Sunset time is also very busy
- Take a jumper and snacks and it gets cold and there is only the cookie cabin for food.
- Have your camera ready for the drive
- Best views are on the drive but observatory also has good views.