Mount Lemmon is a famous "sky island" that is an approximately 45 minute drive from Tucson, Arizona @ E Tanque Verde Rd & E Catalina Hwy. The mountain is at an elevation of 9,157 feet which makes the overall climate very different from that of the surrounding desert area and makes it a popular tourist destination for those in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, particularly in the summer months. Mount Lemmon is located in the Coronado National Forest, is the home of Ski Valley, is the location of the town Summerhaven, and is the site of an astronomical observatory.
Mount Lemmon was named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, who trekked to the top of the mountain with her husband and E. O. Stratton, a local rancher by horse and foot in 1881
The drive up Catalina Highway offers impressive views of the vally of Tucson, the surrounding mountains and the rock formations known as hoodoos. There are many vista points along the way that offer good stops to take photos.
Flora and fauna
Mount Lemmon offers an extensive diversity of flora and fauna due to its status as an Ultra-prominent peak(a peak with a prominence of over 1500 meters). At the top you'll find a ponderosa pine forest home to black bear, deer, horny toad lizards and a recently reintroduced population of big horned sheep. In the lower reaches you'll find the typical desert array of desert tortoise, gila monsters and many species of snakes and lizards.
On average the climate at the summit is at least twenty degrees cooler than it is at the base. Please note that this means ample amounts of snow can, and do, fall on the mountain during the winter months.
The main way to really reach the mountain is on the Catalina Highway that begins in Tucson. During the winter months it is advisable to use vehicles that have four wheel drive and/ or snow chains as the road can become very slippery.
There is also a back road to Mount Lemmon that is only accessible with a high clearance vehicle(and an adventurous spirit). The road branches off from Highway 77 in Oracle towards Oracle State Park. The pavement ends after around 2 miles and then you begin your bumpy ascent of Mount Lemmon, reconnected with the main highway 25 miles later.
Catalina Highway is a toll road for activities such as camping, hiking or even to use the restroom. When approaching the toll booth, there is a lane to pay and there is another lane that bypasses the toll booth. It is a good idea to pay the toll if you plan to camp, however, if you plan to hike and/or use the restroom, or have a picnic at one of the many picnic tables with charcoal grills avaliable beside the highway. paying the toll is on the honor system as rangers won't bother people with verifying the payment of the toll unless they are camping. Paying the toll is not required if you simply plan to sightsee and go up to the town of Summerhaven.
The town of Summerhaven, which has a year-round population of 100 that swells up during the summer months. Most of the town is being completely rebuilt after the 2003 Aspen Fire destroyed most of it.
All commercial lodging was lost in the Aspen Fire 2003. There are several private owners who rent cabins.
Reservations are required at many of the campsites located on Mt. Lemmon, including the sites at Rose Canyon Lake, Showers Point Group Camp and Whitetail. Fire restrictions are extremely important to be mindful of as the area has been devestated by wildfires in the recent past.
Dehydration is very easy on the mountain and altitude sickness is very common so be sure to drink plenty of water in order to avoid both! Take a pack of gum with you on the highway because Tucson's elevation is at around 2500 feet and Mount Lemmon is over 7000 feet
Once you reach the top of the mountain, you can take a shortcut that will take you to Oracle, Arizona but it is recommended that only 4 wheel drive vehicles use it