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Mount Lemmon - Attraction Guide

Mount Lemmon sunset Tucson

Approximately an hour drive from Tucson's city center, Mount Lemmon is a favorite day trip and camping spot for Tucsonans. It's a beautiful outdoor escape - ideal for hiking, biking, rock-climbing, picnicking, sunset-watching, and sledding/skiing. Fun for the whole family!

Mt. Lemmon is usually 20-30 degrees cooler than Tucson, so you can find cooler temperatures there in the summer and a beautiful layer of snow in the winter, along with vibrantly colored leaves in autumn.

With a summit of 9,159 feet, Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The mountain was named for botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon, who trekked to the top of the mountain by horse and foot in 1881.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Where is Mt. Lemmon located?

Mt. Lemmon is a peak in the Catalina mountain range, surrounded by Coronado National Forest.

To reach Mt. Lemmon from Tucson, turn off of Tanque Verde Road onto Catalina Highway. Take Catalina Highway as far up the mountain as you desire to go!

On your way up the mountain, you may want to stop at Windy Point Vista (Mile Marker 14). This popular lookout point has bathrooms and is a terrific spot for photos.

Note that the road up the mountain is curvy with very few straight sections. If you or anyone in your car is prone to motion sickness, plan ahead by bringing bags, mints, cold water, snacks, or stomach-settling medications. It also helps to not drive on an empty stomach.

Does Mt. Lemmon have hours?

Nope! You are always welcome to go up the mountain!

That being said, you will want to keep the Road Condition Hotline handy during the winter to check on road conditions. For updates, call 520-547-7510.

Is there a fee?

There is no entry fee for Mt. Lemmon, but there are booking fees for many of the different activities and venues. For example, you can reserve a campsite or rent a cabin with varying fees based on the duration of your stay.

In the summer, you may also want to experience the Sky Ride. The hours for the Sky Ride are Mon, Thurs, and Fri between 10:30am-5:00pm and Sat/Sun between 9:00am-5:00pm (weather permitting). The Sky Ride is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Cost is $15 for adults or $12 for military, youth, and seniors. Children 12 and under ride for $10.

Will I need a permit to access any areas on the mountain?

Most of Mt. Lemmon is available for general use, but you will need to purchase a permit to use these 11 day use sites:

  • Molino Basin Picnic Area
  • Cypress Picnic Area
  • Middle Bear Picnic Area
  • Chihuahua Pine Picnic Area
  • Box Elder
  • Inspiration Rock
  • Alder Picnic Areas
  • Loma Linda Picnic Area
  • Marshal Gulch Picnic Area
  • Lemmon Recreation Site
  • Palisades Interpretive Visitor Center

These beautiful areas require either a Coronado Recreational Pass (the same pass you would use at Sabino Canyonor a National Pass/America the Beautiful Pass. Both can be purchased at the National Park district offices and at the Palisades Ranger Station (on Catalina Highway at Milepost 19.6; open from 8:00am – 4:30pm, Thursday – Monday).

What is the parking situation?

Nearly every site on Mt. Lemmon has a small nearby parking lot somewhere along Catalina Highway.

Are bathrooms available?

Public bathrooms are available in Summerhaven, at the major campgrounds, and at most trailheads, but there are some areas of Mt. Lemmon where you’ll have to answer nature’s call in nature.

What should I bring with me?

While you should dress according to the weather, it’s always a good idea to have these essentials:

  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • A Hat
  • Snacks
  • Cash/Credit Card
  • A Camera (or Your Phone)

Why would I visit Mt. Lemmon?

There are so many reasons, but here are a few:

  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Relaxing in a cabin
  • Skiing and sledding (in the winter)
  • Cycling
  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing (*valid fishing license required)
  • Enjoying the scenery
  • Visiting the SkyCenter

What kinds of plants and animals might I see?

  • Squirrels
  • Deer
  • Jays
  • Woodpeckers
  • Swallows
  • Bobcats
  • Ringtails
  • Mountain Kingsnakes
  • Treefrogs
  • Pine Trees
  • Fir Trees
  • Maple Trees
  • Marigolds
  • And so much more!

What is the best season for visiting?

Honestly, there isn’t one. Mt. Lemmon is always a good idea! In the spring and summer, you can escape the heat in a tent or cabin or at a picnic. You can bask in the gorgeous fall colors in the autumn and you can enjoy the snow in the winter!

HIKING ON MOUNT LEMMON

What are some popular hikes?

There are four popular hikes near Mt. Lemmon:

  • Aspen Trail and Marshall Gulch Loop Trail – a 3.7 mile moderate loop trail with an elevation gain of 879 feet that you can access through the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area. This is a great hike for families!
  • Meadow Trail – a 1.8 mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 347 feet. Take Catalina Highway to the top of the mountain and turn at Ski Valley. This is a great hike for families with smaller children!
  • Butterfly Trail via Crystal Spring Trail – a 10.5 mile moderate out and back trail with an elevation gain of 4603 feet. Take Catalina Highway up Mt. Lemmon until you see a sign marking the turn into the Butterfly Trailhead.
  • Butterfly Peak Trail – a 9.8 mile difficult out and back trail with an elevation gain of 4235 feet. The trailhead begins at the north end of the parking lot across the road from the Palisade Ranger Station and Visitor Information Center at Milepost 19.6 on Catalina Highway.

You can bring your dog on all four of these hikes, as long as you have a leash!

BIKING ON MOUNT LEMMON

Can I bike on Mt. Lemmon?

Absolutely! Many cyclists choose to take on Mt. Lemmon, which is acknowledged as one of the top 100 most difficult rides in the nation. They cycle up the mountain along Catalina Highway with an elevation gain of 7080 feet.

You can also find mountain biking trails on Mt. Lemmon! A few of the most popular are the Canada del Oro, the Aspen Draw, and Kellog/Incinerator Ridge.

CAMPING ON MOUNT LEMMON

How many campgrounds are there on Mount Lemmon?

There are 5 general use campgrounds on Mt. Lemmon, plus 2 group sites.

The 5 campgrounds for individuals, couples, and/or families are:

  1. General Hitchcock: 12 camp sites. First-come, first-served. $20 per day/night. Not recommended for trailers or RVs. Limit 2 vehicles and 10 persons per site. 14 day stay limit.
  2. Gordon Hirabayashi: 11 camp sites. First-come, first-served. $20 per single site. $50 (plus $10 per vehicle for group sites). Open April through October. RVs must be 22 feet or less (no hook-ups).
  3. Molino Basin: 37 camp sites - some are reservable in advance. Open October through April. RVs must be 22 feet or less (no hook-ups). 14-day stay limit per year.
  4. Rose Canyon: 72 campsites, half of which are reservable. Spacious, single-family campsites with 2 picnic shelters, bathrooms, and campfire rings with grills. Situated near the 6-acre Rose Canyon Lake at an elevation of 7000 feet, the Rose Canyon Campground offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, and viewing wildlife. The Rose Canyon Campground is open from April to October. Camping fees range from $24-$145 per night. If you want to bring your RV, there are three RV-only loops (no hook-ups) for recreational vehicles that are 22 feet or less. Bathrooms and drinking water are available. Note that swimming is not permitted in Rose Canyon Lake. Call the Santa Catalina Ranger District with any questions at 520-749-8700.
  5. Spencer Canyon: 52 camp sites. First-come, first-served. Open April through October, weather-dependent. $22/night for single sites; $36/night for group sites. Fees for extra vehicles. RVs must be less than 22 feet (no hook-ups).

The 2 group sites are:

  1. Showers Point Campground – Three 25-person campsites with picnic shelters, water faucets, and toilets. Seated in one of the most scenic outlooks in the Catalina Mountains, the Showers Point Campground is a great venue for hiking, viewing the local wildlife, and fishing at the nearby Rose Canyon Lake. Open April to October, depending on the weather. Trailers are not permitted.
  2. Whitetail Campground – Five group campsites with large picnic shelters, water faucets, electricity, trash collection, and toilets. From the Whitetail Campground, people can enjoy hiking, scenic views, fishing at nearby Rose Canyon Lake, and easy access to the small mountain town of Summerhaven. Open April to October depending on the weather. RVs are permitted if they are 22 feet or less.

See all camping and day use fees here.

NOTE: Group camp sites and some restrooms are currently closed due to COVID-19. Please call 520-388-8300 for updates.

Are there bathrooms/showers at the campgrounds?

There are restrooms at the campgrounds. No showers are available on Mount Lemmon.

Is camping permitted year round or is it seasonal?

Seasonal. The high elevation campgrounds (Rose, Spencer, General Hitchcock, Showers Point and Whitetail) are open in the summer. The low elevation campgrounds (Gordon Hirabayashi, Molino Basin) are open in the winter.

Are campfires allowed?

Campfires are allowed in the designated fire rings at campsites. However, in the event of an especially dry season, the Santa Catalina Ranger District may enact some restrictions.

For the current campfire situation, call the Santa Catalina Ranger District Office at (520) 749-8700.

Is there anywhere to swim/fish on Mt. Lemmon?

Fishing is permitted at Rose Canyon Lake, but a valid fishing license is required.

There is nowhere to swim on Mount Lemmon.

How can I reserve a campsite?

Some sites can be reserved on recreation.gov, but many are first come-first served.

If you are hoping to camp on Mount Lemmon in the summer, book as far in advance as you can because high-elevation sites tend to fill up quickly.

SKIING ON MOUNT LEMMON

Can I go skiing?

Mount Lemmon receives approximately 200 inches of snow annually. The skiing season typically runs from late December to late March. All-day lift tickets are priced as follows - $45/adult, $25/child (ages 12 and under), $37/military or senior, free for ages 70+. Half-day tickets are also available - $40/adult, $20/child, $35/military or senior. Ski gear rentals are also available (skis, boots, poles, snow boards, etc).

New to skiing? The Brian Ashby Ski School provides group, private, and semi-private lessons. The 1st Timer Ski Package ($75 for an adult, $52 for a child) includes a lift ticket, rental skis, and a 1.5 hour lesson.

SUMMERHAVEN

Tell me more about Summerhaven!

Summerhaven is the largest privately-owned subdivision on Mt. Lemmon and is an essential stop for anyone visiting Mt. Lemmon. There you can find The Mt. Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop, The Cookie Cabin, The Living Rainbow gift shop, a US Post Office, and the office for Mt. Lemmon Realty.

The General Store offers everything from groceries to camping gear and The Cookie Cabin is a favorite of anyone who has ever visited Mt. Lemmon. If you forgot something at the bottom of the mountain or you’re hankering for something tasty, Summerhaven is the stop for you!

Can I buy a home in Summerhaven or elsewhere on Mount Lemmon?

Yes! Cabins and homes are available for purchase on Mt. Lemmon as vacation homes or primary residences. Contact Realtor Tim Sheaffer to find out which homes are currently for-sale.

MOUNT LEMMON SKY CENTER

What is the SkyCenter?

The Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter is an amazing, world-class observatory brought to you by the University of Arizona and located at the Steward Observatory’s observing site on the way up Mt. Lemmon. It’s best to visit the SkyCenter at night, when you and a group of friends can use the 32-inch Schulman telescope to explore our universe. Throughout the year, the SkyCenter offers workshops, nighttime observation programs, and overnight experiences, so there are lots of choices for budding astronomers!

DINING

Are there restaurants on Mt. Lemmon?

There are a few dining choices on Mt. Lemmon.

The Iron Door Restaurant serves a wide variety of salads, sandwiches, and homemade soups. You can sit indoors in front of the floor to ceiling stone fireplace or outdoors on the patio. Breakfast is served on Saturdays & Sundays only, from 9:00am-11:00am. Most lunch entrees range in price from $10.50-$14.50. The address is 10300 East Ski Run Road, Mt Lemmon if you want to GPS it. For more information, visit the Iron Door Restaurant website.

Another option is the Sawmill Run Restaurant at 12976 Sabino Canyon Parkway, Mt Lemmon. The menu includes burgers ($14-$17), main entrees like salmon or meatloaf ($15-$23), soups & salads ($6-$11), and a number of beverages (beer, wine, cocktails, espresso). Summer hours are Mon-Thurs 10:30am-5:00pm, Fri 10:30am-8:00pm. Sat 9:00am-8:00pm, and Sun 9:00am-5:00pm. For more information, visit the Sawmill Run Restaurant website and Facebook page.

Summerhaven’s Cookie Cabin’s mission is to “serve delicious, tasty food that would make Grandma proud”! Open Monday through Saturday between 10:00am and 5:00pm (closed on Sundays), the Cookie Cabin offers scrumptious pizza slices ($4-$8), bowls of steaming chili ($12), barbecue chicken sandwiches ($8), and hot dogs ($7-$8). Most menu items are between $4 and $12. For dessert, you can order The Cookie Cabin’s famous giant homemade cookies ($7)! Choose from several different flavors and add ice cream if you wish. Toppings are free! Need a steaming cup of strong coffee? You can get one for $4 - refills are complimentary! Hot coco with whipped cream ($5) and spiced cider ($5) are also available. For more information, check out the Cookie Cabin's website, Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter.

If The Cookie Cabin just can’t satisfy your sweet tooth, head on over to the Mt. Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop for a taste of their homemade fudge. With flavors as traditional as Peanut Butter Chocolate and as fun as Caramel Apple Pie, there’s a fudge for everyone! Available for $13.99/pound. Hours are 10:00am-6:00pm, Monday-Friday and 9:00am-6:00pm on the weekends. For more information, visit the Mt. Lemmon General Store website.

Can I bring outside food onto Mt. Lemmon?

Absolutely! In fact, we would highly encourage it since you will probably get hungry during your mountain trek.

BABIES & KIDS

What ages would be best suited for a visit to Mt. Lemmon?

Mt. Lemmon is wonderful for all ages. Some of the longer hikes would probably be better suited for older children, teens, and adults, but everyone loves to escape the heat. Wintertime is a perfect time to bring the entire family up the mountain to enjoy the beautiful snowfall!

Should I bring a stroller?

Because of the rocky mountain terrain, we would advise not bringing a stroller. A wrap or backpack carrier would work better!

What about my dog, cat, etc?

Animals are welcome, but must be kept on a leash at all times.

EVENTS

Can I have my wedding, rehearsal dinner, or birthday party on Mt. Lemmon?

Of course! You will probably want to book the picnic site that you are planning on using in advance to make sure that no one claims it before you get up the mountain.

Alternatively, you can reserve space on the Iron Door Restaurant deck. For more information or to inquire about rates, call Operations Manager Nick Aldinger at 520-576-1321.

MISCELLANY

Is Mt. Lemmon active on social media?

Mount Lemmon has no official social media accounts, but you can keep tabs on the mountain happenings by following the below accounts.

What else do I need to know before I go to Mt. Lemmon?

That’s just about it! Enjoy your time on the mountain!

Desert Christian Schools
Chris Lawler NOVA Home Loans
Tim Sheaffer Sell's Real Estate
Veritas Academy
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