Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mt Lemmon

March 12, 2017

Mt. Lemmon/Summerhaven Information

The Summerhaven subdivision of Mount Lemmon, Arizona is a community approximately 29 miles north of Tucson in the center of the Santa Catalina Mountains at an elevation of 8000’. The whole Santa Catalina mountain range is mistakenly called Mount Lemmon. The peak of Mt. Lemmon (9,157’) is actually more of a knoll, located adjacent to the University of Arizona Stewart Observatories.

The average temperature on Mount Lemmon is approximately 30 degrees cooler than that of Tucson which makes Mount Lemmon quite popular during the summer months. Additionally the top of the mountain is 9,157’ and is the location of the southernmost ski area in the United States. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley normally provides skiing and snowboarding from late December into March or April. The El Nino of 1997-98 brought 30 plus feet of snow to the mountain, one of the best years for skiing and snowboarding in recent memory. Ski Valley is also the home of the Iron Door Restaurant.

In addition, there are a number of recreational amenities offered on the mountain, including hiking, camping, fishing, birding, sledding, snowshoeing and rock climbing, making the area an attractive recreation and getaway location less than one hour from Tucson.

There are approximately 450 acres of privately owned land on Mount Lemmon, completely surrounded by the Coronado National Forest. Summerhaven, the largest subdivision, was subdivided in the 1920’s. The lots in this subdivision are small, typically averaging between 5,000 and 6,500 square feet. The subdivision of Loma Sabino Pines was created by a land swap with the US Forest Service back in the 1980’s. The lots in this subdivision average 16,000 square feet, giving the area a more open feeling.

The majority of the 450 acres of privately owned land is utilized for second homes and private residences. There are also approximately 130 cabins on land leased from the US Forest Service under 20-year permits.

Commercial development is limited to the lots along Sabino Canyon Parkway. Currently Summerhaven has The Sawmill Run, a new restaurant opened April 1, 2012. The Mt. Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop, provides anything a tourist, cabin owner, cabin renter or Arizona Trail biker or hiker may need or want. In addition the General Store & Gift Shop offers a large selection of gifts, to groceries to camping gear. The Living Rainbow, a gift shop, is located down the street and the Pizza and Cookie Cabin, serving pizza, giant cookies and homemade chili operates in Summerhaven. A US Post Office and a real estate office, Mt. Lemmon Realty also resides in Summerhaven. Karen’s Sky Mountain Realty operates out of Summerhaven but does not currently have an office here.

Overnight lodging facilities are currently non-existent in Summerhaven and on Mt. Lemmon. Families wanting to stay on the mountain must rent a cabin from private individuals or Mt. Lemmon Realty in the summer months. All businesses here rely heavily on summer business. Mt. Lemmon, because of the limited overnight facilities and the close proximity to Tucson, is largely a day use area. However, in the summer months, there is a large population in the private homes. After all, the subdivision was named Summerhaven for a reason back in the 1920’s.

The Mount Lemmon Highway, which carries traffic from metropolitan Tucson to Summerhaven, has under gone a Federal Highway Improvement. This project was started in 1986 and completed in 2003. It is joked that it was a planned 10 year project that lasted 17 years. The project was implemented and was been accomplished in 3 to 5 mile segments, every other year. Traffic has increased because of the work done..

The Santa Catalina’s are heavily visited with an average use exceeding a million visitors per year. Mt. Lemmon and Sabino Canyon are Tucson’s second most popular tourist attraction. Weekend days with fresh snow on the ground are always a challenge. At times the Mt. Lemmon Highway is closed to traffic due to too many cars on the highway and lack of facilities to accommodate these large numbers of people and cars

One of our favorite drives is up to Mt. Lemmon while there is still snow on the ground.  If one times it right the snow melt creates waterfalls along the way and the streams are running with the ice cold water.  We were too late for the above, but it was a great drive nonetheless.  

Debbie and Dale went with us and enjoyed the views and drive as much as we did.  There is a small creek behind them with a little water in it but the photo doesn't show it.

Debbie & Dale
As mentioned above the road to the top took a number of years to complete and once you drive it you will see why.  It's 26 miles from the bottom to the top and an uphill climb almost all the way.  There are a number of turnouts along the way and also some campgrounds for small rvs or tent campers.  I wouldn't even consider driving our 40ft motorhome to the top.

There are a number of areas cut through boulders with sharp dropoffs.  Thankfully they have barriers that are quite strong and would save you in the event you ran off the road.

There are a number of beautiful cabins in Summerhaven that are mainly used in the summer to cool off.  The cabin below looked very nice and would be a great summer retreat.

It was warm on the mountain and the snow runoff was crossing the road in a couple places.  I would have liked to get out and wade in this stream crossing the road, but there wasn't a place to park.

We saw this vintage Porsche on the way up and I asked the driver what it was.  He said he bought it in an estate sale a couple years ago and was slowly restoring it.  The man was over 6ft tall and his head and shoulders were unprotected due to not having a windshield. 

There was snow on the ski slope but it wasn't deep enough to ski on and the area was closed off.  There are a couple ski lifts there and 2 or 3 ski slopes.  Not Sun Valley, but close enough for a day trip to ski.

We stopped at an overlook on the way back and got our picture taken.  I think we could see for 50 miles more or less from the area.

Closeup of the stone work.

I've included this tree since it's covered in carvings with initials, A loves B, etc.  If you double click on the picture you can see the carvings.  There is a smaller tree near this one with carvings all over it also.  It's amazing that the tree can live with all the bark cut out of it.

We took a quick drive through Saguaro Park East to show Debbie and Dale what is there.  It's an eight mile drive on a one way paved road and is a pleasant drive.  We were too early for most of the desert flowers, but there were a few out.  They have nature trails in the park along with many night time hikes led by a ranger.  Check it out if you are in the area.

Crested Saguaro Cactus

We stopped by Saguaro Corners restaurant on the way back and had a couple cold ones before we headed back to the campground.  There was a man singing and playing the guitar to entertain the patrons as well.  It was a long day but we enjoyed the mountain and Saguaro Park very much.

That was our day, how was yours?  Can you remember back to March 12?


  1. Couldn't breathe at the top of Lemmon. Hard time getting to the rest room. Beautiful pics. Love them.

  2. What a perfect day for a drive up the mountain. When we went up, it was freezing up there. I love the photo with the stream in it.
    A crested! I love them.