If you have never been to Arizona, you may be surprised to know that the state is not only covered in cactus and canyons. Known as one of the sunniest places in United States with its fair share of desert landscape, Arizona is also home to over 193 mountain ranges with several over 10,000 feet and the highest point being Humphrey’s Peak ( elevation 12,633 feet) near Flagstaff.

Home to the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the United States, the flora and fauna of Arizona is quite diverse and offers a fantastic number of amazing hikes ranging from the immense Grand Canyon, to the cactus-coated desert and rugged, pine-scented mountain tops.

The Southwestern city of Tucson where my parents live, is a true hikers’ paradise as the city is almost completely surrounded by mountains. There are five major mountain ranges in Tucson, each with its own flavor and appeal. To the north of downtown Tucson lies the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains which slowly rise to almost nine thousand feet. To the east lies the Rincons which are less rugged than the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains which rise to the south. To the west lie the craggy Tucson Mountains and to the northwest lie the fifth mountain range, the Tortolita mountains.

Nestled high above the Catalina Foothills lies a spectacular place for a day trip: Mount Lemmon. At 9,157 feet, Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains and is part of the Coronado National Forest. It is a special place affording stunning views and a nature lover’s retreat.

A drive from balmy, sunny Tucson up to Mount Lemmon is the perfect way to find peace and also a little winter in Arizona. On top of Mount Lemmon is an actual ski resort which is hard to believe. Yet the Mount Lemmon Ski Area receives about 57 inches of snow annually and its short but steep runs offers “winter on demand” for those living in the desert town below.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

The last look at the desert landscape before the cactus disappear and the pines arrive.

Around an hour and fifteen minute picturesque drive from Tucson brings you to another world. As you climb up the breathtaking Santa Cathalina Mountains following the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, slowly the desert landscape begins to disappear and suddenly majestic ponderosa pines line the road. The views along the way are arguably some of the best in Southwestern Arizona with sensational views of the city below and the shadowed mountains in the distance.

Drive to Mount Lemmon. Tucson, Arizona

The drive from Tucson to Mount Lemmon is breathtaking and there are many lookout stops to pull over and take pictures.

The landscape is dramatic. I find the raw beauty to be serenely peaceful and divine. As you climb higher and leave behind the cactus, you enter instant winter or “winter on demand” as my parents like to call it.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson ArizonaMount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

It’s a Saturday afternoon and we notice a lot more cars heading up to Mount Lemmon than usual. Many of the cars have Sonoran (Mexico) plates. We are confused. Yet as we slowly climb up and the snow appears suddenly we understand. Winter on demand. For many, it is the very first time they have seen snow and Mexico is not too far away.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson ArizonaMount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

We notice that lots of cars are pulled over enjoying the multitude of picnic areas. There are families, sleds and bonfires. There are many, many smiles.

We reach the ski resort and although the ski runs aren’t open, the ski lift is running to take people up to the top. We decide to reach the top on foot.

Mount Lemmon Ski Resort Tucson Arizona

Mount Lemmon Ski Resort

Mount Lemmon Ski Resort

There are people sledding everywhere and families playfully throwing snowballs. It is a beautiful day in the mountains, the perfect day for a hike.

Mount Lemmon Ski Resort

Paved road leading up to the top

Mount Lemmon Arizona

Gorgeous, ancient pine trees and nothing else but the wind

Like many parts of Arizona, the Santa Catalinas have been devastated by fire. A rampant wildfire ran through the resort town of Summerhaven years ago destroying the town and all the pine trees in its path. The remains of burnt tree skeletons were eerily beautiful.

Top of Mount Lemmon ArizonaTop of Mount Lemmon Arizona

But the view on top was quite lovely despite the destruction.

Top of Mount Lemmon Arizona

Getting there:

From Tucson, follow the Catalina Highway on the northeast side of town. Follow the road up 27 miles towards the town of Summerhaven. You can stop there and grab lunch at one of the local diners or else you can continue on to the ski resort and hiking trails. To get there, follow the road just past the “welcome” sign for Summerhaven and turn right on to Ski Run Rd. There is a parking lot where you can leave your car behind and explore the beautiful world around you.


    1. Thanks Kathy! Arizona is a beautiful place. I’ve come to really love it as my parents have lived there for 20 years now and I’ve been there a lot. 🙂

    1. Yes so incredibly true. There has been a lot of wildfires throughout Arizona and it is always so sad to see the devastation yet the cycle or rebirth and regrowth is amazing too.

  1. You’re photos do it justice! My boyfriend and I worked for a conservation corps that did trail maintenance on the Canada Del Oro trail, which starts up near the top of Mt Lemmon. It is an intense mountain biking trail and we got to hike into the back country and work from there! It was incredible and the higher peaks in Arizona are gorgeous and you are right, little known. Glad to have found another person who seeks out those hidden gems!

    1. Wow, that sounds so cool! Where exactly can you find the Canada Del Oro trail and how long can you hike it? I would love to try it next time I’m there. I also love to hike on Mount Wrightson. I love hiking around Arizona. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to visit often over the last 20 years as my parents have been there!

    1. Thanks! Yes Arizona has such an amazing landscape. I’ve traveled throughout a lot of it and I love the pines. My parents spend the summer in the White Mountains which are covered in majestic pines and douglas firs. You would never believe you were in Arizona!

  2. I love that you include directions to get there! Very cool. Beautiful photos. I might not get there in person but I can enjoy your visit through your gallery.

  3. We love the hiking in the Tucson area. It’s been many years since we have been up to Mt. Lemmon. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed! yes Tucson has such wonderful hikes. My dad and I love to go together! 🙂 I’ll be back on Feb. 13th but probably just walking now as he is not hiking for now. 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.