By Gloria Knott
Mount Lemmon. It’s the place where Tucsonans go to play in snow in the winter, cool off in the summer, and take a day trip when a weeklong vacation abroad might not be in the budget.
For newbies, Mount Lemmon is in the Santa Catalinas, surrounded by the Coronado National Forest. It’s a good 20 to 30 degrees cooler and only takes about an hour to get to Summerhaven, a quaint little town tucked into the mountains.
I spent the day in Mount Lemmon and discovered what to do, what to eat, and where to stay in the whimsical area.
Here is your complete guide to visiting Mount Lemmon.
Because you’ll be traveling up a mountain, the road will be curvy and sometimes a bit congested with other cars and bicyclists. But the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking.
There are a handful of pullouts along the road, in addition to scenic byways, which make it easy to park your car, stretch your legs and take in the view. One of the most popular spots is Windy Point, which overlooks mountains and trees.
What to do
On your way up the mountain, you’ll pass Rose Canyon. Besides the pretty name, Rose Canyon is home to a campground and a lake, which is perfect for fishing.
Forgot your fishing pole? Maybe try the hiking trails instead—there are several in the area. One of the most popular is the Butterfly Trail, which is near the Palisades Visitor Center.
Once you reach Summerhaven, you’ll definitely want to make a stop at the Mount Lemmon General Store & Gift Shop. The shop sells necessities such as snacks and water, in addition to novelty trinkets and souvenirs that you can’t find elsewhere. But here’s the best part: the general store specializes in homemade fudge in more than a dozen mouthwatering flavors. The raspberry chocolate swirl is my favorite.
The Living Rainbow gift shop is another worthy spot. The shop features colorful souvenirs and artsy knickknacks.
When it snows in Mount Lemmon, skiing and snowboarding are popular activities. Next to Summerhaven is Ski Valley, which has a year-round ski lift. Ski Valley also has skis and snowboards available for rent in the winter, in addition to its own ski school.
At the top of the mountain is the University of Arizona’s SkyCenter. The observatory features SkyNights, complete with public telescopes. Stargazing has never been so easy.
Other activities include horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife viewing, and birding. Camping is also available.
Where to eat
Picnic tables are abundant throughout Mount Lemmon, but if you’re not in the mood to pack your own sandwiches, don’t fret! Restaurants are a worthy option.
The Iron Door Restaurant, located in Ski Valley, offers breakfast and lunch. For lunch, the restaurant serves nine sandwich options, homemade soups and chili, and delicious appetizers. And you can’t forget about the homemade pies.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, head to Summerhaven for a bite to eat at the Sawmill Run Restaurant. The restaurant’s cozy cabin vibes pair well with the menu’s comfort foods. They have soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers, in addition to a list of “smokehouse favorites,” such as smoked baby back ribs and sausage.
The Cookie Cabin is also in Summerhaven. With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to eat there? The family-owned restaurant serves giant homemade cookies, some topped with six scoops of ice cream. Its website says that one cookie can feed “four people, two raccoons or one hungry cyclist.” The Cookie Cabin also serves lunch items, including pizza and hot dogs.
Where to stay
If you’re looking to submerge in the true Mount Lemmon experience, camping might be the option for you. There are three campgrounds in Mount Lemmon, all of which are spacious and scenic, to say the very least.
Alternatively, cabins are available to rent and they’re as cozy as they look. Visit mtlemmoncabins.com for details.
Excited for your trip to Mount Lemmon yet? I would be. Don’t forget to bring your camera, bottles of water, and your favorite walking shoes.
For more information:
Palisades Visitors Center
Santa Catalina Ranger District
The Living Rainbow
University of Arizona SkyCenter
Iron Door Restaurant
Sawmill Run Restaurant
The Cookie Cabin
For more adventures out-of-town, visit our Summer Staycation page.