Know Before You Go, Shaka Guide's Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tour
Start Getting Excited!
You’re about to experience one of the world’s most amazing drives, but there are a few things you should know about the tour before you get started.
- The tour begins in Tucson just after turning off East Tanque Verde Road at the Safeway and onto the East Catalina Highway.
- Mount Lemmon is part of the Coronado National Forest.
- The entry fee is $8/vehicle.If you’re stopping to hike or picnic, you’ll need to pay the fee in one of the unmanned fee collection stations (affectionately called the “iron rangers”) and place the receipt on your dashboard or rearview mirror.
- There are no restaurants or places to buy food until you reach Summerhaven at the top, so stock up on snacks beforehand.
- Pack plenty of water.
- This tour takes between 1-2 hours without stops. If you’re stopping, plan to spend 4-6 hours.
- Wear layers for sun protection in the desert but also note that at the top of the mountain there may be snow - pack accordingly.
- Rarely, people may experience altitude sickness. If this happens, simply rest and hydrate or if it continues, move to a lower elevation.
What to Expect
To See Incredible Vistas
Most of the time, we recommend going as early as you can, but this tour may just be that rare exception. If you time it right, you may be coming down the mountain just in time for sunset at Windy Peak, and while it’s pretty any time of day, you really will be in for a treat at sunset. If you’re hiking, however, it’s best to go in the morning so there’s plenty of daylight while you’re on the trail.
To Spend 2 to 6 Hours Here
Unless you’re going to just drive through, stopping only for the briefest of selfies before heading on, you’ll want to spend some time here. Even if you’re a non-hiker, you’ll want to allow a bit of time on some of the easier trails, as there’s a lot to see and learn. Moderate to serious hikers will likely want to hike Marshall Gulch, a lovely loop hike at the summit.
To Be Active
View from Mt. Lemmon / Image from Unsplash
There’s a lot to see here, and some of the nicest viewpoints and some of the coolest attractions require a bit of trail walking. Wear good-fitting, comfortable shoes, clothes that protect from the sun, and again, pack plenty of water.
To Learn About the Environment
One of the most fascinating things about Mount Lemmon is its role as a sky island, allowing plants and animals to survive in Arizona which are better suited for life in Canada. You will see lots of interpretive signs with great information, and our tour picks up where they leave off to give you an in-depth understanding of why this mountain matters.
To be Awed by how, well, Awesome Mount Lemmon is
The mountain presides over all of Tucson, changing colors during the day and turning pink or lavender with the setting evening sun. But nothing compares to winding your way up it, seeing the cacti gradually give way to oak trees and grasses, then seeing pines appear. Numerous parking areas allow you to pull over and stop, hike, take photos, or birdwatch, without blocking traffic or endangering yourself.
Of course a lot of the costs will depend on what you choose to do, what you want to eat, where you stay, and so on. But here are our estimates to help you plan:
- Park entry: $8/car if you’ll be parking
- Lunch: $10-20/person (Important: there are no restaurants until you get up to Summerhaven, at the summit, and even then, there are only a few.)
- Water: $10
- Chairlift and Skiing: $15 to ride the chairlift; $65/adult ($35/child) to ski
- Snacks like fudget, cookies or pie: $8-15
- Gifts/Souvenirs: $20-50 (really, this is entirely up to you.)
For the most part, you’ll be doing things that are fun and safe for all ages, but keep a few important things in mind:
Water: Bring plenty of water and drink it. Dehydration can happen long before you’re really thirsty.
Sun: Wear protective clothing and use sunscreen. Many of the trails have no shade.
Cacti: Getting poked is no joke. At low elevations wear closed-toed shoes with good soles and be careful to protect leashed pets.
Snow/Ice: At high elevations, frostbite and hypothermia can occur, so be sure to wear appropriate clothing. Drivers, be aware that slippery surfaces are common, and roads are sometimes closed.
Road hazards: Go slow at all times. Always obey speed limits. Look for animals crossing. Check with the rangers for up-to-date closure information.
Animals: Keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter, for their sake and yours.
Pets: Leashed pets are allowed on the trails. You are not allowed to have a pet unattended in the car, even if the motor is running.
Nelo Hotsuma from Rockwall, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s our packing list for this tour. It may seem a little long, but remember, what you bring depends on the activities you choose to do for the day.
- Car charger
- Phone car mount
- Sneakers/iking shoes
- Hiking Clothes
- Water Bottle (it is the desert afterall), EXTRA water (1 gallon per person per day)
- Bug Spray
- Sunglasses and hat
- Hand sanitizer
- Telephoto lens for camera
- Birders should bring a bird ID book
- Layers - it can get cold on the summit
Shaka Guide’s Mount Lemmon By the Numbers
Let us break it down for you! This tour features:
- 1 9,000+ foot Peak
- 1 Excellent Visitor Center
- 2 Giant telescopes
- 3 Scenic Hikes
- 5 Scenic Spots
- 9 Life Zones (What’s a Life Zone? Find out on the tour!)
To Leave No Trace
Tourism lets us venture places very different from our home but for locals, this mountain is home - and leaving trash or disposing of food causes problems. Be a steward here and make sure you bring all your trash with you, or use marked disposal bins. If possible, leave the mountain cleaner than you found it. The next traveler will thank you for it!
We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at email@example.com.