Take A Hike with the Highlander: Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway
Distance: 27 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,000 feet to Mt. Lemmon's 9,157 foot summit.
Dog Friendly: Yes
Permit/Pass Required: No
Getting There: See Map
Tips: I recommend timing this so you can enjoy the sunset views and Tuscon's twinkling lights below.
About the Hike: While this isn't an actual hike, I wanted to highlight something we ALL can do. So this week, I let the Highlander do all the climbing, and I just sat back with my pup and enjoyed the ride.
The Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway - also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway - begins at the corner of the Catalina Hwy and Tanque Verde Rd in Tuscon. The beginning of your drive takes you through wildflowers and some of the tallest Saguaro's I've ever seen. The rock formations begin as you gain elevation and plenty of viewpoints and pull-off's are sprinkled along the drive so you can stop, take in the sights and capture a photo or two.
There are three distinct changes to the scenery during this drive. Once you pass the Saguaro's, you'll find yourself in awe at the incredible rock formations and finally you will reach the tree-filled forest and if you're lucky - some snow!
The hoodoo's were by far my favorite part of this drive. A hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of weathered rock and you'll be weaving in and out of these majestic formations on the second tier of your drive up the mountain. The road winds and with every turn the sun hits the colorful rocks differently, creating a scene that truly is out of this world. It's in the midst of all this beauty that you will find Windy Point. This is where I recommend you catch the sunset. I hit this viewpoint on the way back down, sitting on a rock as the sky turned every color of hot pink until purple skies revealed the sparkling lights of Tuscon far below.
But back to the climb. Once you find your way out of the rock, you'll reach the trees. A mixed conifer forest that reminded me much more of my home back in the PNW than it did anything I'd expect to find in Arizona! And with the dense forest, came a change in temperature as well and suddenly it was 30 degrees colder than it had been in Tuscon and snow blanketed the shady corners of the road.
As you near closer to the town of Summerhaven, which is a popular ski destination in the winter, you will see the remnants of the Aspen fire of 2003 and even more astounding views. Eventually you will the end of the road (you'll know you've completed the drive once you reach a trailhead at the ski resort) and will be able to enjoy more gorgeous views on the way back down as the scenery changes with the setting sun and a new downhill vantage.
I recommend also downloading the University of Arizona's app when you have service before you hit the byway for a well-done audio tour that will also result in a wonderful learning opportunity for you and the family while enjoying this incredible drive!
Do you want to “Take a Hike with the Highlander?” Listen weekdays at high noon for the keyword to text or enter to win HERE.