Sky Island Adventure
The Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway is a gorgeous drive and an opportunity to experience lower temps year-round.
Devouring a hot, gooey cookie as big as your head at Summerhaven’s Cookie Cabin is reason enough to traverse the curvy Catalina Highway to this little town just below Mt. Lemmon’s 9,157-ft. summit.
Although, there are plenty of other appealing motives to leave the saguaro-studded desert floor and follow the switchbacks to the top of Tucson’s magnificent sky island—from outdoor sports, recreation, and special events to breathtaking views and a dramatic temperature change. Before you head up, download the free Mt. Lemmon Science Tour app for an audio tour narrated by Joey Burns, with music from Tucson’s own Calexico.
The 27-mile Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway is a gorgeous drive—with ample pullouts for photo ops. This elevation gain of more than 6,000 feet creates a 30- to 40-degree temperature drop, which makes Mt. Lemmon the perfect respite from summertime heat. It’s also an excellent year-round training destination for cyclists, runners, and rock climbers. The Mt. Lemmon Hill Climb is a challenging mid-May cycling event sponsored by Greater Arizona Bicycling Association, Inc.
There are also lovely hikes, such as the lush and shady Butterfly Trail, camping among the fresh-smelling pines in Spencer Canyon, fishing at Rose Canyon Lake and lots of picnic spots. Get mesmerized by the evening sky at Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory. Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley runs its ski lift in the summer for an excursion so elevated it’s promoted as “where the earth meets heaven.” In winter, clamp on (or rent) your skis or snowboard and hit the slopes. Refuel at Iron Door Restaurant with delicious German food.
Speaking of which, Oktoberfest is celebrated on Mt. Lemmon with food, music, dancing, and beer. Save room for a freshly-baked cookie on your way back down the mountain. You’ll be glad you did.
Discover the science and wonders of Arizona’s “Sky Islands” region on your drive up the Santa Catalina Mountains.
- An audio guide to the amazing science of our unique Sky Islands Region in Southern Arizona
- Stories about discoveries made by UA scientists here in the Santa Catalina Mountains
- Graphic slide-shows that help interpret what you see on the trip up the Catalina Mountains
- Animated videos that explain complex science in an easy-to-understand way
- Music by the band Calexico, and narrated by Calexico front-man Joey Burns