Mount Lemon with an elevation peak of over 9,000 feet is located near Tucson, Arizona is considered a ‘sky island‘. These sky islands are essentially isolated mountains surrounded by very different lowland environments. Mount Lemon certainly qualifies as the mountain has rich alpine Ponderosa pine forests while the lowlands are covered with saguaro cactus.
Mount Lemmon is in the Santa Catalina Mountains located in the Coronado National Forest just to the north of Tucson, Arizona. Mount Lemmons elevation top out at 9,157 feet (2,791 m) above sea-level. Although this sky island is in the desert, it receives approximately 180 inches of snow annually.
Mount Lemmon was named in honor of botanist Sarah Lemmon, who, along with Native American Indian guides trekked to the top of the mountain with by mule and on foot in 1881, which coincidentally is the same year as the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Summertime temperatures on Mount Lemon run 15-20 degrees cooler than in the desert. Hikers and cyclists abound on the mountain during the summer. In the winter, the mountain hosts the southern most ski area in the state. In fact, it’s the southern most ski area in the U.S.
Areas of the mountain were devastated by the Aspen fire in 2003. In the town of Summerhaven 325 of the 450 structured burned. There are many empty foundations where homes have yet to be rebuilt. Even with all that, the area remains popular.
From Phoenix, take Interstate 10 east to Tucson. Follow Grant Road to Tanque Verde Road and then northeast on the Catalina Highway.
There are a variety of trails both in and away from the areas burned in the 2003 Aspen fire. The hikes are rewarding as you’ll see sweeping vistas all the way to the desert floor. For more information on hikes at Mount Lemon, check out: http://www.fs.usda.gov/coronado.
Mount Lemmon hosts the University of Arizona SkyCenter observatory. The observatory hosts SkyNights nightly. It’s a five hour program and tickets are required ($30-$60). Learn more about the program at: http://www.skycenter.arizona.edu/public/skynights.
Few people think of snow and skiing when they think of Tucson. Most think of cacti, desert, and diamondback rattle snakes. However, the Santa Catalina Ranger District, is home to the southernmost ski area in the continental United States The ski area is near the summit of Mt. Lemmon at 9,157-feet.
The Mt. Lemmon Ski runs are generally open from the middle of December into early April. The ski area is about an hour drive from the city of Tucson. The highway the the ski area is paved and can accommodate passenger vehicles. After a heavy snow, the road may be closed and in some cases snow tires, chains or 4WD may be required. For the most current road conditions, you can call the Pima County Sheriff’s 24 hour Road Condition Hotline 520-547-7510 (year round).