Monday, October 6, 2014

A scenic drive up Tucson's Mount Lemmon

The view of Tucson below
If you’re looking for a pleasant drive that combines stunning scenery with the smell of pine trees, the Catalina scenic byway out of Tucson should fill the bill. It's considered one of the most scenic drives in the southwest.

The curvy road rises more than 8,000 feet as motorists scale the heights of Mount Lemmon that stands 9,157 feet in the Santa Catalina Mountains that flank one side of Tucson.  At the top, you’ll find the small village of Summerhaven with a couple of restaurants and a gift shop.

Just before dropping into Summerhaven, make a right turn to go to the Mt. Lemmon ski area. During the summer months, visitors can take a sky ride to the top of the mountain for ever more spectacular views. Be forewarned: parking is at a premium here, as well as in Summerhaven. Cars park on the

narrow shoulders and spill onto the narrow road, so caution navigating between the lines of cars is necessary.

The scenic drive through Coronado National Forest starts in the Sonora Desert; the cacti peter out about 4,000 feet in elevation. Next come a couple of thousand feet in elevation of shrubs and then tall, stately pine trees cover the mountains for the rest of the way. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic areas that start after the Palisades Visitor Center. The views are marvelous and the fragrance of the pine trees that fills the air is delicious. The U.S. Forest Service compares the journey to traveling from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles.

View from Windy Point pullout
The road has plenty of pullouts and vistas where visitors can take in the breathtaking views. Public restrooms are available at Windy Point, then just south of the visitor center and a couple of miles north at Inspiration Rock picnic area. Trailheads, some with limited off-road parking, are plentiful.

Because of its twists and turns, the road is very popular with motorcyclists, so be on the lookout for them. Again, because of its curviness, the Forest Service does not recommend traveling the road in a large motorhome or pickup pulling a travel trailer longer than 22 feet. Motorists should make sure their vehicles have good brakes for the trip down. When the brakes start heating up, it may be advisable to pull off the road for awhile to let them cool down.

To reach the highway, take the Speedway exit off of I-10 and head northeast a few miles to Tanque Verde. Turn left on Tanque Verde to Catalina Highway. Stay on this rod until it becomes General Hitchcock Highway and enjoy the ride to the top.

See more photos of the Mount Lemmon scenic drive on my Youtube channel.








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