Catalina Highway/ Shutterstock Image

Catalina Highway/ Shutterstock Image

Shaka Guide's Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tour Itinerary


This tour begins at the base of the largest and grandest peak in the Catalina range:  Mount Lemmon. 

You’ll start in the spectacular Sonoran desert among the cacti, and quickly rise, stopping at scenic vistas and hiking trails, until you reach the top, where the cute village of Summerhaven sits amid conifers and aspen trees. 

The tour will point out the best spots to stretch your legs, explain the vistas, and talk about some of the wonders of the plants and animals that call this fascinating mountain their home.

mount lemmon national park tour map

Depending on how much hiking you plan to do, the tour can take anywhere from a few hours to most of a good long day. 

You’ll have plenty of chances to stop and a few spots at the peak to grab a bite to eat. 

If possible, time this one so you’re coming down around sunset, as the views get even better as the sun goes down.  

1. Babad Do'ag Scenic Overlook

desert overview

Approximate time:  5 minutes

This lovely overlook gives a sweeping vista of the Sonoran desert plain, Tucson, and the mountains beyond.

2. Molino Canyon Vista

Approximate time:  5 minutes

A pretty canyon that makes for a nice view, especially pretty when there’s water down in the creekbed.  

3. Molino Basin Trailhead

Approximate time:  1 hour

Hike down along an often-dry river and look for ancient grinding holes left by the Hohokam culture, used for turning acorns into flour.

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4. Seven Cataracts Vista

Approximate time:  5 minutes

Take in great views of nearby Thimble Peak as well as a rushing cascade of waterfalls on the opposite side of the ravine, though they are dry much of the year.  Good spot to see wildlife, too.

5. Windy Point Vista

Approximate time:  30 minutes

Wait for sunset or just marvel at the beauty of the landscape below you.

6. Hoodoo Vista

stone mountain

Approximate time:  5 minutes

Hoodoos are strange, often otherworldly shapes caused by erosion of wind and rain.  The drive has lots of them so they deserve their pullout, don’t you think?

7. San Pedro Vista

Approximate time:  1 hour

Here you can hike to Barnam Rock and further to Leopold Point, catching great views of the San Pedro Valley below.

8. Palisades Visitor Center

palisades visitor center

Approximate time:  10 minutes

Stop here to use the restroom, ask the rangers questions, or perhaps buy a souvenir.

9. Aspen Vista

Approximate time:  5 minutes

This peaceful spot was recently ravaged by wildfires.  You can view the mountains far across the valley amid charred trunks of trees.

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10. Loma Linda Picnic Area

Approximate time:  5 minutes

Find a picnic table and enjoy a relaxing bite amid tall pines, with chirping birds and views of the San Pedro valley far, far below.

11. Mt Lemmon Ski Valley

lemmon ski valley map

Approximate time:  1 hour

During the season, from January through early February, you can enjoy skiing here.

The chairlift operates year-round and takes you to the summit in about 15 minutes.

From there, you can view near 360-degree vistas of Tucson, the San Pedro Valley, or even as far as New Mexico.

12. Summerhaven

facade of summerhaven

Approximate time:  1 hour

What this tiny hamlet lacks in size, it makes up for in heart:

  • Grab tasty fudge
  • enjoy a giant
  • freshly made cookies
  • have a sit-down dinner, or
  • find a nice trail to hike

It’s all here in quiet Summerhaven.

13. Marshall Gulch Picnic Area

parking lot with marshall gulch sign

Approximate time:  3-4 hours

This great loop hike offers incredible views and a nice, moderate, work-up-a-sweat hike for those looking to stretch their legs for a while.

14. Rose Canyon Lake

lake on a sunny day

Approximate time:  30 minutes

This placid, pine-rimmed lake is sometimes so calm it mirrors the sky, offering insight and reflection or perhaps just a nice photo or two. 

You can snack near the shore, walk around the edge, or even fish if you’ve got a license and rod.

15. Natural Arch

Approximate time:  5 minutes

This massive arch is surprisingly easy to miss as you zip up the highway.

However, it’s worth the brief stop. It is certainly the biggest arch you’ll see on the tour.

There are also a few small ones tucked here and there among the other hoodoos.

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16. Geology Vista Point

Approximate time:  5 minutes

This stop offers grand views of the valley and some interesting interpretive signs that detail how this vast area came to be.

17. Bug Spring Trailhead

Approximate time:  30 minutes

A fun hike for folks who want one last chance to get out of the car and onto a trail for a while.

18. Gordon Hirabayashi Campground

old stairs

Approximate time:  5 minutes

The foundations of what once was a prison, then a WWII internment camp, have been renamed in honor of one of the most famous pacifists and an internee here: Gordon Hirabayashi.

You’ll end the tour where you started, back at the bottom, back on the outskirts of Tucson, an easy drive back into the city. 

You’ll take away a whole new appreciation for this fascinating mountain and its stunning views, as well as the people, plants, and animals that have been a part of its history.

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Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tour!

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 aloha@shakaguide.com.

Ready to visit Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway? Here's everything you need to Know Before You Go! 

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