Hiking Hotspot: The High Altitude Trails of Mt. Lemmon
Located at an elevation of over 7000 ft in the cool pines of the Coronado National Forest, and thus, typically about 20 degrees cooler than Tucson, Mt. Lemmon is the closest option when it comes to escaping the brutal 100+ degree summer weather. When the temps soar into the dreaded triple digit numbers (which happens quite frequently), your best bet for nearby outdoor fun is beautiful Mt Lemmon, the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains with an elevation of 9159 feet.
While Flagstaff in the northern portion of the state is the more popular cool escape, Mt Lemmon is much closer at just over an hour compared to 4, and thus, is not only an easier drive, but also tends to stay a bit quieter.
As Mt. Lemmon is generally about 20 degrees cooler than Tucson, it really is the only sensible choice for hiking during a hot Tucson summer. While 80+ degrees may not seem that cool, it really does feel drastically different than hiking along the unshady, barren desert trails. In fact, most Tucson trails are downright dangerous during the summer and all too often unprepared hikers die of heat exhaustion and/or dehydration. There are a number of trails on Mt Lemmon, ranging from easy nature walks to all day adventures. Relaxing views of pines and aspens, along with the fresh natural scent of pine in the air, creates a drastically different setting than that which you would experience on the trails in and around Tucson.
The Meadow Trail is the easiest of the Mt. Lemmon trails at just under 2 miles RT and relatively flat minus a short semi challenging steep hill near the end. The views are pretty scenic considering the short distance, and include gorgeous vistas of the mountains and beautiful ponderosa pines. Unfortunately, a bit of the trail shows signs of past wildlife fire damage (The massive Aspen Fire of ’93 severely damaged much of the area), although on a whole the scenery is beautiful. Not as nice as Flagstaff, but again the closest option to Tucson.
One of the best parts of going up to Mt. Lemmon is taking the scenic 30 mile drive up Mt. Lemmon Highway, a picturesque windy road which travels through various terrain as the elevation rises, ranging from Saguaro in the lower elevation to towering pine trees as you arrive near the top. It’s a really incredible drive for anyone not from Arizona as you get to see the vegetation change from the cacti of the Sonoran desert to the beautiful high altitude forests. Along, the way you will find various scenic overlooks, a lake, and an abundance of hiking trails. Also known as the Catalina Highway Scenic Drive, this beautiful paved road is amongst the most gorgeous in the Southwest.
A few of the great views you will take in along the way, although of course it is much more stunning in person!
Overall, the Meadow trail is a great addition to any Mt. Lemmon day trip. Combine this hike with another like the Aspen Trail, have a nice picnic or patio lunch at the Iron Door restaurant, enjoy a picturesque chairlift ride, and you have a pretty nice little summer escape from the heat of the desert!
As there is no official address for the trail, I recommend stopping in the Mt Lemmon General Store for general directions to whatever trail you are interested in hiking. At the general store, you can also pick up a few hiking essentials as well as a map detailing all the trails in the area. Simply put the following address into your GPS: 12856 N Sabino Canyon Pkwy Mount Lemmon, AZ 85619