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Mount Lemmon: Tucson’s Winter Weekend Getaway

Posted by Chris Smith on February 19, 2020

One of the biggest reasons people love living in Tucson is the weather: over 300 days of sunshine provide an ideal atmosphere for outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who come from the Midwest and Northeast.

During the winter, however, there are several Tucson residents who actually enjoy playing in the snow with their friends and family. Whether it’s building a snowman with the kids, finding a steep slope for sledding, or hopping on the ski lift and taking in the scenic views, snow provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the cooler weather.

Luckily, if you live in Tucson and love to play in the snow, Mount Lemmon is an amazing option, and in the colder months, is its own winter wonderland!

An Overview of Mount Lemmon

View of Tucson from Mount Lemmon

At an elevation just over 9,000 feet, Mount Lemmon is the highest point of the Santa Catalina Mountains. With its cooler temperatures, the rainfall we feel in the valley results in ample snowfall for everyone who visits Mount Lemmon to enjoy.

Summerhaven is a small town near the top of Mount Lemmon, and offers a variety of services for visitors and its seasonal and year-round residents. The Mount Lemmon General Store and Gift Shop provides plenty of food and drinks, along with souvenirs for the tourists. 

Lastly, Mount Lemmon is home to Ski Valley, Southern Arizona’s premier ski resort. Ski Valley features a variety of trails for all skill levels, along with a restaurant ideal for breakfast and lunch, and plenty of seating while you warm up from a fun day of hitting the slopes.

You don’t have to enjoy skiing to have a fun day at Mount Lemmon. As you make your way up the mountain, you will undoubtedly see cars parked on the side of the road. Mount Lemmon is a great place to explore the snow-covered hills with your pets and family, build a snowman, or get into a snowball fight.

Getting to Mount Lemmon

Although you can see the Santa Catalina Mountains from just about anywhere, there is only one option available to access Mount Lemmon by car: Catalina Highway. Located in East Tucson, the easiest way to access Catalina Highway is my taking Tanque Verde Road eastbound from Sabino Canyon Road.

Once you’re on Catalina Highway, it’s about a 40-minute drive from the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. There are several vistas along Catalina Highway, many of which provide incredible views of the Tucson valley.

Once you reach about 6,000 feet above sea level, you will start seeing snow and areas to explore the wilderness!

Safety Tips 

First and foremost, you want to ensure that the road up to Mount Lemmon isn’t closed; the easiest way to check road closures is by calling the 24-hour Road Condition Hotline. Depending on how recent the latest snowfall occurred, 4-Wheel Drive and snow tires or chains may be required.

Even if chains or 4-Wheel Drive isn’t required, make sure that your tires have plenty of tread before heading up the mountain. It’s also a good idea to take a look at the weather forecast a day or two before you plan on visiting, and plan accordingly.

Most desert dwellers rarely experience snow, and they forget that it’s not easy to walk in snow, especially downhill. Make a trip to REI or Sportmans and invest in some quality snow boots with plenty of traction to minimize the chance of slipping.

You should also have the following in your trunk:

  • Blankets and Towels
  • Bottled Water
  • Thermos
  • Rope
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Flashlight
  • Snacks

If this is your first trip to Mount Lemmon, it’s best to stay in populated areas or as close to the road as possible, so in case of an emergency, it’s easier to find help.

We Want to Hear From You!

What are some of your favorite activities on Mount Lemmon during the winter? What are some of your favorite memories? Let us know in the comments below.

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