/ The Phoenix Traveler
Phoenix — By Heather Wright Schlichting on June 30, 2010 at 6:06 am
Filed under: nature, outdoor recreation, scenic drives, top-feature

On the Road to Summerhaven

scenic drive, outdoor recreationDiscover a hideaway that has stood the test of time, come back after two devastating fires and caters to ski enthusiasts, campers, fishermen and hikers.  Summerhaven, a small, quaint community near the top of Mt. Lemmon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson

Home to year-round and summer cabins, Summerhaven caters to visitors with an old-time General Store and other local boutiques and restaurants.  It’s a great escape from the rigors of a big city, but to be honest the drive up Mt. Lemmon is half the fun!

The only paved road that leads to Summerhaven is also one of the most scenic highways in Arizona. While driving on the Catalina Highway, I saw some of the most breathtaking vistas, outlandish rockscapes, dense mountain forests and deep canyons. As you make the trek up to an elevation of 8,200 feet you actually feel the temperatures drop; a welcome feeling this time of year. 

As you drive up the mountain, every turn seems to reveal something new. Because of the steady increase in elevation some places may be a community of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers different from the one just around the previous curve. It’s as if each turn tries to outdo the previous one with natural rock sculptures even more impossibly perched than the last, or a broader panorama that stretches in an entirely different direction. The best part of the drive offers turnouts at scenic overlooks to take snap photos and several campgrounds and picnic areas. I lost count of the number of hiking trails that offer access to the mountain’s backcountry canyons and ridges.

Sweet on Summerhaven
A popular tourist destination for winter and summer outdoor enthusiasts alike, I love the small town feel that you experience when you approach the little town of Summerhaven.  Don’t miss out on the homemade apple pie (sour-cream apple seems to be the most popular) from the Mt. Lemmon Café (map), the homemade fudge at the Mt. Lemmon General Store (map) or pizza and cookies from the Cookie Cabin.

nature, scenic drive

Amazing rock formation off Catalina Highway.

Summerhaven was originally used by the U.S. Army at Fort Lowell in Tucson as a military camp in its campaign against the Apache Indians in the 1870s and 1880s.  Today, life is sweet in Summerhaven.  Slowly recovering from two devastating fires: the Bullock Fire, which consumed more than 32,000 acres around the village in the summer of 2002, and the Aspen Fire, which came a year later to devour more than 300 homes, cabins and shops.  It’s a place where you can escape the heat of the summer, kick back, camp and fish. 

For an easy trek, check out the Marshall Gulch Trail. Considered a kid friendly trail, it begins in a wooded canyon at the end of Sabino Canyon Parkway, Summerhaven’s main drag, and joins the Aspen Trail.   One of the most scenic trails starts in town at Turkey Run Road, a residential street that leads to Ski Valley, a ski area atop Mt. Lemmon. Note that this uphill trail is not for beginners.  For hiking maps and trail information, go to the Coronado National Forest web site.

Another way to take in the sights is the chairlift at Ski Valley that operates every summer. The 30-minute ride offers panoramic views of the Catalinas, far-off mountains and the desert below. The lift runs from 10:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets for adults are $9; children, $5; families, $20. Contact 520-576-1321 for more details.   It’s interesting to note that Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley (map) is the southernmost ski location in the continental United States.

outdoors, scenic drives

View from scenic overview.

If you’re looking to catch “the big one” make sure that you obtain a fishing license.  Licenses are $12.50 per day, required for ages 14 and older. Visit www.azgfd.gov, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Department of Game & Fish satellite offices to purchase a license.

For a breathtaking view of the night sky, visit Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory.  Rub elbows with leading University of Arizona scientists at the night-time observing program, SkyNights as they guide you through the cosmos. Star charts, binoculars and a 24-inch telescope are just some of the resources utilized. The SkyNights experience is offered virtually every night throughout the year.  Reservations need to be made online at their site.

I think you’ll agree that there are a lot of options to please everyone in your brood.  If nothing else, it is definitely a beautiful haven to escape the harsh summer temperatures of the desert.


Catalina Highway
Northeast of Tucson.  Off Tanque Verde Road, take the Catalina Highway to the Forest boundary where it becomes the Hitchcock Highway. Continue for 26 miles to the village of Summerhaven. 27 miles to Ski Valley. 28 miles to the top of Mt. Lemmon. 3 hours round trip from Tucson.

Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory
Follow Catalina Highway up 27 miles towards the town of Summerhaven.  Just after the “welcome” sign for Summerhaven (but before the town) turn right on to Ski Run Rd. At the top of this road (about 2 miles) drive through the open Forest Service gate at the end of the parking lot. This is the observatory road.

Photos by Wikipedia and from personal collection.

Related places:
  1. A
    Mt Lemmon Cafe
    12976 Sabino Canyon, Mount Lemmon, AZ, United States, 85619
    View Details and Book
  2. B
    Mt Lemmon General Store & Gift
    12856 North Sabino Canyon Parkway, Mt Lemmon, AZ
    View Details and Book
  3. C
    Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley
    10300 Ski Run Rd., Mt. Lemmon, AZ
    View Details and Book
Tags: nature, outdoor recreation, scenic drives, top-feature

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