My first experience with Mt. Lemmon was in 1972 when we adventured up the mountain by "the back way" which is a primitive road up the north side of the mountains. It was the original access by prospectors and miners. The route might be hundreds of years old as the Spanish explorers’ mines in the Catalina Mountains. This route is still a unique experience if you have a reliable off road or sturdy 4wd vehicle.
We cheated today and took a nice slow trip up the paved road. My wife had never been up the mountain and I had not made the trip in 35 years. With a full gas tank, some drinks and some munchies we started out about nine in the morning. We stopped at every scenic pull out, walked around and took many pictures for our friends and family in China.
The air conditioning went off a short way up the mountain and the windows were opened to enjoy the cool and fresh air. The scenery was as awesome as always. To go from the 1200' desert to the 9,000' pine forest on the top is amazing. If you want to experience the full range of vegetation between those elevations, this is the way to do it.
It was heart breaking to see the destruction caused by the 2003 Aspen Fire. The Summerhaven area was once lush and gorgeous. It was good to see the number of houses and cabins that have been rebuilt.
The Summerhaven Restaurant is a great place for a meal or snack or even just a good cup of coffee.
My original plan was to visit the Iron Door Restaurant at the base of the ski slope and maybe ride the chair lift to the mountaintop. Alas, they happened to be closed today. We did drive beyond the ski area towards the observatories (There is a gate preventing entry to the observatories. I have never known them to be open to the public). On that, 1.5-mile road there was still snow on the shaded slopes. Not bad for a 92 degree Tucson to have snow along the road just outside of town on April 24.
If you visit, Tucson Mt. Lemmon and the Sonora Desert Museum are must stops.
If you own or manage Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.