Weekend (Kids) Getaway: Mount Lemmon

Ray Minnick | Mount Lemmon

Ray Minnick | Mount Lemmon

The drive up Mount Lemmon has a lot to offer — spectacular views of the Tucson area, varied plant and animal communities, and cool weather just about any time of year. What it doesn’t offer is much comfort to those who are prone to getting carsick around winding, curving mountain roads, which is why my wife kept her eyes closed for most of the 30-mile drive from Tucson to Summerhaven.

But my 4-year-old son, Wes, loved it — which was good, since the whole trip was his idea. For quite a while, he’s been obsessed with roads and maps, and he recently found Tucson on a map and asked whether we could go there someday. He also expressed an interest in visiting Crater Lake in Oregon; I told him the Beaver State might have to wait, but we could knock out the “Old Pueblo” right away.

We drove down from Phoenix on an overcast Friday morning. After checking out Diamondback Bridge — true to its name, it’s a bridge that looks like a diamondback rattlesnake — we headed down Tanque Verde Road, then up Catalina Highway (also known as General Hitchcock Highway and Sky Island Scenic Byway).

A forest of saguaros marks the early part of the drive. Wes has a love-hate relationship with saguaros, by which I mean he loves them as long as he’s not anywhere near them. The safety of the car was enough for him to put aside his anxiety and enjoy the scenery, which changed from desert vegetation to ponderosa pines, then other evergreens and aspens, as we climbed higher.

What makes the drive ideal for young children is that there are plenty of places to stop along the way. We stopped at Windy Point Vista, which offers an incredible view of Tucson, but other viewpoints feature hiking trails, interpretive signs or views of the other side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

In Summerhaven, near the summit of Mount Lemmon, we ate lunch at the Sawmill Run Restaurant, which has a kids menu. The town also provides a teachable moment for children old enough to understand the importance of preventing forest fires: Much of Summerhaven burned in the Aspen Fire of 2003, and the fire’s effects are still visible throughout town.

After a quick exploration of Summerhaven, we headed back down the mountain, then back to Phoenix, having crossed one destination off my son’s list. Wes now wants to visit Payson, another relatively easy drive for us … but if he ever notices Kayenta on his map of Arizona, we might have to do a little more planning.

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

3 Comments

Filed under Getaways, Things to Do

3 responses to “Weekend (Kids) Getaway: Mount Lemmon

  1. Susan

    Nice story! We visited Tucson’s Sabino Canyon (also on Mt Lemmon) for the first time this spring and we are definitely going back. Thanks to your story, we will also check out the Rattlesnake Bridge! Because of your son’s interest in maps, he may enjoy this book, Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe. Hike Smart. (Amazon) This book shows kids and adults how to read maps and how to use a compass all while hiking on a trail with Felix! and his animal friends ;-) Have fun exploring Arizona!

  2. I am 62 years old and have been a map freak from a very young age. At work I’m now known as the company GPS! In this day of GPS technology map reading is becoming a lost art.

    • Susan

      I agree! Technology is great but knowing how to calculate a location on a map the old fashioned way especially under stress when your technology is not available can be a real challenge. Knowing a variety of ways to accomplish any task is useful in almost every aspect of life!

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