Tucson, AZ

Skip The Heat And Head For Sky Island

The Savvy Reeder

Nick Vincent IV for Getty Images Pro

While the heat is searing here in the city, there's a beautiful place to get up and away from it all. Head up the road on the Catalina Highway and hit the road towards the top of Mount Lemmon. Plan on making it an all-day trip because you're going to want to stop and view every gorgeous vista on every twist and turn.

The U.S. Forest Service refers to the mountain peaks in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico as the Sky Islands. These mountain ranges, including the Catalina Mountains here in Tucson, ascend above the desert upwards of six to eight thousand feet above sea level. Essentially this makes the mountain peaks islands of timber in a sea of desert. The steep increase in altitude means you can see a variety of animals and plants throughout your ascent to the peaks.

We're lucky enough to enjoy the Catalina Mountains, with Mount Lemmon as our pinnacle peak to visit for those in town. As you begin your trip fill up at one of the gas stations on the way, as there are none at the top or along the highway. Your tank will need to get you up and back. Stock up on snacks while you're at it.

As the drive begins to climb up from the valley floor, you are surrounded by a sea of saguaros. The sheer number of majestic saguaro cactus' will astound you. It's one of my favorite parts of the whole drive. As you ascend higher, you'll begin to see pullouts, where you can pull over and take in the ever-expanding vistas. Eventually, you'll reach the timberline where the cactus and palm plants give way to pine and aspen. Roll your windows down and you'll take in the smell of fresh timber.

Throughout the 27-mile drive to the top of the mountain, you'll gain more than 6000 feet in elevation and you can watch the temperature gauge drop nearly 20 to 30 degrees from the valley floor. While Tucson may be sitting at 105, you may find temperatures at the top to sit around 70 or 80 at the most.

CactusCris for Getty Images

Beyond driving, there are hundreds of trails you can hike, with all levels of ability available throughout the drive. Bring plenty of water, sturdy shoes, and your camera, as you're going to see gorgeous vistas, interesting wildlife, and stunning flora and fauna. There are hikes that are dog-friendly as well. I recently took my pups on the Marshall Gulch Trail, and the little stream that runs through it was calming and serene. It was such a great escape from the city.

Nick Vincent IV for Getty Images Pro

Once you reach Summerhaven, the quaint mountain town located at the summit of Mount Lemmon, you'll find plenty to eat after you work up your appetite. Hit the General Store for some locally harvested honey, homemade fudge, and snacks for the trip home. They have fun souvenirs as well to remind you of the town.

If you're looking for a snack to satisfy your sweet tooth, hit up the Cookie Cabin. They have a pet-friendly patio, giant cookies, ice cream, and pizza slices. If dinner is more your style, they have the Sawmill Run Restaurant. The Sawmill has burgers, sandwiches, and other traditional-style dishes for the whole family.

Nick Vincent IV for Getty Images Pro

If a day trip isn't enough for you, there is the Mount Lemmon Hotel, and other rental style cabins available. The hotel has cabins available for rent, with a few of the cabins listed as pet-friendly. We love bringing the dogs with us on our outings! Check out their website for current rates and availability.

The Sky Island above Tucson is truly a year-round getaway. Hike in cooler temperatures in the summer, ski during the winter, and enjoy the changing seasons throughout the year. It's a family-friendly, adventurous get-away from it all that is only a short drive away.

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Arizona-based lifestyle writer covering events, destinations, and more for the modern life.

Tucson, AZ

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