Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

#2 in Best Things To Do in Tucson
Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway picture1 of 3
Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway2 of 3
Courtesy Visit Tucson

Details

Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
4.5scorecard
  • 4.5Value
  • 2.5Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

Regarded as one of the most scenic drives in southeast Arizona, the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway takes travelers to the upper reaches of Mount Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Range. Aside from the arresting canyon and mountain views, the nearly 60-mile round-trip byway offers visitors the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada (the road begins in the lower Sonoran vegetative life zone and ascends to the high forests in the Canadian zone).

Recent visitors highly recommended making the drive, which many described as "spectacular" and a "must-do" when in Tucson. Along with the stunning vantage point, the ride up also provides a reprieve from the desert heat; travelers said the temperature drops as you climb higher along the byway. Take advantage of the scenic overlooks and rest areas by bringing along a picnic  another recommendation from past visitors.

The road is drivable year-round, but winter weather may cause restrictions. To reach the byway, take Tanque Verde Road east from Tucson to the Catalina Highway, which becomes Hitchcock Highway at the Forest Service boundary. From there, the highway leads to the top of Mount Lemmon. If you'd like to hike any part of your journey, you can find several trail options on the U.S. Forest Service website. You'll have to pay $5 per vehicle. Mount Lemmon is situated about 40 miles northeast of downtown Tucson and makes for a great daytrip, according to visitors.

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Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum1 of 13
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Type
Time to Spend
#1 Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Although it's called a museum, this facility – about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson – is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you'll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's 98 acres host 230 animal species  including prairie dogs, coyotes and a mountain lion  and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum's trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life. And if you feel hungry after your leisurely hike, you can enjoy a meal at one of the museum's four eateries, all of which have great views of the surrounding desert.

Recent visitors enjoyed their time at the museum and highly recommended future travelers set aside a few hours to explore the attraction's grounds and educational exhibits. Just make sure you come prepared: wear appropriate walking shoes, sun protection and sunscreen (though, if you forget your sunscreen, there are dispensers in the on-site bathrooms). Reviewers also advised stopping by in the morning or near closing as that's when the animals are most active. Aside from the flora and fauna, visitors also praised the knowledgeable docents.

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Jerry Rosen/Courtesy Visit Tucson
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