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Mount Lemmon (Catalina Highway)

Arizona > Southern Arizona > Mt Lemmon (Santa Cata…


The Catalina Highway (officially the General Hitchcock Highway though nobody uses that name) climbs more than 5,300 feet and passes through five of North America's seven distinct life zones. As the road starts in the Lower Sonoran Desert and climbs to alpine forests, it offers the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada in a stretch of only 27 miles!

The vast majority of climbing areas in the Santa Catalina Mountains are accessed via this highway. Mount Lemmon provides an equal amount of diverse rock climbing, from classic multi-pitch traditional routes to bolted sport climbs. Crags are generously distributed in elevations and aspect, making it possible to comfortably climb year round.

As of 2012 there are no fees to climb due to a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Developed areas on the mountain, such as the summit parking lot, require payment. Read the nearby signage and purchase a Coronado National Forest pass if required. Both free, primitive and pay, developed camping can be found along the highway.

After winter storms the highway may close at the base while snow and debris is cleared. Vehicular and bicycle traffic can be heavy on weekends. The sub-areas of Mount Lemmon (Catalina Highway) are listed from lowest to highest elevation.

Getting There

The Catalina Highway is accessed via Tanque Verde Rd. on Tucson's east side. Any amenity you could possibly desire is available at the bottom of the highway, and some basic supplies can also be acquired at the general store in Summerhaven, a small mountain community at the highway's upper terminus. Allow about 45 minutes to an hour to drive the entire 27 mile stretch.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

[Hide Photo] Brains!
Golden light and storm clouds low on the hill, Mt. Lemmon Highway
[Hide Photo] Golden light and storm clouds low on the hill, Mt. Lemmon Highway taken at Jailhouse rock.<br>
[Hide Photo] taken at Jailhouse rock.
My thanks
[Hide Photo] My thanks
Mt. Lemmon Ice.  Jimbo on the thin stuff. Sorry we have been sworn to secrecy.  12/23/07
[Hide Photo] Mt. Lemmon Ice. Jimbo on the thin stuff. Sorry we have been sworn to secrecy. 12/23/07
Early March 2003.  Some short ice not far from Ski Valley, the mountain's ski resort.
[Hide Photo] Early March 2003. Some short ice not far from Ski Valley, the mountain's ski resort.
Starting the camo process.
[Hide Photo] Starting the camo process.
One of my favorite shots<br>
Ryan D on lead.
[Hide Photo] One of my favorite shots Ryan D on lead.
Mister T's Chosspile!
[Hide Photo] Mister T's Chosspile!
Endless Highway.
[Hide Photo] Endless Highway.
5.9 mixed route off of GH trail.
[Hide Photo] 5.9 mixed route off of GH trail.
Has anyone ever been to this crag before 2007?
[Hide Photo] Has anyone ever been to this crag before 2007?

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] Just wanted to give a warning about the new hazards of that fancy Windy Point road art! While a climbing partner and I were crossing the road we observed a Ford Ranger spinning out of control. It seemed really odd because it didn't appear it was caused by driver error. When we crossed the road we then relized how slick the wet road actually was ! My partner and I are going to contact the DOT. We felt the road is going to be causing some real problem's with Bicycles, Motorcycles etc. Also my new E- mail address is Jul 30, 2005
[Hide Comment] What is the best guide book for Mt. Lemmon? And how much did the fires alter routes and aproaches as listed in the guidebooks? Feb 19, 2006
[Hide Comment] The best guidebook by far is Steiger. This book was a labor of love and it shows. One of those books that I'll always treasure.

And I just found one on Amazon for $8.00 (mint condition!). Sorry - but I just bought it since the pages fell out of my old one.

Nothing really wrong with Squeezing the Lemon - all the newer sport routes are there.

I don't recommend Green's Rock Climbing Arizona book. It one of the Falcon "drive by" guidebooks that makes me sick. Buy a guidebook from a local, not some guy cherry-picking the work of others.
Feb 19, 2006
jbak .
[Hide Comment] The choice of guidebooks depends mostly on whether you plan on trad or sport. Squeezing The Lemmon is good for both but is getting to be out of date. Tyler's Sport Select is a bit less out of date but covers only sport and not all crags. Eric seems to be coming out with a Squeezing update sometime soon.

Steiger's guide is WAY out of date, but a nice historical document. The BEST guide is the old under-the-counter Summit Hut guide of which I have one of about 10 copies. Feb 20, 2006
[Hide Comment] While Steiger's guide is great from a historical perspective, the new Squeezing the Lemmon II is the the most current and comprehensive guide
available. Feb 24, 2006
1Eric Rhicard
[Hide Comment] The "Sport Guide" that is mentioned by the venerable jbak is no longer in print. Squeezing the Lemmon II will tell you where the sport routes are. Simply look at the description Jbak if you see [B,C] that means it is a sport route. As you say, Squeezing the Lemmon II is a little out of date,but only if you climb here all the time. There are more than enough great routes for the visitor or newly arrived. A few areas have a lot of new stuff. Troll Wall, Boot Hill, and The Chessmen. Sun Spot Crags in Molino (great for winter) and The Steep (great for summer) are not in SQ II but will be in the supplement. With luck I will get a supplement out before too long. There are 1500+ routes in SQ II. that should keep most folks busy for a while. If you drag out the hexes Jbak you might even find a route or two you have not done. In fact if you can show me that you have lead half of the 1500+ routes in SQ II I will give you a supplement for free. Feb 27, 2006
1Eric Rhicard
[Hide Comment] Sun Spot Crags, Mount Lemmon's newest area is located just north of Molino Campground and now has over 30 new routes from 5.7 to 5.12 with more to come. The climbs are both sport and trad and range in length from 30 to 100 feet. The approach is short 10 to 20 minutes depending on which crags you visit. You can climb here in the coldest of Tucson weather if the sun is out. If it isn't sunny bring a warm jacket and you can still climb. Mar 7, 2006
Timothy Roehr
[Hide Comment] Rappel Rock, Raven Rock, The Fortress, Branch-Out Crag and parts of Panarama Wall are closed from 15 March through 30 June. May 23, 2006
Joseph Stover
Batesville, AR
[Hide Comment] Just to reiterate in case anyone has any doubts: Watch out for snakes!(and other things that can be dangerous also)

About two weeks ago I was out at Hairpin looking at the new landscape. It was sundown, when activity is higher I think. I came pretty close to stepping on a rattlesnake on the left side(facing the road) on my way out towards the tunnels under the road(I never noticed those before). It was about 3 feet long and about a 1.5 inch diameter, I think it was a female because it was really fat and tapered off quickly near the rattle, which someone told me is a charictaristic of females. It was curled up and immediately rattled, uncurled, and slithered off to the left once I hopped down a big boulder about 8 feet away from it and quickly became aware of it due to the rattle. Had it been curled within 2 feet of the base of the boulder, I would have been in high danger of being bitten. So watch out! Aug 28, 2006
1Eric Rhicard
[Hide Comment] Having hiked, hunted, and climbed here for 25 years I have seen dozens of rattlesnakes. I have seen them every month of the year, from elevations of 2000 feet to the top of Mt. Lemmon (Murray Wall). I have seen my dog walk right over them. I have seen Bob Kerry step next to them. I have seen Bob jump straight up in the air when one rattled and land right where he started thus giving the snake ample opportunity to strike. With hundreds of friends and acquaintances covering thousands of miles not one has ever been bitten. Not that it can't happen. The chances are miniscule. If you do get bit try not to panic and get to a hospital as soon as possible and you will live. Statistics show that the people that do get killed are between the ages of 18 and 24, male with tattoos, and they have been drinking. Good luck! Aug 29, 2006
Casa do Cacete
[Hide Comment] Definitely don't get that "Squeezing the Lemmon II" book...just kidding..stop by one of the Summit Huts on Speedway or Wetmore and pick up a copy..

Mt Lemmon is directly north of Tucson and accessed from the northeast side of the city..depending on what part of town you live would say anywhere from 10-30 minutes to get to the bottom of the highway.. Sep 14, 2006
[Hide Comment] "Squeezing The Lemmon II" can also be purchased at "Le Buzz Cafe" 9121 E. Tanque Verde Rd.. 749-3903 Sep 15, 2006
Casa do Cacete
[Hide Comment] U.S. judge upholds Mt. Lemmon user charges
By Josh Brodesky
arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 01.24.2007 Feb 5, 2007
susan peplow
Joshua Tree
[Hide Comment] Previous to Jan 07 you could also use the National Parks Golden Eagle pass which is now no longer available.

The new "America the Beautiful - the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass" which is the new interagency program pass which cost $80 will gain you access to all Federal Lands. One pass fits all.

Looking for more info....… Feb 5, 2007
Casa do Cacete
[Hide Comment] Mt. Lemmon is on the cover of "Rock & Ice" this month.

Nice pic of Eric Scully on Steve's Arete. Jul 11, 2007
[Hide Comment] Lemmon Heads Aug 17, 2010
Derek Anderson
Tucson, AZ
[Hide Comment] Lemmonhead indeed , nice video Caleb..... Bless the Catalinas, and Lemmon very humbled to be able to climb here..Thanks to all who have established the climbing here :) Its amazing! Apr 21, 2011
Casa do Cacete
[Hide Comment] Just would like to add, for trad climbing on Mt Lemmon..this is not the place to push your limit on lead for beginning trad climbers..

Polished, balancy moves with old-school ratings (ie compressed ie =sometimes 1970s ratings, ie sandbagged and watch the date on FAs) and possibly based on people who were experts at placing passive pro way back when...

Oct 27, 2011
[Hide Comment] Gotta agree with Christian. Generally speaking Mt. Lemmon has trickier pro than most places that I have climbed. Oct 27, 2011
tucson, az
[Hide Comment] Might be old news to some, but looks like no more parking passes needed for mt Lemmon.

"The fee was cancelled after a 9th U.S. Curcuit Court of Appeals ruled on February 9, 2012 that the Coronado National Forest fees violate federal law. The $5 daily, or $20 annual, fee was collected from all drivers who parked their cars on the road to Summerhaven. Residents and workers in Summerhaven were exempt from the fee.

The fee station, by Milepost 5, is no longer open while the Forest Service reevaluates its options. The lawsuit, filed by several Tucson residents, objected to the fees for Mt. Lemmon." May 22, 2012
jbak .
[Hide Comment] A shout out to Jeremy Parks... who after a shaky start, fought through to do his 1st-ever FA, an as-yet-unnamed, 2-star, 5.11+/5.12- at the Tusk. Way to go Remy ! Dec 8, 2012
[Hide Comment] Hey Mt. Lemmon climbers!
I'm headed to Lemmon/Cochise for the first week in March and am requesting some beta: I'm climbing with my girlfriend, who is most interested in 8-11, while I'd like to either get some mileage on a handful of 12s or work a good 13a or 13b. We will only climb at Lemmon for a couple days max. Does anyone have any good crag suggestions that also take Early March weather into consideration?

Thanks in advance! You can PM me or post on here .

Mike Feb 7, 2014
David Graham
[Hide Comment] I just spent a week here from March 7th thru the 14th and to all those looking to go here I'd say 2 things.

1) The weather here is perfect, Colder temps near the summit and hotter temps near base, you can choose whatever temp you like. go here if you get the chance.

2) I would not recommend purchasing the guidebook "squeezing the lemmon II". We bought it and ended up just using mountain project (which is unfortunate cause nothing's better than a good guidebook) so save yourself the $30. Mar 17, 2015
Vancouver, BC
[Hide Comment] Brand new guidebook is out!… Jul 18, 2015
Steven Groetken
Durango, CO
[Hide Comment] This would be a great climb to introduce someone to multipitch. Easy enough climbing, no hanging belays, generously bolted, walk off and fantastic summit views. (Warning: onsight spoilers below summit pic)

If you face climb the whole thing, maybe it is a 5.8, but the last cruxish move at the top contains a perfect fist jam. If you do that, it feels more in the territory of a 7. Almost all of the climbing is on low angle jugs, so a beginning follower will have a great time moving up this rather quickly. I haven't climbed in AZ for a while, so this was super fun getting back on some nice gneiss. Bring some slings since this does wander a bit. Nov 8, 2016
[Hide Comment] What do people think about removing the section of text on the SQL 2 updates now that the new guide is out? It just seems like a big block of text on an otherwise clean page. Feb 21, 2017
Littleton, CO
[Hide Comment] The outdated Squeezing The Lemmon 2 mile marker updates have been removed. Thanks for the suggestion.

In general Mountain Project is a living database. Incorrect and incomplete information can be corrected through the page improvement feature (preferred), reassignment, or comments. The more we put into it, the better it becomes. Feb 22, 2017
[Hide Comment] Does anyone know of free camping spots? Will be heading the Mt Lemmon for the first time in May and am starting to plan our trip. Thanks in advance! Feb 2, 2019
1Eric Rhicard
[Hide Comment] Incinerator Ridge, Whitetail Road to Mount Bigelow are good tin May as it allows you to stay cool. might be busy on the weekend but otherwise fine. Feb 3, 2019