Hotspots Near You

166. Mount Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona

The highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains is where to see Arizona's specialty warblers, including Grace's, Red-faced, and Olive.
By Erin Olmstead | Published: 6/21/2013

My favorite birding location in southeastern Arizona is 9,157-foot Mount Lemmon, the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

A daytrip to the summit up the 27-mile Catalina Hwy. is like traveling from Mexico to Canada. The road leads from lush Sonoran desert at the base to cool, shady Rocky Mountain forest near the top.

My typical route includes half a dozen stops, including the Molino Basin campground at mile 5.5, a great spot for Hooded and Scott’s Orioles. At Bear Canyon, at mile 9.9, look for Arizona and Acorn Woodpeckers and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Last spring, at an ephemeral pool not far up the trail from the General Hitchcock campground (mile 11.7), I spent more than an hour watching a group of confiding warblers and flycatchers as they bathed and foraged in and around a remnant puddle in the streambed. Another memorable encounter occurred along the same stretch of trail one evening when a pair of Flammulated Owls tooted in the darkness. At most campgrounds and trails from around Bear Canyon to the summit, look and listen for Red-faced, Grace’s, and Olive Warblers and Painted Redstart. — Erin Olmstead

Erin Olmstead is the development manager for Tucson Audubon Society and the coordinator of the Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival (August 14-18, 2013).

166. Mount Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona

Directions

Mount Lemmon stands within Coronado National Forest northeast of Tucson. From eastbound I-10, take exit 256 onto W. Grant Rd. and go east to E. Tanque Verde Rd. Turn left, drive 3.25 miles, and turn left onto E. Catalina Hwy., which leads to the forest and climbs to the top of Mount Lemmon.

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At a Glance

Click on coordinates below to view map:
32°26’30.86″N 110°45’34.11″W

Habitat

Sonoran desert at the base; desert grasslands, oak-juniper woodlands, and conifer forest as elevation increases.

Terrain

Paved two-lane scenic byway with many turnouts suitable for most vehicles. Some graded dirt roads (high clearance not necessary). Mountain trails vary in steepness and length.

Birds

Year-round: Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Gilded Flicker, Mexican and Steller’s Jays, Yellow-eyed Junco, Arizona Woodpecker, Common Raven, Olive Warbler, White-throated Swift, Canyon Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Western Bluebird. Spring/summer: Flammulated Owl, Zone-tailed Hawk, Costa’s Hummingbird, Painted Redstart, Red-faced, Black-throated Gray, and Grace’s Warblers, Greater Pewee, Dusky-capped and Cordilleran Flycatchers, Plumbeous Vireo, Scott’s Oriole, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Red Crossbill (possible), Northern Pygmy-Owl (uncommon), Short-tailed Hawk (rare).

When to go

Spring and summer.

Amenities

General store and a few restaurants in the mountain village of Summerhaven. Restrooms available at many campgrounds, picnic areas, and trailheads.

Access

National forest. Day use pass required in some areas; for fee info, call Santa Catalina Ranger District, (520) 749-8700.

Tips

Picnic areas and campgrounds can be crowded on warm weekends; birding on weekdays is better. Dress in layers; temperatures near the summit can be 30 degrees cooler than at lower elevations. A good plan is to bird low elevations in the morning and head up the mountain as the day warms.

For more info

Coronado National Forest

Tucson Audubon Society, (520) 629-0510.

Sites nearby

Agua Caliente Park
12325 E. Roger Rd., Tucson. Natural spring and pond, mesquite bosque, and mature palms. Desert birds and riparian species. Go early. Birdwalks Thursday mornings; check times.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
Within Coronado National Forest at Sunrise Dr. and Sabino Canyon Rd. in Tucson. Hotspot Near You No. 34. Elf Owl, Bell’s Vireo, Lucy’s Warbler, Hooded Oriole.

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