|Name: Oracle (Mt Lemmon) Control Rd||Author's Rating:|
|Author: Matt Marine||Avg. User Rating: (based on one user vote)|
|Type: 4WD||Difficulty: (Semi-maintained dirt road)|
|Time: 2 - 3 hours||Region: SE Arizona|
|Length: 25 miles (one easy)||Elevation gain/loss/change: +1818 / -5307 ft / 3489 ft (one way)|
|Type: Through trail||Avg Elevation: 5500 ft|
|Best time to go: fall, spring, summer||Fees: NA|
|Fitness rating: Low||Educational Merit: Low|
|Danger/fear rating: Low||Scenic Beauty: Medium|
|Hours of Operation: FS closes the top portion of the trail in the winter||Last updated: July, 2012|
|Short Description: An easy mostly graded dirt road up the "backside" of Mt. Lemmon|
|Geocaches: Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Dan Saddle; Catalina Camp; Cache N' Cave;|
|References / Contact Information: Backcountry Adventures: Arizona, page 541; US Forest Service;|
|Points of interest: Mt. Lemmon, Ski Valley, summer camping and hiking, access to Rice Peak, Apache Camp, American Flag and Peppersauce Cave and campground|
|Special Considerations: Road usually in good condition, easily negotiated with high-clearance 2WD vehicle. The Forest Service closes the top portion of the road in the winter (usually based on snow fall). Call the Forest Service prior to trips up during the winter to see if the road is open. The top portion of the road can get muddy. No Mt. Lemmon pass required for this trail, although if you stop at some places along the Mt. Lemmon highway, you may need a pass.Click here for more information.|
|How to get there: Head up Mt. Lemmon Hwy (Catalina Hwy) from Tucson approximately 25 miles until you see the Control Road on the right (almost to the top of the mountain). Click here for directions. You can also start from the bottom of the mountain and drive up (click here for directions to get you the start of Rice Peak Loop which is on the Control Road).|
The "backside" of Mt. Lemmon (or more properly known as the Oracle Control Road) is a more adventurous option of heading up (or down) from one of southern Arizona's Sky Islands. Mt. Lemmon is a very popular destination for those wanting a respite from the summer heat or to play in the snow in the winter.
If you're looking for pure scenic value, the normal paved access (Mt. Lemmon Highway) offers better views and is more interesting, than the Control Road. But if you want a change of pace, a little more adventure or access to some additional 4WD and hiking trails, this may be something you want to try.
You will also see some pictures in the gallery that I don't reference GPS coordinates or directions (the pump house and shed with core samples). These places are not directly along the road and you must hike a short distance to them. I am going to leave it up to you to discover and explore these places.
Mt. Lemmon has lots to offer:
- Ski Valley (winter skiing and summer chair lift rides)
- Summerhaven (a very small town with some restaurants and outdoor events in the summer)
- Windy Point (rock climbing and great views)
- Camping and fishing at Rose Canyon Lake
- TONS of hiking trails
The Oracle Control Road (the backside of Mt. Lemmon on the northern side of the Catalina Mountains) was actually the first way people went up to Summerhaven and the top of Mt. Lemmon (by four wheels - foot and hoof travel was done by a different route). The name Summerhaven was coined by Fred Kimball from the Arizona Star who stated how many people enjoyed the respite from the summer heat on the mountain.
The original route up the northern approach was difficult, narrow and twisty. Many portions of the route were only one lane wide and the switchbacks had to be negotiated with care.
The trip to the top became very popular in the 1920s and traffic jams persisted. The solution was to limit the traffic up and down the mountain to certain periods of time. A wooden arch near the bottom (by Oracle) of the road was erected and traffic was only allowed in one direction for a number of hours, then reversed. Hence, came the name: the Oracle Control Road.
I started this trail from the top of Mt. Lemmon and went down to Oracle, which is what I do in the summer (in the winter, I usually head up from Oracle and take it as far as I can). The trail is easy to follow (staying on the main road will get you through).
Waypoint 001 is at the intersection of Mt. Lemmon Highway and the Control Road. Turn on the Control Road and immediately begin descending down through the thick pine forest.
The first portion of the road is my favorite. Tight switchbacks (for an easy dirt road) and nice rock features are abundant. There are a few camping spots along each side of the road (these fill up very quickly on weekends in the summer). To quickly, the road descends out of the pine forests and into scrub pines.
At Waypoint 002, keep heading downhill on the main road as you pass the 4WD road on the left (I don't believe this goes anywhere of significance or length).
Waypoint 003 is the turn off to Apache Camp. Keep going to stay on the Control Road. You can either hike or 4WD down to Apache Camp (only about 1/3 of a mile, but it can be a challenging trail - adventure coming soon).
Soon you will be out of the scrub pines and in the high desert, with wide open views to the north and east. Don't bother turning left at Waypoint 004, this is a private road to a fairly large and currently operated mining complex.
From here on out, there's lots of smaller roads in either direction branching off the main road. Keep on the main road at Waypoint 005A (the upper access to Rice Peak Loop). At Waypoint 005B, you'll see a parking area on the right for Peppersauce Cave.
Waypoint 006 has a few different options. A left turn (to the west is the Rice Peak and Rice Peak Loop adventure) while a right turn takes you to Peppersauce Campground. This is a great little campground and the first portion of Rice Peak has some nice, shaded spots for a summer picnic.
Keep straight to stay on the Control Road at Waypoints 007, 008 and 009 (trails leading off to the west). Campo Bonito Rd which leads to the Oracle Ridge trail heads off to the west at Waypoint 010.
The new detour around American Flag and where it connects to the Control Road are at Waypoints 011 and 012. The short dead-end road to American Flag is between these two waypoints and is not signed at this time.
Waypoint 013 is where the dirt road ends and the pavement starts.
Be safe and have fun!
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