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Name: Meadow Loop Trail Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on one user vote)
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Novice)
Time: 1 - 2 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 1.8 miles around the loop (includes portion of Lemmon Rock Trail) Elevation gain/loss/change: +60 / -300 / +0 (loop)
Type: Loop Avg Elevation: 8900 ft
Best time to go: summer, fall, spring Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium (mostly due to elevation) Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: Trail may be closed in winter Last updated: July, 2013
Short Description: An easy loop at the top of Mt. Lemmon through some extremely beautiful Sky Island forest
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Hammerhead; Tucson Top; Meadow Trail
References / Contact Information: Sky Center; Lemmon Rock Trail #12 (Coronado National Forest); Hike Arizona; Summit Hut; KVOA
Points of interest: Beautiful hike through tall pines; wonderful green meadows, views of Tucson
Special Considerations: Although the trail is short, the higher elevation can make this difficult for those not used to it. Although large, parking area can fill up quickly on weekends in the summer
How to get there: Take Catalina Highway up Mt. Lemmon all the way to the top. When you reach the intersection just before Summerhaven, turn right to go to Ski Valley. Continue past Ski Valley to the end of the road. Just before the gate that closes the road at the observatory, turn left into the gravel parking area at Waypoint 001. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

The Meadow Loop trail is a fairly easy, but extremely beautiful trail at the very top of one of southern Arizona's Sky Islands. You start the trail at the Mt. Lemmon Observatory run by the University of Arizona. The first section runs parallel to some of the buildings and equipment yards. Don't worry, you'll be looking at the scenery on the south side of the trail and probably won't give it much thought (unless you're interested in that stuff).

At first, you will walk along green meadows and open pine forests. A small portion of the trail was burned in the Aspen fire in 2003, but again, it doesn't detract from the overall experience much.

One of my favorite portions of the trail was the descent down to the Lemmon Rock trail. In this area, the trail becomes narrow and the forest dense. I felt as though I was in a different state or maybe country.

The loop takes you back along the Lemmon Rock Trail and you can also visit what I call Sunset Point if you want to add another 0.6 miles onto your hike.

A wonderful time of year to experience this trail is during the monsoons.

If you hit the trail at the right time of the year, plump wild raspberries can be found at points along the trail. I've also seen people hunting mushrooms (the kind you eat :-) along this trail.

You can also include the Meadow Loop trail for a little more mileage and a lot more greenery. And for those who want more of a challenge, you can take the Lemmon Rock trail down below the lookout for as far as you want. It's a 2000 foot drop in about 2 miles that will get your heart racing. Finally, the parking area is large, though it fills up quickly on summer weekends. It has bathrooms and a couple of benches, but no picnic tables.

General Information and History

University of Arizona SkyCenter
The Meadow Loop trail takes you next to the University of Arizona SkyCenter. Since 1970, the Steward observatory has operated astronomy facilities here (and on Mt Bigelow nearby). A 61-inch telescope was built on Mt. Bigelow to help survey the moon for the upcoming NASA lunar missions. Currently there are a wide variety of telescopes on Mt. Lemmon and Mt. Bigelow including infrared telescopes that help detect over 1,000 asteroids a night. It is the second largest of its kind in use by the United States.    

Since 2008, the SkyCenter has been offering a wide variety of educational programs including a public evening observing program, summer Sky Island programs, workshops, camps, remote observing, and special educational events.

Cold War Radar Station
The current tranquil observation stations at the top of Mt. Lemmon was not always the case. Between the years of 1956 and 1969, the pine covered peaks were home to a Radar early warning system.

A large radar facility here was operated by the US Air Force as part of 200 sites along our borders to scan the skies for incoming enemy missiles and planes coming down the Pacific coast and north from Mexico.

The facility on Mt. Lemmon consisted of three high-power, long-range radar sets that were used as “the world’s highest continuously operated radar station" at the time. Unknown to most people, even those in Tucson at the time, "the 20-acre site hosted barracks, a dining hall, library, hobby shop, small gym, weight-lifting room and a two-lane bowling alley with automatic pinsetters".

About 80 people lived and worked at the site. It was closed during the Vietnam War due to budget constraints. Not much of the original site is left today.

Click here for a short pdf file history (with some cool pictures)

Aspen Fire
A portion of this trail was damaged by the Aspen fire. The Aspen fire began on June 17, 2003 and burned for about a month in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The fire destroyed over 80,000 acres of beautiful wilderness, and over 340 homes and businesses around Summerhaven (a large portion of this small community)

Lemmon Rock Lookout
Click here to find out information on the oldest fire lookout used by the Forest Service today which can be accessed by the Lemmon Rock Lookout trail.

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The Trail

Note: You will follow the GREEN and portions of the RED trail on the map. Until you get to Waypoint 002, the trail follows the Lemmon Rock trail: From the large gravel parking lot, head west along the Lemmon Rock Trail #5. There is an informational sign at the start of the trail that shows many of the trails in the area.

After you pass the sign, you may not think you're on the right trail. It will take you right next to a tall chain link fence surrounding a metal shed and electrical equipment. Don't worry, you're on the track and after you make the sharp corner, it will head away from the fence.

The trail makes a gradual climb as it follows the road (from a distance) for a short while. You'll be walking among tall pines. If you're a desert rat, enjoy the shade and pine smell. After 0.1 miles, you'll come to Waypoint 002 and the intersection of the Lemmon Rock and Meadow Loop trails.

Keep right on the Meadow Loop trail (green track on map). The first portion of the trail takes you next to some of the buildings and equipment for the observatory. There are some nice open meadows along this section of the walk. After about 0.25 miles from Waypoint 002, you will pass the large radio tower on your right. Keep on the main path.

Over the next 0.25 miles you will alternate walking through small meadows and beautiful open pine forest. After you make it past the small knoll, you will begin your descent in earnest. The trail becomes narrow as it winds its way through a much thicker forest here. The route does a few switchbacks and I enjoyed stepping over the roots and rocks in the shadows.

Make sure you look out for a HUGE tree that we called "The Mother" after the second switchback (about 0.1 miles from Waypoint 007). The trail intersects the much wider Lemmon Rock trail at Waypoint 007.

You can take a right and continue down the Lemmon Rock Trail to Sunset Point (or farther if you desire) or you can take a left to head back to the parking lot (or to Lemmon Rock Lookout).

If you take a left, walk about 0.4 miles along the wide side hill with nice views to the south, passing Quartzite Spring with the fenced in metal building on your left. When you reach Waypoint 004, take another left to return to the parking area or right for Lemmon Rock Lookout.

It's another 0.35 miles up the mountain (this is the most difficult section of the trail) to get you back to Waypoint 002, then another 0.1 miles until you're back to the parking area.

Sunset Point
If you decide to head out to Sunset Point, head west from Waypoint 007 for about 0.3 miles (making sure you look for the wild raspberries as you walk through the most dense portion of the forest on this leg. When you get close to Waypoint 008, head up the small rock hill on your left. This is an awesome area to view the sunset and where all the sunset pictures were taken. "Sunset Point" is not an official name for this area, it's just what I call it from my travels there.

Ridin' the Rock Bull
You will also see the "Rock Bull" here. Caution: I wouldn't recommend riding the bull as you see me doing in the pictures. Although the rock is large and would appear stable, when I put all my weight on the end of it as you see in the pictures, I felt it MOVE. Scary. My sister thought I was imagining things (and to tell you the truth, I did too), then she got out of the tip and I tried to sit behind her and she screamed, "It moved!" and we jumped off. Just like a real rodeo, ride the bull at your own risk!

And if you do decide to watch the sunset here, make sure you bring some flashlights for the walk out. Depending on how fast you leave after the sunset and how fast you walk, you may need them on the way out. We did on the second trip.

Whatever you decide to to, have fun and be safe!

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