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Name: Wilderness of Rocks Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Difficult). Due to elevation gain. The Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail drops steeply to meet the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. The Wilderness of Rocks Trail gains and loses some elevation, but is mostly flat. The Lemmon Trail climbs sharply back to the Mount Lemmon summit. Almost all of the elevation gain comes in the last few miles (after you’re already tired), so know your limitations to avoid getting in over your head
Time: 4 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: Approximately 7 miles (loop with short excursions) Elevation gain/loss/change: +2100 / -2100 ft / +0 ft (loop)
Type: Loop Avg Elevation: 8000 ft
Best time to go: fall, summer, spring Fees: Requires pass to Mt. Lemmon.
Fitness rating: Medium-High Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: May, 2009
Short Description: A great hike that's close to Tucson, offers great scenery and the elevation provides some relief from the summer heat
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Tucson Top; A Rocky Start
References / Contact Information: Coronado National Forest hiking trails web page; Mt Lemmon Prison Camp; Catalina Hwy
Points of interest: Lemmon Rock Lookout (inhabited by fire spotters during the summer months), great views of the Tucson valley and surrounding mountains, interesting rock formations. The nearby village of Summerhaven is worth a visit. There are a few gift shops and restaurants. It is interesting to see how the town is recovering from the Aspen Fire
Special Considerations: Despite its elevation, this trail can be hot so bring plenty of water. There is usually water along the trail, so as an alternative to carrying lots of water it may be possible to treat water from the stream. Weather conditions near the summit change quickly during the monsoon season. Powerful storms build quickly, sometimes as early as noon. Some areas of the trail were burned by the Aspen Fire a few years ago. There are places where the trail is blocked by charred tree trunks that have fallen across it. According to signs posted by the Forest Service, dangers in the burned area include falling rocks and trees as well as flash flooding
How to get there: From east Tanque Verde Road in Tucson, turn left onto the Catalina Highway. The Catalina Highway leads into the village of Summerhaven near the top of the Catalina Mountains. Shortly after passing the turnoff for the Mount Lemmon Fire Station on the right and just before reaching Summerhaven, follow the signs for Ski Valley and turn right onto Ski Run Road. Follow the road through the parking lot for Ski Valley and go through an open gate (the gate is closed and locked during the winter months). Follow the bumpy paved road beyond the gate to its end on the Mount Lemmon Summit. There is a large parking area with restroom facilities. The trail departs from the west side of the parking area. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

There are actually many different ways to hike the Wilderness of Rocks area because the extensive trail network in the Catalinas provides multiple points of access and numerous possibilities for out-and-back and loop hikes. I usually start at the parking area on the summit of Mount Lemmon and make a loop through the heart of the Wilderness of Rocks by combining the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail and the Lemmon Trail.

General Information and History

Most likely you will be coming up what everyone knows as Catalina Highway, but an interesting fact is that's not its official name. Officially, the road's name is designated the General Hitchcock Highway in honor of Postmaster General Frank Harris Hitchcock. He was responsible for bringing together all the elements necessary to construct this popular access route into the Santa Catalina Mountains. Work on the roadway began in 1933 and was completed 17 years later in 1950. Much of the labor was supplied by workers from federal prison laborers who stayed at a camp along the road.

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The Trail

The hike starts at approximately 9100 feet elevation at the parking area on the Mount Lemmon summit (WPT001). The trail leads along a chain link fence and then joins and follows an old dirt access road for the power line serving Mount Lemmon and the village of Summerhaven. Almost immediately after joining the access road (the access road is closed to the public and is blocked by a locked gate), there is a trail junction on the right (WPT002). Stay on the access road. The trail on the right is the Meadow Trail. On the return portion of the loop, it is possible to hike the slightly longer Meadow Trail rather than following the access road. If you choose to hike the Meadow Trail on the way back, this is where you will come out. Past the Meadow Trail junction, the access road drops steeply for approximately 0.4 miles before reaching another junction (WPT003).

At the junction, turn left onto another road. The road you are now hiking on is a spur road that leads to Lemmon Rock Lookout. The main access road continues to the west. Unless you choose to take the Meadow Trail alternate, you will complete the loop by returning to this point. After hiking a couple hundred yards you will come to the Lemmon Rock Lookout trail junction on the right (WPT004). Ahead of you, you will see Lemmon Rock Lookout – a small wooden shack perched on an outcrop of rock known as – you guessed it - Lemmon Rock. In the summer, the Lookout is inhabited by fire-spotters. You can continue to the Lookout – the public is welcome (the Lookout is closed during certain hours which are posted near the stairs to the Lookout). If you proceed to the Lookout, return to WPT004 and turn left.

To reach the Wilderness of Rocks, follow the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail for 2.0 miles. The canyon you see in front of you as you descend is the Wilderness of Rocks area. There are also great views of eastern Tucson and the Rincon and Santa Rita Mountains. Along the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail you will cross a creek which almost always has running water. When you reach the junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail (WPT005), look up almost due north and you will see Lemmon Rock. If you look closely, you will see Lemmon Rock Lookout, which looks quite small after your steep descent of almost 1200 feet.

At the junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail, turn right. You will pass through a heavily wooded area with numerous ferns and you will again cross a creek. The Wilderness of Rocks Trail crosses this same creek numerous times. You will start noticing the large rock formations for which the Wilderness of Rocks is named. After a 0.75 mile or so, you will enter the heart of the Wilderness of Rocks. There are numerous large rock formations and spires in every direction. After about a mile, the trail reaches the low point of the hike at just under 7000 feet in elevation before climbing a short distance to intersect with the Lemmon Trail at an elevation of just over 7200 feet at a small saddle (WPT007). From this point, you can see Northwest Tucson and Oro Valley.

Turn right onto the Lemmon Trail and begin climbing up the ridge line. As you climb, turn and look back periodically for great views of Cathedral Rock. After approximately 2.4 miles on the Lemmon Trail, you will reach the intersection with the Sutherland Trail on the left (WPT008). From this point, the Lemmon Trail follows an old access road (the access road you were on earlier) for the rest of its length.

After hiking 0.7 miles on the access road look for the junction with the Meadow Trail on the left (WPT009). You can follow the Meadow Trail rather than hiking on the access road (the distance is approximately the same). The Meadow Trail leads through pine forest before opening up into the namesake meadow area. The last portion of the Meadow Trail follows along a chain link fence outside of a military facility before rejoining the access road just before the parking area. Although I did not hike the Meadow Trail on this particular trip, it is very worthwhile and I highly recommend it. The Aspen Fire burned most of the trees along the access road (opening up great views), but left the Meadow Trail mostly unscathed.

Have fun and be safe!

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