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Name: Lemmon Rock Lookout #12 Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Learner due to the dangerous area at the fire lookout); (Novice if you look just at length and difficulty)
Time: 1 - 2 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 1.4 miles (out and back, doesn't include optional Meadow Loop Trail) Elevation gain/loss/change: +46 / -381 / +0 (out and back)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 8900 ft
Best time to go: summer, fall, spring Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium (mostly due to elevation) Educational Merit: Medium
Danger/fear rating: High Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: Fire Lookout only open during certain hours, trail may be closed in winter Last updated: July, 2013
Short Description: A short, but awesome trail to the forest's oldest fire lookout still in use
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Hammerhead; Tucson Top; Meadow Trail
References / Contact Information: Lemmon Rock Trail #12 (Coronado National Forest); Hike Arizona; Summit Hut; KVOA
Points of interest: Lemmon Rock Fire Lookout; walk in tall pines; incredible views; lots of green, non-prickly plants
Special Considerations: Although the trail is short, the higher elevation can make this difficult for those not used to it. For those afraid of heights, climbing out on Lemmon Rock can be challenging (this is not required for the hike). 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 Lemmon Rock Lookout trail is a short hike along the top of Mt. Lemmon leading to an old forest service fire lookout. This is one of my favorite trails on Mt. Lemmon. The views are spectacular. You can sit out on a rock outcropping, look out over Tucson and watch the ravens soar in the breeze. Wow.

The trail itself is wide and easy to follow (it travels along an old 4WD road) and can be hiked by people of all ages. My oldest daughter did this hike when she was four years old with her grandmother. And it's not just about the lookout. The trail takes you through some beautiful wooded forest, thick with ferns and other green leafy, non-prickly things that those of us who live in the desert need to see every once in a while.

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

You can also include the Meadow Loop trail for a little more mileage and a lot more greenery. 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.

Google Maps and Google Earth

GPS tracks for this adventure were recorded with My Tracks software on my Android cell phone. This is an awesome piece of free software that allows you to record GPS tracks, waypoints and historical data. It will tell you things like elevation gain, time history, average speed, etc. It will also let you take a tour (similar to playing a time accurate movie) of your track on Google Earth. You can send your tracks to friends or upload them to Google.

Google Maps
Click here to view this adventure's track on Google Maps. The Lemmon Rock trail can be viewed here.

Google Earth
You can also download a Google Earth movie (called a tour) of this adventure (must have Google Earth on your computer). Right click here to download the .kml file to the lookout (here for the Lemmon Rock trail), then select "save target (or link) as..." For help on how to play the movie on Google Earth (not very intuitive), click here.

General Information and History

Lemmon Rock is not only an beautiful place for nature lovers to enjoy the view, it's also a great place to be on the lookout for fires. The rock outcropping has been in use by the forest service in this capacity since 1902. The current building was constructed in 1928 and is the oldest fire lookout in use. The previous structure, built in about 1915, was a wooden tower with just a platform at the top. The fire lookout is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.    

Meadow Loop Cold War Radar Site
Click here to find out information on the an old USAF radar site that was operated during the Cold War which can be accessed by the Meadow Loop trail.

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The 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. Don't worry, you're on the track and after you make the sharp corner, it will head away from the fenced area.

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. Stay left of the main trail, but keep this point in mind for an option on your return trip.

Now the trail begins to descend down the mountain on an old 4WD road. It follows this road the rest of the way to the lookout. It's wide, easy and well marked, though the baseball sized rocks scattered along the road can twist an ankle fairly quickly.

Keep heading down the hill. Shortly (0.25 miles from the start), you'll bear right on the main trail at Waypoint 003 (there's a sign keeping you on track at this point). When we hiked this portion of the trail, there was water flowing down the road from an earlier monsoon rain. Very nice.

This next section of the trail is perhaps my favorite of the walk. After the summer rains, there's green galore: trees, bushes and ferns. If you visit at the right time, you'll see a small stream flow by the trail.

At Waypoint 004, take a sharp left at the switchback to go to the lookout (trail #12). The path straight ahead continues the Lemmon Rock trail #5. Keep walking down the wide path as it gradually descends downward. After a very short time, you'll come to Waypoint 005, which also happens to intersect the Lemmon Rock trail (#5). How is this possible?

Good question. From here, the Lemmon Rock trail is a ~8 mile loop that takes you way down the mountain to the Wilderness of Rocks trail, then back up to the first intersection of the trail at Waypoint 004. I did this hike back in the late 1980s with a friend. We vastly underestimated the magnitude of the hike. We ran out of water and I pulled my groin muscle about 2/3 of the way through. I had to stop to rest after every 100 yards. I think it was the horse flies that kept me alive. If I stopped too long, they would swarm in and eat me alive. They were only on the last part of the trail and I haven't seen them like this since. Divine intervention? Maybe. If it had been a mile longer, I don't think I could have made it. From that day, I've called that hike the "Hike from Hell", though I'm sure it's an awesome trail for those better prepared.

It's along this portion of the trail that you may find some wild raspberries if you hit the season right and are keeping a close watch to the foliage next to the trail.

Back to Lemmon Rock Lookout. You're almost there and you can see the lookout from Waypoint 005. Another tenth of a mile and you're there (Waypoint 006). You'll see old foundations on your left above six feet above the trail. Head through the gate and up the steep and narrow stairs on your right.

The views from here are just awesome. During this trip, there was someone in the cabin, but I don't think it's manned all year long. If you're daring enough, I believe you may still be able to climb around the left of the cabin to get to the edge of the rock face. We did this back in the 80's and 90's and can be very scary and dangerous. I would check with the ranger on duty if it's still allowed.

There's also a very narrow stairway leading to a big drop off on your left as you're climbing the stairs up to the cabin (just before a short stone "bridge" with a one-sided railing).

If you're lucky enough to get a friendly ranger, they may let you take a look inside the cabin. About 15 years ago, we had the pleasure of meeting one who took about 30 minutes to tell us all about what he did and some of the equipment he used. It was very interesting!

Once you're done enjoying the views, head back down the steps back the way you came. If you want, you can make another nice little loop around the Meadow Loop trail to make your return trip more interesting (green trail on map).

To do this, take a left at Waypoint 004 onto the Lemmon Rock trail (#5) and head west. You will pass another metal shed at Quartzite Spring and after about 0.4 miles from Waypoint 004, you'll intersect the Meadow Loop trail again (Waypoint 007). Take a hard right here. This will take you back to Waypoint 002. Hike along this trail until you reach Waypoint 002, then follow the original trail back to the parking area.

If you decide to take this trail, you can also go to where we viewed the sunset (Waypoint 008). Walk about another 0.3 miles past Waypoint 007, though the dense green forest (which was awesome) and then head up the small rock hill on your left. This was another spot with incredible views.

Whether you decide to take this optional loop or head back the way you hiked in, I am sure the trail is now a favorite of your like it is mine.

Have fun and be safe!

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