We knew we wanted to check out Mount Lemmon’s top rated Marshall Gulch and Aspen Loop trail, but being that it is top rated it is also heavily trafficked. We have a big ole RV and there is limited parking at the trailheads. Finally, the perfect opportunity came! He had a weekday off of work, so we boondocked on Mount Lemmon the night before (you can dry camp free off of Bigelow Road!) and hit the trail early in the morning. It is always 20-30 degrees cooler on Mount Lemmon than in downtown Tucson, which made for a crisp fall hike.
To get there you drive straight through the town of Summerhaven. The road narrows and becomes a little windy, but about 1/2 mile past town it will dead end at the Marshall Gulch picnic area and trailhead. This is a fee area, so be sure to purchase a pass at the trailhead or display your America the Beautiful pass.
We started out on Marshall Gulch trail (to the right of the bathrooms) and then returned via Aspen Trail. There is poison ivy at the start of the trail. Don’t be like the lady that started before us and reach over to touch it and then ask what it is (I hope she’s not super allergic!). Leaves of three - let it be! Fuzzy vine - not a friend of mine!
The trail begins at 7,445 feet with a narrow climb and then follows a seasonal creek (which was flowing). There were a few creek crossings with a little bit of water, but nothing too deep or difficult for us to cross without getting wet. The trail climbs about 500 feet over 1.3 miles, but it was never too steep of a climb. Still, us lowlanders from Arkansas were not acclimated to the higher elevations and found ourselves a little out of breath on some of the climbs.
There are a lot of downed trees the kids can play on when you need a bit of a rest (or just need to bring some fun back into the hike).
We have been focusing on the Life Zones in our roadschooling journals and this hike is a perfect example for the Canadian zone (see Soldier Hike or Soldier Canyon for examples of the Lower and Upper Sonoran zones). We referenced our Arizona Field Guide several times and identified various oak, fir, and spruce trees. The leaves on the deciduous trees were turning and absolutely spectacular.
The kids were so excited that the glitter fairy visited the night before. Flakes of mica and quartz make the trail super sparkly.
While our girls liked looking down at the sparkles, this boy liked looking up. This hike is a bird watchers paradise.
Somewhere around the 1.3 mile mark (although my phone had us at 1.6 miles), you’ll come to an intersection of trails on Marshall Saddle. I was nervous that we may have missed the intersection, but it is pretty noticeable. At this point we took Aspen Trail to loop back to the parking lot.
The Aspen Trail portion of the trail is approximately 2.6 miles. You’ll continue to climb uphill for a ways, but like on Marshall Gulch, it is a slow and steady climb and nothing too difficult. The high point of the trail is just over 8,150 feet.
You’ll be able to notice the devastation from the 2003 Aspen Fire that burned more than 85,000 acres in 21 days.
The trails winds through young pine forests and areas that are dense with ferns and wildflowers.
We enjoyed the picturesque views of the surrounding mountains and Tucson as we hiked along the ridge.
From the ridge the trail is all downhill with quite a few switchbacks. The steep descent is likely why people recommended to us that we start on Marshall Gulch, which really did make for a fairly easy hike.
It was magical entering back into the land of deciduous trees and their brilliant fall colors. You don’t really see many Aspen trees until you are almost done with the trail, but boy are they beautiful. Shiny quartz and mica also glitter the trail once again. Magnificent!!!
This trail felt more like we were hiking in Colorado than Arizona, and I can see why it is the top rated trail in Tucson. It was definitely a favorite of ours and we would love to return here.
While on Mount Lemmon, be sure to explore Soldier Canyon. Visit our travel page for more fun adventures and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.
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