We had a free afternoon and decided we would explore Mount Lemmon. We researched it enough to know that our 35 foot RV was allowed on the roads, but other than that knew very little about the scenic drive and trails (other than we had to stop in Summerhaven for some fudge!). So we headed up the mountain very unprepared (F for planning!). DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES WE DID! There is no gas station on Mount Lemmon and a big RV uses a lot of gas climbing a mountain up to 9,000 feet (way more than we accounted for!). We did not run out of gas, but it is definitely the furthest we have run the RV down on gas. There also is no cell phone reception (at least not AT&T), so we were not able to look up information like restaurants, hiking trails, and gas stations. In hindsight, I should have snapshot photos of the hiking trail and maps before we left. But, we were not ready to give up on our adventures yet! We had an RV full of kids that needed to run off some energy.
Parking is also scarce. There was one spot directly in front of the Visitor Center at Summerhaven that we were able to fit our 35 foot rig into (but I'm not sure anything larger than us would have fit). Here we were able to obtain some basic maps of the hiking trails. Two of the hiking trails sounded familiar from other blogs and things I had read, but both of their parking lots were already full.
The trail does begin with a steep and rocky ascent that is sure to give you an aerobic workout. Take your time and enjoy the Saguaro! There sure are some big ones here!
We have loved learning about the Saguaro cactus! They are one of the slowest growing plants. A 10 year old Saguaro may only be 1.5 inches, but they can reach heights of 40-60 feet tall. They do not get their first arm until they are approximately 70 years old. A fully hydrated Saguaro may weigh as much as 4,800 pounds. Their woody ribs can be used to make roofs and fences.
Soldier pass is a 5 mile out and back trail with a nearly 2,000 foot elevation gain (with most of that gain occurring during the first mile). You are in the sun for a lot of the hike. Because we hiked so late in the afternoon, there were a few spots where the mountain shadows provided some shade, but I would imagine that most of the day you are in the sun for the majority of the hike. Bring plenty of water! You will need it for the steep climb! Even our children that do not normally drink a ton while hiking, sucked through their first water bottle pretty early on.
At approximately .7 miles you cross a wash. There were some small puddles of stagnant water here, but nothing that was running. Congratulations on making it this far! You still have some hills to climb, but the toughest part of the trail is now behind you!
At about the mile mark, the landscape changes and the trail levels out some (more of a gentle climb). There are a variety of yucca, aloes, grasses, and other desert plants.
The grass was quite tall in parts, which hid a variety of prickly plants and cacti, so I chose to carry our 3 year old on portions of the trail just to keep him from cutting his face.
We did see quite a few wildflowers! When I researched the trail later, I found out that a lot of people do this trail just for the wildflowers. Because the wind was blowing so hard, it was difficult to capture good photos of them.
The trail was just getting easy when we reached our time limit to turn around. We always have a rule to turn around when we are halfway to sunset, regardless of how much easier the hike out will be or how close we are to the finish. I feel like this is super important, especially when hiking with children. The last thing we wanted was to be on the trail after sunset with 6 small children. And even though the hike out on this trail *should* take less time because it is downhill on the way back, I like to have some extra time in case of an emergency (twisted ankle, fall, or an unwanted animal encounter).
So, we were just a little ways past this canyon (approximately 2.1 miles in), when we turned around and headed out. The trail would have eventually met up with Molino Basin Trail and Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site.
You have some beautiful views of Tucson and the surrounding mountains that are much easier to appreciate on the hike back. We also loved how the moon peeked out between the cactus arms.
About 20 minutes before sunset we all made it safely off the trail. It can be discouraging to not finish a trail, but we all had a wonderful time and now we just have an excuse to go back and hike it again. (UPDATE: We did go back! Check out the continuation of our adventure and exploration of Soldier Canyon!)
Be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures for more of our family adventures! If you are in the Tucson area, you don't want to miss the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.