Approximately 29 miles north of Tucson, perched amid the Santa Catalina Mountains, is the quaint community of Summerhaven. Over one million visitors explore the small town per year, often eager at the chance to play in freshly-fallen snow or to escape warmer temperatures in the summer months. If you’re looking for a weekend day trip for the family or a place to waste a few hours with your significant other, this Mount Lemmon destination is the perfect idea.
Summerhaven was originally purposed as a camp for the United States Army in the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the general area was subdivided thus creating the Summerhaven community as it’s known today. Sadly, the Aspen wildfire of 2003 destroyed over one third of the homes along with several businesses (some of which were rebuilt under new names).
With an elevation of 8000 feet and an average temperature nearly 30 degrees cooler than its southern counterparts, this aptly-named tourism gem is arguably most ideal in the summer months. Here’s what you’ll stumble upon after a short drive up Catalina Highway—
- Mount Lemmon General Store: Sure, it carries the typical souvenirs, local goods, and grocery items you’d find in any general store, but what folks really come here for is the fudge. Sold by the pound for $11.89, the store’s fudge is so popular you can even order by phone to have it shipped. Choose from flavors like Rocky Road, Mint Chocolate Swirl, and Butter Pecan.
- Living Rainbow Gift Shop: Even wildfires couldn’t keep this gallery down. While the original structure did, indeed, burn to the ground, the owners continued operating out of a trailer wherever possible until they were able to permanently rebuild in 2005. Pay your respects to the local small business community and pick up some crystals, beads, books, or chimes while you’re there.
- Cookie Cabin: Just as its name suggests, cozy up here for a cup of coffee and a warm cookie à la mode. The restaurant also serves pizza which visitors can enjoy outside under a shaded umbrella with their well-behaved dogs. The main gripe amongst online reviewers seems to be that it’s pricey, so plan ahead by bringing a few extra dollars or your own beverage.
- Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley: Just outside of Summerhaven AZ, is a small resort for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and nearby sledding. Be forewarned: rental equipment is shoddy at best, so bring your own gear or rent from your local ski/ride shop. The good news is that the lift runs year-round for awesome panoramic views during the summer months. Ski Valley is also ideal for camping, fishing, and hiking—even an annual Oktoberfest celebration!
If you’re looking for a charming small-town vibe, Summerhaven AZ, is your ticket to hospitality and relaxation. Most businesses are, in fact, so small they don’t even have websites; therefore, social sites such as Facebook and Yelp will prove most helpful to navigating your way around. If you choose to stay overnight, your best bet is to search mtlemmon.com or a private rental since many local bed-and-breakfasts were destroyed by the fire. Also make sure you’re traveling with a full tank as there are no gas stations on the mountain. All in all, you’re bound to enjoy your stay so long as you have a healthy appreciation for Mother Nature and a few bucks in your pocket for a quirky memento and local grub. Give this summer sanctuary a fair chance and it just might surprise you.
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