REVISION DATE: 05/08/22

Overview

Mount Lemmon, is a big-mountain site, with over 5,000’ vertical and excellent XC potential in all directions except South (airspace and city). Only an hour from Tucson, it is a summer retreat that is approximately 30 degrees cooler than the nearby city. Located in the Santa Catalina Range, it is surrounded by the Coronado National Forest and home to a town befitting of the name: “Summerhaven.” Visitors can explore various trails, eat homemade fudge, and even rent a cabin for a weekend away in the pines. On your way to Mount Lemmon's Peak, you'll drive along the 27-mile sky islands scenic byway, which is more than just a way to get to the top. When snow is on the ground, head up to the top for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snowshoeing at Ski Valley.

The University of Arizona Mount Lemmon SkyCenter observatory houses the US’s largest dedicated public telescopes and hosts year-round nightly stargazing programs.

Launches are in Coronado National Forest and Santa Catalina Mountains. Most flights from Mt. Lemmon are XC flights.

01 Lemmon Overview

Site Requirements

  • Current SAHGA (or AZHPA) and USHPA memberships.
  • H4 rating, or H3 with local sponsor. HG pilots must have a local guide.
  •  P3 rating (local guide is highly recommended). 

Skill Requirements

  • Required HG special skills: FL, HA, XC, RLF, TUR
    • XC: Pilots must cross a canyon and navigate to a suitable landing zone, and no LZ are visible from launch.
    • RLF: The designated landing zone is surrounded by barbed wire and vegetation.
    • TUR: The air over over this mountain range and over the valley floor is often turbulent.
  • Required PG special skills: FL, HA, XC, RLF, TUR
    • XC: Pilots must fly out of a canyon and navigate to a suitable landing zone, and no LZs are visible from launch.
    • RLF: The designated landing zone is in a wash surrounded by trees.
    • TUR: The air over over this mountain range and over the valley floor is often turbulent.

General Rules

  • Launch only from one of the two designated launch areas
  • Park only in designated parking areas

Know Before You Go

  • Weather can quickly deteriorate and become extreme at desert mountain sites, Lightning, hail, heavy rain and high winds can develop in a short time making for unsafe HG/PG launch and flight operations.
  • Using the provided images, familiarize yourself with the details and potential hazards of the site.
  • HG pilots must visit the primary HG LZ, East of Lago Del Oro Parkway in Catalina (details below) before heading to launch as it is a restricted landing field on the bank of a wash and surrounded by barbed wire.
  • Main PG LZ is in a wash on Catalina State Park land at the end of a 2WD dirt road three miles SE of Catalina (note: a private property parcel starts only steps to the north of the LZ).
  • Samaniego Ridge launch requires a two-mile, 1,000’ vertical (mostly downhill) hike that takes about an hour on the way down to launch. 
  • Styler's launch requires a 1.6 mile, 630' vertical (mostly downhill) hike that takes about 35 minutes on the way down to launch.
  • For Samaniego Ridge and Styler's launches, look for light (single-digit mph) winds, SW-W from 6,000' up through 12,000’. Northwest winds create rotor in the canyon west of both launches, so avoid heading out here if the forecast is for Northerly winds.
  • Bring extra water and survival gear, as landing a long way from civilization is possible.
  • Access to Observatory launch requires coordination with observatory staff a minimum of 48 hours in advance as well as a local guide.
  • Observatory launch has been flown only with HG and is not recommended for PG
  • Given the long drive to launch, it is best to have a dedicated driver. For Styler's and Samaniego launches, it is helpful for the driver to hike at least to Styler's launch, carrying a radio to ensure all pilots are in the air before driving the vehicle down the mountain.
  • Avoid controlled airspace about seven miles south of launch

Site Description

Parking

  • No more than two vehicles at the Observatory launch. Total capacity of Mt. Lemmon Trailhead parking lot is roughly 12 vehicles, but this is a popular place, especially on weekends, and there is currently a fee for parking there, so bring cash and look for the self-service pay station near the restroom.

Facilities

  • USFS restrooms at Mt. Lemmon Trailhead parking lot. None at launch or in the LZ.

Launch

  • High-altitude, big-mountain site above a desert floor with over 5,000’ of vertical
  • Large massif with several canyons and no good landing options
  • XC potential in all directions except south, which is constrained by controlled airspace and a densely populated city
  • Fly as a thermal site; avoid ridge soaring or scratching close to the terrain
  • Location: Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains within the Coronado National Forest, on the NE edge of Tucson
  • Usage: HG and PG
  • Season: Dependent on weather, but generally April through October
  • Land ownership: Launch is within Coronado National Forest. PG LZ is in a wash on Catalina State Park land at the end of a 2WD dirt road, three miles SE of Catalina (note: a private property parcel starts only steps to the north of the LZ). HG LZ is just East of Lago Del Oro Parkway within the city limits of Catalina.
  • Other use: Observatory launch is just outside the boundary of an active observatory. The Samaniego Ridge and Styler's launches are close to popular trails used for hiking and mountain biking.
  • Driving directions to launch: Take Catalina Highway to the top of Mt. Lemmon, past Ski Valley on Ski Run Road, all the way to the end of the road. Park in Mt. Lemmon Trailhead parking lot. The hike to Styler's and Samaniego Ridge launches begins here. If accompanied by a SAHGA member and arrangements have been made with observatory staff, drive into the observatory to the Observatory launch.

Observatory Launch

  • This launch is used only by HG pilots, and is not recommended for PG.
  • Elevation: 9,150’
  • Orientation: WNW
  • Type: Steep slope
  • Coordinates: 32.442905, -110.789016 (Google Maps link)
  • HG Winds: 5-10 mph, max gust 5 mph over 3 seconds
  • Wind Direction: “Go” 295°-315°, “Caution” 285°-320°
  • Setup area: Outside the observatory fence, just North of launch

03 Lemmon Observatory Launch

Styler's Launch

  • Elevation: 8,500’
  • Orientation: W
  • Type: Shallow slope
  • Coordinates: 32.429610,  -110.807378 (Google Maps link)
  • HG Winds: 5-10 mph, max gust 5 mph over 3 seconds
  • PG Winds: 5-7 mph, max gust 4 mph over 3 seconds
  • Wind Direction: “Go” 265°-280°, “Caution” 255°-290°
  • Setup area: Above launch slope, no tie-downs

04 Styler

Samaniego Ridge Launch

  • Elevation: 8,150’
  • Orientation: W
  • Type: Shallow slope
  • Coordinates: 32.432237, -110.812283 (Google Maps link)
  • HG Winds: 5-10 mph, max gust 5 mph over 3 seconds
  • PG Winds: 3-12 mph, max gust 4 mph over 3 seconds
  • Wind Direction: “Go” 265°-275°, “Caution” 250°-285°
  • Setup area: Above launch slope, no tie-downs

02 Lemmon Ridge Launch

PG Designated Landing Zone

  • From AZ-77 (Oracle Road), go East on Golder Ranch Road. When the road turns to dirt, veer right to the South. Continue 0.75 miles and veer right at the next fork, continuing South. Go another 0.9 miles to the parking area. LZ is in the wash NE of the parking area.
  • Coordinates: 32.452629, -110.889069 (Google Maps link)
  • Elevation: 2,970’
  • Location: Three miles SE of Catalina
  • Windsock: None

HG Designated Landing Zone

  • From Oracle Road (AZ-77), head east on Golder Ranch Road and then north, about 1.4 miles, on Lago Del Oro Parkway. The LZ is on the east side of the road.
  • Coordinates: 32.497129, -110.890622 (Google Maps link)
  • Elevation: 3,030’
  • Location: Just East of Lago Del Oro Parkway in Catalina
  • Windsock: None

Flying

  • After launching from the Observatory launch, stay left and cross the canyon at its narrowest point, staying above the high terrain to get on the west side of the front ridge. From here, follow the high ground out to the main HG LZ. It is imperative that pilots avoid landing in the canyon, as it is very remote with exceedingly rough “roads.” Retrieval from the canyon requires many hours with a very capable vehicle.
  • After launching from Styler's launch, fly straight out, hedging toward the ridge on the north (right) while maintaining sufficient terrain clearance until you are above the Samaniego Ridge launch.  While this is typically a fairly buoyant line, you may need to fly further down this ridge to the notch, which is roughly a 3.5:1 glide from launch and will put into the canyon in front of the Samaniego Ridge launch.  In any case, stay focused and fly over this ridge and toward the house thermal on Samaniego Ridge.
  • After launching from the Samaniego Ridge launch, fly straight out through the canyon, avoiding the temptation to linger and hunt for lift until you have reached Samaniego Ridge, on your right (to the north). This ridge produces reliable lift and is generally where pilots get established.
  • A wave effect is often present in the canyons directly in front of both Styler's and Samaniego Ridge launches. Feel free to slow down on the peaks and speed up in the troughs, but stopping to turn on what feels like a light thermal is usually a mistake.
  • If Samaniego Ridge does not work, or when you are ready to land, follow the terrain down toward the LZ, keeping the trail on your left (to the south). A couple bail-out landing options exist below the ridges, along the trail if you come up short of the LZ.
  • The main LZ for PG is in a large wash just north of the trail crossing (private property starts only steps to the north).
  • Between February 1st and August 31st, remain at least 3,000’ from the reef of rocks formation one mile NNE from the Observatory launch as this area is home to Mexican Spotted Owls, and the period mentioned is their breeding season.