Our friends, Michael and Diane, frequently camp and hike on Mt. Lemmon. I asked them to suggest the best campsites and trails. Here is Diane's hiking report.
The Butterfly Trail is one of our favorites. A nice thing about this hike in the summer is that much of it is shaded and there is water in the washes. The trail is rimmed with seasonal wildflowers and of course there are clusters of butterflies.
Most Santa Catalina trails have south and west views, but on Butterfly you get east and west views. The spectacular views are of San Pedro Valley and Alder Canyon. This delightful trail passes through an area of such diversity that parts have been designated a Research Natural Area. Hikers may want to bring tree, wildflower, and butterfly reference books to identify all the species.
The trailhead is near the Palisade Visitors Center. It's a good idea to stop there for a map and a short talk with the ranger about current trail conditions. There are 2 accesses. Across the road from the Visitors Center, take trail #520 a short distance to the bottom of Butterfly trail #16. But we continue up Catalina Hwy 4 miles to Soldier Camp Rd. The upper trailhead for Butterfly Trail is on the east side of the highway. We have not completed the whole trail. We usually stop and rest, have a snack when tired, then turn around. This way we also end up at the car and don’t have to hike up or down the highway for 4 miles.
The Arizona Trails South Region says Butterfly is 5 – 7 miles. Best Hikes with Dogs Arizona book say 7.3 miles. You can hike, bike, ride your horse, and take your leashed dog. Butterfly is beautiful and surprisingly uncrowded. Because of its elevation you can comfortably hike it from March through November.
For additional information about hikes on Mt. Lemmon and the Coronado National Forest, see the Coronado National Forest Service website. Betty Leavengood's book is a favorite in Tucson. Tucson Hiking Guide (The Pruett Series)