Tag Archives: Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson’s Must Do Rides for Visitors and Locals Alike

Every time I travel to a different place, I ask the locals, “If I only have time for one bicycle ride, what would you say is the ONE “must-do” local ride?”

This time of year, so many people are coming to Tucson, not only for El Tour de Tucson, in and of itself one of our must-do local events, but snowbirds and others looking to enjoy our amazing desert winters. If you were asked to recommend ONE ride only, what would you say?

When traveling, cyclists want to know which routes are the safest, the most challenging, the closest to where they are staying, the ones they can ride, and for some, the group rides.  The ONE “must-do” ride depends on the local’s and the visitor’s preferences.  Today, I offer my abbreviated guide to what I consider the “must-do” local rides – road, mountain, gravel, and group; more information on all of these and more can be found at www.bikepilgrim.com.


Sabino Canyon is my ONE “must-do” local ride.  This is my favorite because of the combination of the scenic desert, the possibility of riding next to flowing water, and no cars.  Here you are likely to see all of the locals – insects and reptiles, coatimundi, foxes, bobcats, hummingbirds, hawks, and so much more.  This ride features a 3.7 mile climb with 700 feet of elevation gain.

Mount Lemmon is THE Bucket List ride for cyclists from all over the world and many people visit Tucson just to tackle this 29 mile, 6,500 foot climb up an iconic sky island. On weekday mornings, it is not uncommon to enjoy the road mostly car free.  (While Mount Lemmon gets the most attention, I like Mt. Hopkins more – its mixture of dirt and paved roads, with constantly amazing views.  Kitt Peak and Mt. Graham are also must-do rides, well worth the extra drive to experience.)

Saguaro East is arguably the most scenic ride. While only 8.3 miles, it features endless rolling hills and one solid climb in the middle. On the “WHEEEEE” factor this is at the top of the list. Most of the route is one way, and this increases the safety of the ride. 

The LOOP is every cyclists’ dream. No cars, no mechanized vehicles, and over 150 miles of relatively flat pavement. No matter where you are staying, access to the LOOP is close. Each area is a little different, and each is awesome. There are countless restaurants, bars, markets, and art to be discovered. 

Exploring around downtown offers something for every cyclist – murals, breweries, coffee shops, barrios and architecture.  Even for noncyclists, visitors can grab a ToGo city bike. One warning about riding downtown, be extra careful when riding across the tracks. 


Every corner of Tucson has a trail system and the riding is off the charts! With so many skill levels, recommendations for the ONE “must-do” mountain bike ride is impossible. No matter the skill level, each offers a  unique beauty.

The Lemmon Drop offers an extreme day in the saddle. If you have pads, a face mask on your helmet, and mad skills, this is the ride for you. Rock drops! Technical sections!  Black diamond!  The Lemmon Drop takes you from the top of Mt. Lemmon to Rincon Valley.  Plan on a late dinner – this is an all day event!

Honeybee, in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains, consists of various loops, totaling around 30 miles in length. The main Honeybee Trail has some of the smoothest, most flowy sections in the area. This trail connects to all the trails in the Tortolitas with monster climbs and amazing vistas.  Don’t miss Ridgeline!!  

Tucson Mountain Park offers a variety of trails that cater to different skill levels and preferences. 

Brown Mountain Loop is a moderate-level trail with a mix of rocky sections and smooth singletrack.  Explorer trail loop offers some technical sections.  Yetman trail is known for its mix of singletrack and wider paths.  All of the trails here are known for their scenic beauty and diverse terrain.  

50 Year Trail offers stunning views of of the Santa Catalina Mountains, in the shadow of Pusch Ridge. This area features lots of flat, fast, free flowing single track, with berms and a few rocky features.  If you are a bovine fan, then this is the trail you are most likely to share with cows.

No list is complete without the Arizona Trail. Running 800 miles from Mexico to Utah, the AZT cuts through the eastside of Tucson and over Mt. Lemmon.  With so much terrain, there is something for every skill level.  For the newer rider, heading south from the Gabe Z trailhead is a great option, and includes the Rattlesnake Mural.  Pistol Hill is Studded with Saguaro, this may be the most iconic mountain bike ride in the region.  


Gravel bikes are perfect for exploring the back roads of Southern Arizona.  Patagonia has become a national hub for the gravel scene.  Closer to Tucson, Redington Road offers challenging climbs and jeep trails.  From Oracle, heading up the backside of Mount Lemmon offers great climbs, changing biomes, and stunning views.  Both Patagonia and Oracle offer small town charm, great restaurants, and a slice of the real west.  


Tucson is home to one of the oldest shop rides in the nation.  Fairwheel Bike’s Shootout is a 50 mile, Saturday morning must-do.  There are two different rides; the fast ride is a real sufferfest.  The slower ride, dubbed the Old Man Shootout, still tests mental and physical ability. Many other local bike shops and social ride groups offer both road and mountain bike group rides.  If you are looking for additional rides, see my list at www.bikepilgrim.com. Most weeks there are special rides and events, as well as volunteer opportunities.

It’s nearly impossible to pick the ONE “must-do” local ride. While this list includes some of the best rides that cyclists will definitely talk about for the rest of their lives, picking just one is not possible. Which ride do you think is the “must-do” that I may have missed?

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