Mt. Lemmon Bike Riding in Tucson, Arizona
Rising more than 6,500 feet above the city of Tucson, Mt. Lemmon provides bike riders with a host of opportunities to enjoy natural surroundings ranging from desert to sub-alpine forest.
Bike-friendly routes include paved roadway as well as dirt single-track and long-forgotten jeep trails, but all require intermediate to advanced biking skills, swift technical maneuvering and strong physical endurance.
The Main Event
The Catalina Highway runs to the top of the mountain, towering more than 9,000 feet above sea level. The 27-mile road ride provides a wide shoulder for cycling and an average grade of 5 percent, making it one of the 100 toughest hill climbs in the United States.
Bring more water than you’d expect to need as the arid desert climate combined with high altitude dehydrates your body very quickly. Refill water jugs at mile 20 at the Palisades, treat yourself to a snack in the community of Summerhaven at mile 27 and let gravity take you as you speed back down the mountain.
Along the Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail stretches 800 miles through Arizona, catching Mt. Lemmon along the way. Horses and hikers share the single-track dirt trail as it winds through Mt. Lemmon’s forests and desert foothills. Catch the trail at Summerhaven near the mountain’s summit for cool but steep summer riding, or head out on the Prison Camp stretch at the mountain’s base where both the winter climate and trails are mild.
Shuttle services for you and your bike are available from Southwest Trekking — the local bike livery — to any of the Arizona Trail access points.
Ride and Smell the Flowers
Enjoy summer temperatures about 30 degrees cooler than in Tucson on a ride around Aspen Meadow. The trailhead has restrooms and parking where you can gear up for your ride before heading out across a meadow strewn with wildflowers in early summer.
The trail intersects with an old jeep road with a panoramic view of Tucson far below. At a fork in the road, you can opt to venture down the right fork into a wilderness area on foot to view an old fire lookout tower or continue on the left fork for a steep uphill back to the top.
All-Day Lemmon Drop
If your body and skills are up to an all-day steep descent through the forests and crags of Mt. Lemmon, start at the top and work your way down in a trip known locally as “the Lemmon Drop.” The trail begins at Aspen Draw at the mountaintop observatory and ties into Green Mountain Trail.
Both trails are technical in nature, with water bars, boulders, exposed roots and tight switchbacks. The scenery changes from forest to high desert on the Bug Springs stretch, where you’ll have to hike your bike over large water bars. Enjoy some fast downhill, but beware of sudden technical surprises.
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