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Bike Mt. Lemmon!

Bike Mt. Lemmon!

Best Tucson Mt. Lemmon Alternative Cycling Road Climbs

Here are five great Tucson climbing rides – and some you would never know!

CYCLING TUCSON, Arizona – Montainous biking can create both physical and weather challenges as you prepare to bike the seminole rides of Mt. Lemmon and Mt. Graham. Smart cyclists coming in from low elevation are wise to consider some great warm-up rides. Here are some of Arizona’s top road climbing rides as well as excellent Mt. Lemmon cycling alternatives.

Madera Canyon: Tucson’s most popular alternative Mt. Lemmon Ride

Just a half hour or so from Tucson in beautiful Green Valley, Madera is a very worthwhile Southern Arizona road biking experience.

Only 12 miles up, but it finishes with a 14 percenter! This ride is the number 2 or 3 choice for most pros who come to Tucson. A big plus to Madera is that there is VERY little traffic. It is a very, very safe ride. The top of Madera is just over 5,000 feet so if biking Lemmon is looking iffy, this is often a very good alternative. Park at La Posada Java and make the climb. After you finish Madera, enjoy some great food at La Posada then get a second hill climb ride to Mt. Hopkins Observatory.

Road biking Madera Canyon is a Southern Arizona gem!

Bike Mt. Hopkins Observatory – Next door to Madera Canyon!

Get some java at La Posada Java after a big Madera Canyon ride,  then bike to Hopkins Observatory and enjoy a spectacular almost car-free ride to the observatory via Elephant Head Road. This climb  – and descent – may be the highlight of your day. Simply bike to Elephant Head Road (10 miles) from La Posada Java on frontage road, take a right at Elephant Head and go down a few miles and take a right to the Observatory. The road averages around 4 percent and the downhill ride back to base is amazing. This is one of the most spectacular, scenic rides in Arizona around sunset. Old west Hollywood films were filmed out in this area. The only traffic on this road is that of government employees and a few tourists. Biking Madera Canyon and Hopkins makes for an amazing day.

If you have the mojo and a gravel bike, famous Whipple Observatory is about 7 miles up and a very steep climb. The views are priceless.

Our guys climb up Whipple! Tough, rigorous, awesome Arizona climb ride!

Ride With GPS Mt. Hopkins Visitor Center to Observatory Gate


Road BikingWhipple Observatory /Mt. Hopkins

This is an 11 mile straight up hill ride of dirt and pavement biking from the Hopkins Visitor Center. Make no mistake: you need a gravel bike. If you park at Elephant Head Road and the frontage road in Green Valley, you will gain 5500 plus feet of climb going all the way to the top. From the visitor center parking lot, you will get 4300 plus. Elephant Head Road to the top of Whipple is a mind-blowing, incredible experience and the views at the top of the Whipple Observatory are beyond unreal. You can see all the way into Mexico. More challenging than Mt. Lemmon, this is a true gravel road bike ride. We love this ride because there is little traffic. It’s one of the safest roads Tucson/Southern Arizona climbing rides imaginable.

The road is sometimes closed. Check mmto.org for closures.

Kitt Peak Observatory: Steep. Scenic.
Great alternative Mt. Lemmon Cycling

Short. Steep. Scenic. Awesome. Only 12 miles up, but you will be climbing at a robust 5.7 percent grade. Located just west of Tucson, you will start at 3,234 feet and top out at 6,847. Most locals who go out to Kitt do this ride twice. If Lemmon’s weather is iffy, Kitt Peak and Madera are likely to be fine.

Kitt Peak Cycling Resources:

Arizona Bicycle Association



Kit Peak Biking “at a glance”



Mt. Graham Road Biking – More challenging than Lemmon to many

If you are into gravel, Mt. Graham offers a gravel biking opportunity via State Road 366.

Climbing Mt. Graham – Arizona’s most challenging climb ride.

Located about 100 minutes from Tucson, Graham is the challenging hill climb in all of Arizona to most locals. With a gradient of 5.5 percent, you will start at 3,249 and peak out just over 9,000 feet in just over 20.1 miles. Graham is an awesome alternative to Lemmon. Google Safford Federal Correctional Institution and park near there. Just don’t get incarcerated there. Coffee sucks. Inmates don’t like spandex.

Mount Lemmon Control Road – Lemmon’s “other side” is unreal biking!

Yes! If you have it in you, take a mountain bike (front shock) and mountain bike up the backside of Lemmon where the weather is often very different. You will drive to Oracle, Arizona, just 15 minutes north of beautiful Oro Valley and park where you want. Add more miles by parking on scenic Como Road. Oro Valley Bike Rentals rents very lightweight Specialized Chisels that are perfect for this. THIS IS A REAL CLIMB that many road bikers cannot finish.

Do not use a gravel/open road bike as the road gets too rough for this half way up. More and more road bikers are turning to Lemmon Control Road for a serious climbing opportunity to avoid traffic. There is little traffic on Lemmon Control Road and this is a more physically exhausting ride. Good camping opportunities here.

Lemmon Control Road is not smooth enough to go to the top on a gravel bike as the road has suffered deterioration from the four wheel drives roughing up the road. This is a far more challenging climb that many top roadies can’t do. It’s tough. Scenic as all mad.

Mt. Lemmon Control road is a tough, but incredible gravel experience on mountain bike.

Box Canyon/Madera Canyon – A Southern Arizona “Must Do” climbing ride

Just south of Tucson in Green Valley, this is one of the most stunning biking climbs in all of Arizona. This is a gravel bike or a front shock mountain bike ride. There is very little traffic as it is a well grated dirt road – with some choppy washboardy spots. You can start from Green Valley and do a 33 mile out and back with 3,842 feet of climbing. Wow!  If you do this ride during the monsoons, you will be in for a treat. You will be greeted with raging waterfalls while you enjoy splendid Southern Arizona bio diversity.

And if you don’t have a gravel or mountain bike, Tucson Bike Rentals offers Specialized Diverge gravel rental bikes and lightweight Specialize Chisels mountain bikes that are ideal for this ride. Our recommendation: Get off the road bike and really discover the best Arizona and Tucson climbing rides by biking gravel and dirt roads. This type of riding is sooooo much safer and you will bike stress free.

Biking Box Canyon/Madera Canyon Control Road Resources

Lodging at Santa Rita Lodge – Awesome!


Friends of Madera Canyon


Be prepared for Southern Arizona biking and avoid flat tires!

Worth mentioning when biking Oro Valley/Tucson and Southern, Arizona, this area is loaded with goat heads – an evil, disgusting form of cacti that easily penetrates tires. We recommend that you use flat protected Gatorskin or Specialized Armadillo tires. Tubeless tires are an excellent option as well. Local desert dwellers always use flat protected tires. Changing flats sucks.

For gravel and road bike rentals, call Tucson Bike Rentals.

Local bike shop in Green Valley: Green Valley Bike Hub.

Gravel biking Box Canyon is a fun, challenging biking experience.

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The Arizona Bicycle Association is the official cycling and mountain biking site for the state of Arizona. We are a dedicated volunteer organization promoting all forms of cycling including road and gravel biking. We are a volunteer organization dedicated to the promotion of bicycling in our state. More than just promoting bicycling in Arizona, we help foster safety awareness and trail building as well as trail advocacy.


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