Tucson’s Best Cycling Routes
Tucson/Oro Valley Best Road Bike Rides
Here are Tucson’s top 10 “Must Do” road cycling routes
CYCLING TUCSON, ARIZONA – Arizona is the greatest and post popular state in the USA for road biking, offering the best, most scenic, most challenging – and invigorating climbing rides in the world. Cyclists from all over Arizona flock to Tucson and Southern Arizona for the very best road bike rides and the safest road bike rides in the state. With traffic suffocating the Phoenix/Scottsdale metro area, Oro Valley/Northwest Tucson has seen a cycling tourism boom. Here are the top 10 best Tucson and Southern Arizona bike rides and routes you should consider.
A note always worth mentioning, Oro Valley/Tucson and the Southern, Arizona 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.
Best Tucson Road Bike Rides: The Tucson, Arizona Top 10 Best Rides and Cycling Routes
1) Mt Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona – World’s Most Popular Road Bike Climb
Without question, Mt. Lemmon is the world’s most popular cycling ride and the pride and joy of serious Tucson cycling enthusiasts. Start at the bottom and road bike 29 miles straight up from base camp (Le Buzz coffee shop) and you will cycle through four weather zones.
Mt. Lemmon is an incredible road bike ride for those who can.
“Mt. Lemmon is the most idyllic climb ride that a bicyclist can experience,” says Doctor James Lunney and volunteer for The Arizona Bicycle Association at BikeAZ.org. “There are more difficult climbs in the world, but few that come close to giving the serious biker the incredible sensation of biking from desert to alpine. And the fudge at the General Store is worth the ride!”
For more information:
Friends of Mt. Lemmon official site:
Cycling Nirvana – Mount Lemmon is a Road Bikers Dream
Best Arizona Cycling Routes: Lemmon Is Best
The Pride Of Tucson Cycling And Arizona’s Best Climbing Ride
2) Tucson Loop Bike Path – Starting in Oro Valley, Arizona
The world’s greatest bike system may also be the “best bike ride” in all of Tucson. The Tucson Loop Bike Path, a shared use 130 plus mile CAR FREE bike path starting in scenic, idyllic Oro Valley, is Tucson’s most popular attraction. Mostly flat with not much more than a 1 percent grade variation throughout, The Tucson Loop offers fantastic, easy cycling for bicyclists. Casual road bikers to the serious (Lance Armstrong and professionals are regularly seen on The Loop) enjoy letting their hair down, cruising on the well-maintained, clean Tucson Loop black top.
Local’s Cycling Tip: Park and start cycling at The Oro Valley Market Place. Start your ride with the soaring Catalinas in the backdrop.
For even better scenery, pay $3, park at The Catalina State Park, bike this world class Arizona state park then bike directly to the Oro Valley extension of The Tucson Loop. The Oro Valley side of The Loop offers the least congestion and will give you the incredible mountain beauty of The Catalinas and Tucson Mountains.
Rent a bike on The Oro Valley/Tucson Loop: Tucson Bike Rentals rents road, hybrid, tandem and e-bikes, pickup and drop off by appointment near The Oro Valley Market Place.
For more information:
Friends of The Tucson Loop
Tucson Loop Interactive Map
Daily Oro Valley/Tucson Loop Bike Tours
Bicycle Repair Shop: Oro Valley Bicycle
Tucson Loop Bike Rentals
3) Oro Valley/Northwest Tucson to Ritz Carlton Ride
Putting on The Ritz! Tourists and locals flock to Oro Valley/Northwest side of Tucson for wide, well-maintained and clean streets that offer desert views, saguaros as well as the booming Catalinas and Tucson’s mountains in the backdrops. Start your ride anywhere near The Oro Valley Market Place and either use The Oro Valley/Tucson Loop or hop on Tangerine and go west to Twin Peaks Road and then take a right. Enjoy great coffee at Savaya Coffee.
Best Ride Highlights: Bike Tangerine from Oro Valley west to Marana then take a right and enjoy a majestic hill climb ride, past golf courses, desert scenery loaded with cactus and Saguaros all the way to the Ritz Carlton.
Local’s Cycling Tip: You can park at Savaya Coffee at the Dove Mountain Retail Center if you want a shorter ride.
Oro Valley’s Vistoso Boulevard is an Arizona “Must do” Best Ride
Or, road bike Tangerine half a mile to Vistoso Boulevard/First Avenue and take a right. Vistoso is quite possibly the most beautiful road in the Southwest. Road bike past HoneyBee Canyon until you get to Oracle and take a right until you get to Tangerine and bike straight west. Vistoso is one of the most incredible rides going east or west at sunset. We love riding downhill going east on Vistoso into The Catalinas at sunset.
Bike Oro Valley/Tucson Loop “Best Road Bike Ride” highlight
You can take Oro Valley/Tucson Loop Bike Path, starting at The Oro Valley Market Place to Marana, getting off at Twin Peaks. Then you can take Twin Peaks on a huge hill climb ride to The Ritz Carlton or take a right on Tangerine heading straight into The Catalinas back to The Oro Market Place. You will enjoy the fast surface of The Oro Valley/Tucson Loop and the fantastic uphill of Twin Peaks with the Tucson Mountains in the back drop.
Why locals call this a “best Tucson ride”?
“You get the safety and perfect riding conditions of the Oro Valley side of The Tucson Loop, then a significant road bike climbing ride to The Ritz,” says Mike Steele winter resident and volunteer for TucsonLoop.org.
Special Pro’s Tip: Oro Valley is considered the “crown jewel” of cycling in Arizona. Most wise road, mountain and gravel bikers start their Tucson cycling vacation in Oro Valley/Marana/Northwest Tucson.
4) Mount Graham, Safford, Arizona (2 hours from Tucson)
Mt. Lemmon is the world’s most popular road climbing ride, but Arizona locals and serious cyclists often consider Mt. Graham as the most challenging climbing ride in Arizona. The road is in good shape. Rarely do you encounter significant traffic along the route, which makes for a very private and safe ride up a very challenging mountain. Many Tucson locals prefer biking Mt. Graham because there is such little traffic. Start your ride at just over 3200 feet and you will finish at just over 9000 feet. Graham is more challenging because your average gradient is at 5.5. percent, compared to Lemmon’s 4.2. Your total biking distance is just over 20 miles, compared to Lemmon’s 29.
Local’s Cycling Tip: Keep Mt. Graham as an alternative if Lemmon’s weather happens to be an issue when you come to Tucson. Madera and Kitt Peak are viable alternatives as well, but Graham is every bit the challenge of Lemmon.
Road biking Mt. Graham is a formidable climbing ride.
5) Madera Canyon, Green Valley, Arizona (30 to 40 minutes) from Tucson
Cycling Madera Canyon is one of the best rides in the Tucson/Southern Arizona region. This is often the preferred warm-up ride along with Kitt Peak for those readying themselves for road biking Mt. Lemmon or Mt. Graham. Madera is the ideal warm-up because it is a 12 mile straight to the top ride, finishing with a short 14 percenter. And the elevation tops out at just over 5200 feet. Madera Canyon offers brilliant scenery and very little traffic – a real plus in our ranking of Madera as a Tucson “best bike ride”. Madera Canyon is most famous as a world class birding destination. The Santa Rita Lodge offers snacks and Gatorade near the top – right before you embark on a brief 14 percent road bike climb! Again, if Mt. Lemmon’s weather conditions are looking iffy, this is a fantastic alternative.
Park at La Posada Java – the base camp of Madera Canyon.
Local’s Cycling Tip: Get some java at La Posada Java 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.
For more information:
Arizona Bicycle Association at BikeAZ.org
Road Biking Madera Canyon
Santa Rita Lodge – Best Madera Canyon Lodge
Arizona’s Top Climbing Rides
Friends of Madera Canyon
Local Bike Shop: Green Valley Bike Hub
6) Park Link Drive – Ride The Saguaros to Picacho Peak, Just 25 minutes north of Oro Valley in Marana
Perhaps the most underrated “locals’ only known ride, the road at Park Link that connects to I-10 offers a very low traveled newly paved road where you get to do a 40 mile round trip (out and back) in either direction. Riding almost the entire way with some of the most unbelievable desert, you will be engulfed by saguaro cactus, feeling like you are biking in a Hollywood old west film.
Highlights: Go north when you see the Refuse Station road and it will take you on a scenic ride of Picacho Peak in the background. You will road bike through pecan trees then dead-end.
To get a 60 or more mile day, take Saguaro filled South Cattle Tank Road (off of Park Link) and bike towards South Davis Ranch Road and enjoy many miles of safe, well-maintained ranch roads. You can stay out here and bike all day long!
Northwest Tucson Gem: Owl Ranch Road and Park Link Drive offers spectacular views.
Great Gravel/Dirt/Open Road Biking at Park Link Drive
Perhaps the greatest and best riding dirt roads are here at Park Link Drive. Park your car at Park Link Drive and Owl Ranch Road and you will find what Tucson locals consider to be the best dirt road riding in Southern Arizona. We recommend a gravel or a front shock mountain bike. Owl Ranch Road connects to a network of county dirt roads. There are many off shoot roads that intersect with Owl Ranch Road where the terrain is ideal for a front shock mountain bike. There is so much open road biking to be had here that you could bike for days.
Tucson Bike Rentals rents gravel and front shock mountain bikes. If you visit this area on a gravel bike, you will have unlimited and virtually car-free biking. There is nothing in Arizona that matches the Park Link Drive/ Owl Head Road experience.
Directions to Park Link Drive: Google East Park Link Drive, Marana. Park at the corner of Highway 79 and East Park Link Drive. Or, park on the other side of this splendid road at East Park Link Drive at I-10.
Camping and sightseeing at Picacho Peak State Park
Places to eat/drink. Nada. Make sure you have everything you need!
Worth noting about The Park Link Drive – Ride The Saguaros to Picacho Peak: Enjoy the beautiful vistas of the desert and sky-islands in the distance. You will gradually see the terrain change from dry, low desert to high scrubland. Desert lovers will enjoy organ pipe, cholla in addition to some of the most interesting saguaro formations you will ever see. Look east and you will see Mt. Lemmon as the highest and central view of the range. For movie buffs, you may notice the memorial of 1940’s actor Tom Mix who died in a car accident here.
For more road cycling information, go to The Arizona Bicycle Association at BikeAZ.org.
7) Elephant Head Road to Top of Mt. Hopkins, Green Valley, Arizona
A bonus for road biking Madera Canyon, Mt. Hopkins is a 10 mile ride south of the Las Posada Java Madera Canyon base camp – mostly on clear, low traffic front road. Take a left of Elephant Head for a few miles then take a right and enjoy a seven mile ride to Mt. Hopkins Observatory. This is a breath-taking ride with almost no traffic. You will enjoy beautiful desert views of the Santa Ritas. This is considered once of the most scenic rides in all of Arizona at sunset. You views of the mountain ranges are endless. If you have the stamina, rent a gravel or a mountain bike and bike to the top of Whipple Observatory. This is a tougher, more challenging hill climb ride that many seasoned roadies find to be a struggle. There is water and restrooms in front of the welcome center.
For more information:
Green Valley Offers Safe Scenic Road Biking
Scenic drives by Arizona Highways
8) Green Valley/Amado to Arivaca or Sasabe, Arizona
A hidden gem ride Mexican border that you will never forget, this ride is a ride ONLY to take on weekends as the traffic is sparse. You can choose to ride Arivaca to Sasabe (46 incredible miles) ANY time as there is virtually no traffic between these two towns.
Amado to Arivaca is just 25 miles of strong climbing. It’s another 24 miles from Arivaca to Sasabe. When you get there, stop off at their general store for a treat.
Those of us who are Tucson area locals know some of the best “off the beaten path” road biking adventures and this is one of them! Depending on the amount of miles you want to ride, you can start in Green Valley to add more miles, or you can park near the Cow Palace (now defunct) in Amado and do a 50 mile round trip. You will get some good climb on this ride as Amado starts at a hair over 3,000 feet and you will climb higher than 3600 feet before you descend into Arivaca. Again, Amado to Arivaca is a great road bike ride on weekends. You can ride Arivaca to Sasabe any time. Arivaca to Sasabe is one of the best, safest and greatest rides in Arizona. Old west and John Wayne films were made in this area.
For more about Green Valley/Amada to Arivaca or Sasabe Arizona go to:
9) Kitt Peak, Tucson, Arizona’s
This is an isolated climb in southern Arizona and is about 40 miles southwest of Tucson, – not far from the Mexican Border (Sasabe), rising out of the Sonoran Desert. Kitt Peak National Observatory is a University of Arizona astronomical observatory southwest of Tucson in the Quinlan Mountains. When you finish this ride, we would recommend you biking Sasabe to Arivaca.
An Arizona Bicycle Association, top 10 road cycling hill climb ride, Kitt Peak offers a short, but steep (average 5.7 percent grade) where you will start at 3200 plus feet and go just over 6800 feet, for a 3624 foot road climbing gain over just 12 miles.
The views to the top of Kitt Peak make biking Kitt Peak worth the drive.
This classic Tucson road biking climb begins with moderate grades that give way to several quarter mile stretches at 9-10% mixed in with 5 and 6% quarters for the last two-thirds of the climb. The weather can be dramatically different from top to bottom, but this is a very worthy Arizona road bike climbing ride. The views from the University of Arizona observatory are incredible. You can see all the way into Mexico on the right day.
And you can enjoy this great Arizona road bike climb ride as there is very little traffic. Aside from tourists and government employees, this is a made for road biking opportunity.
The views are classic Arizona high desert — the mountains, rock formations and plains below reminiscent of a Hollywood John Wayne western movie.
For more information:
Best Road Biking Tucson: Climbing Kitt Peak
Kitt Peak: Top Arizona Road Bike Climb Ride
Kitt Peak Observatory Official Site
Kitt Peak Visitor Center
10) Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona
For many Tucson local cyclists, who live on the east side of Tucson, this is there regular “go to” ride. Saguaro National Park is a 9.5 mile loop ride on near perfect blacktop pavement, offering road bikers an exhilarating and heart pounding experience. Cyclists from all over visit this park for the unrivaled desert scenery and landscape. This is one of the most beautiful road biking places imaginable in an Arizona.
Click here for road biking scenic Saguaro National Park East.
Saguaro National Park East Government Site
Saguaro National Park East is like biking in a Saguaro wonderland.