05 Oct Tucson’s Best Beginner Mountain Bike Trails
Honey Bee Canyon—Oro Valley/Northwest Tucson’s
Arizona’s most scenic cross country mountain bike trail is mountain biking heaven
Honey Bee Canyon is widely considered one of Tucson’s most scenic and beginner friendly trails.
“Honey Bee ranks in the top 5 ‘must do” Arizona mountain bike rides,” says Jack Pierce of Green Valley, Arizona. “When you mountain bike Honey Bee you can see why Hollywood used this area as a movie set backdrop. The scenery is stunning, and the trails are expertly designed to be fast and flowy.”
What a thrill! Famous as a Hollywood backdrop for western films, Honey Bee Canyon is a glorious 16-mile figure-eight style loop ride amidst the nation’s largest cactus species, Saguaro, and other unique desert flora unique to the southwestern United States. This track is a true Arizona desert delight, attracting mountain bikers from all over the world. Come to the quiet, majestic, and beautiful Tucson suburb of Oro Valley to take on this gradual climb over smooth terrain with plenty of sections for riders to pick up speed or take it nice and easy.
Mountain biking and hiking in Honey Bee Canyon is so desirable that homes carry a higher value based on proximity to the trail head. With more than 35 miles of options—including a challenging endurance ride to Ridgeline—Honey Bee’s popularity is the fastest-growing in Arizona.
“Not just a mountain bike trail in Tucson,” says Dr. James Lunney of Ottawa, Canada, who has been coming to Arizona for mountain biking adventures for years. “Honey Bee Canyon offers visitors the most scintillating desert experience and is an incredible workout!”
This short video gives a great overview of Honey Bee Canyon.
Honey Bee Canyon Basics
Important: Honey Bee has two trails, one for hikers and one for mountain bikers, so check that you’re on the right path to avoid collisions and mix-ups with foot traffic.
Parking and directions to Honey Bee Canyon
There is a small dirt lot just to the northwest of the Oracle Road and Miravista Lane intersection.
Take Oracle Road north from Ina about 7 miles to Rancho Vistoso Blvd. and then go left (westward) for approx. 3. This will take you to a very nice parking area. Grab your bike and ride to the right (eastward) to get out of the parking lot. Cycle 0.6 miles to Quiet Rain and head North for about 200 yards to reach a short, paved, uphill section to the power line road. You are now on the trail!
Pro tip: Start from Honey Bee Canyon Trail, sometimes called the Big Wash Trail. Be sure to download your favorite trail app (we suggest All Trail, or MTB Project) and it will guide you on this this loop. While there is no visible signage on this trail system, it is straightforward and easy to follow. There’s also a hiker’s only trail just a mile from where mountain bikers will start their ride, so bring the whole family and send them over to the hiking portion if they prefer walking.
Food and drink near Honey Bee
Grandma Tony’s has some of the best pizza in the state and is some of the best pizza in Arizona and is only half a mile away from the trailhead.
The Views Golf Club offers amazing views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the biggest tap beer and whine selection in Oro Valley!
Renting a mountain bike at Honey Bee Canyon
There are convenient options to rent a bike right at the venerable trailhead. Local rental services like Oro Valley Bike Rentals and TucsonBicycleRentals.com will deliver and pickup Specialized and Trek mountain bikes on site. These services are quite popular as you can schedule ahead of time and have your bike ready for you when you arrive. Electric, road and hybrid bikes also available on The Loop!
Mountain Biking Tortolita Preserve Loop—Marana, Arizona (“Saguaro Paradise”)
Tortolita is a 10-mile trail ideal for young riders
Marana, just east of Oro Valley is in northwest Tucson and boasts some of the best mountain biking in Arizona. Tortolita is the most beginner-friendly mountain bike trail you’ll find in Tucson, opening up options to bring the whole family. Riders can use a gravel or a mountain bike on this trail. Over the course of 9.7 miles expect only 500 feet of total elevation gain. Tortolita is the pride and joy of Marana’s Dove Mountain area. There are few trails more enjoyable for the sheer beauty as you will be surrounded by Saguaros from start to finish.
“Surprisingly good singletrack for bicycles in the middle of nowhere,” Ben Reindl remarked. “Go figure!”
Tortolita Preserve Basics
To access the trail, go west on Moore road, off Dove Mountain Blvd, to the end of the asphalt. The trail is about 100 yards west of the cattle gate on the north side. Please close the gate. Do not confuse this trail with the Wild Burro Trail next to the Ritz Carlton, which is a much more technically challenging trail. When mountain biking Tortolita, a front-shock or rigid mountain bike is deal.
Bikers are expected to approach the trail counterclockwise, foot traffic heads clockwise. The first 1.5 miles will be the most challenging. From there expect smoother sailings with some tight turns with a few breaks of rocky crossings that should be taken with caution. While there are some spots that rate more difficult in technical ability and may be a challenge for beginners or children, overall, this is a highly accessible route.
“Nice 10-mile loop for mountain biking,” Eyung G. said. “Trail is quite sandy and is certainly more beginner than intermediate. Traveling counter-clockwise gives you straight elevation gain in the beginning.”
This Marana mountain biking trail is a real gem for anyone looking for a gateway into casual riding among some of the desert’s best scenery. Mountain or gravel bike Tortolita and you will feel like you are in a saguaro paradise the entire time.
“Tortolita is drop-dead gorgeous, flat as a pancake and fun for any mountain biker or hiker. This is a dual use trail,” says Jon Westmore, cycling editor for BikeAZ.org. “You can get a great work out here and bring anyone of any level.”
Parking and directions to Tortolita
From the I-10, take Tangerine Road east until you reach Dove Mountain Blvd where you’ll head north. Go west on Moore Road just before Dove Road begins to curve. Head down Moore Road until it ends. There is some shoulder parking available. Head past the cattle gate on foot and close it behind you!
Tortolita is fun, easy mountain biking!
Pro tip: Dove Mountain Brewing Company is a great place to get something to eat nearby. And yes, the beer is great. Check out the Gallery Restaurant (part of The Gallery Golf Club) for a more high-end atmosphere If you are in town for a weekend, add Honey Bee Canyon to your list for a more challenging ride with 700 feet of elevation gain over 16 miles.
Renting a mountain bike at Tortolita Preserve Loop
Local rental services like Oro Valley Bike Rentals and TucsonBicycleRentals.com rent, pickup and deliver Specialized and Trek mountain bikes to Tortolita. They also offer kid’s rental bikes.
Fantasy Island Bunny Trail (Valencia Side) Tucson
Wide variety of beginner-friendly loops just minutes from Tucson airport
Fantasy Island is a fun Tucson mountain bike park
One of the closest trails to Tucson International Airport, Fantasy Island is a true Tucson mountain bike park with character like any other. There are eight trails within this park totally approx. 20 miles worth of options! Like most trails, riders should head counterclockwise. This park is exclusively for biking, so you shouldn’t have to keep an eye out for any foot traffic.
“This is one of my favorites in Tucson,” said Frederique Delhaye. “The Bunny trail is an easy, flat 9 miles, single trail, on which you can practice speed or learn to mountain bike. The Lone Cactus trail with its side trails is over 10 miles and a fun up-and-down single track. It has a lot of variety. The trails are well maintained.”
Fantasy Island Basics
Fantasy Island’s main loop, Lone Cactus (6.4 miles), has many side loops, so you can add mileage. All loops have a varying degree of technical areas, though no single area is super technical, making this park incredibly friendly for beginners. Other popular loops include Bunny Loop (4.5 miles), Burro Pit Loop (2.4 miles), and Bunny’s Revenge (1.7 miles).
This park is known for its quirky, avant-garde decorations, or as some call them, “hidden treasures,” like old cars, rusted bikes, odd sofas, and one special cow bell hanging overhead along one special trail. Night riding is permitted here and a popular option among the locals. Some organizations and clubs even hold Saturday night rides.
“Surprisingly fun for being right in town. Lots of skill-building opportunities for newer riders, and a fun blast for more experienced ones,” said Jess Hines.
Parking and directions to Fantasy Island
The main trailhead starts at Harrison Road and Irvington Road. Look for a small, paved parking lot on the south side of the intersection. The Southern Valencia “Bunny Loop” Trailhead is on the north side of Valencia Road and Frost Drive. This entrance features a small dirt parking lot.
Fantasy Island is a top Tucson beginner trail
Pro tip: If you are new to mountain biking, try out the Bunny Trail on the Valencia side of Fantasy Island. Most of this trail is incredible easy, but there are a few sudden drops to negotiate. Fantasy Island is a favorite among many Tucson mountain bikers, but its popularity has been in some decline as most locals prefer the more scenic Honey Bee Canyon, Tortolita Loop or even Arizona Trail, Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead.
Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead to Sahaurita Rd
This section of the Arizona Trail offers a beginner-friendly route
Gave Zimmerman is pure desert, singletrack mountain biking
Formerly known as the Davidson Canyon Trailhead, this portion of the Arizona National Scenic Trai, which traverses the entire length of the state, was renamed for the 3o-year-old political aide who was killed in 2011.
Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead basics
The most popular route (approx. 12 miles out and back) starts at the Zimmerman trailhead and heads south toward Sahaurita Road, and features a flat, easy ride with a scattering of turns and interesting twists, opening up to good mountain views, a slight drop-in to a dry creek, and a healthy mix of gravel, sand, and hard-packed dirt. For beginner and intermediate riders, we recommend the southern route for its fast, flowy feel with a continuous elevation gain.
“This is another Arizona cross country mountain biking gem,” says Pierce. “Ideal bike is a rigid or front shock mountain bike for this trail. There is not much need for suspension.”
Starting at the Gabe Zimmerman portion of the Arizona Trail that is located on Marsh Road, this is a carefree and scenic out-and-back ride. The ideal mountain bike would be a rigid or front shock. You may see someone even on a wide tire gravel bike from time to time. Take this trail to Sahaurita road, restart across the street and you will have a solid uphill climb until you get to cattle gates, where you can turn around and head back. Expect this great ride to take 2.5—3 hours.
Gabe Zimmerman mountain biking is fast and fun!
The trail is mostly flat with some dirt packed sections of trail. The trail twists and turns and goes up and down to maximize your fun. There are a couple of culverts plenty tall to ride through, as you have to go under I-10 (mile 1.5) and Hwy 83 (mile 5.5).
Parking and directions to Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead
We suggest inputting Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead, Vail, AZ 85641, into your phone or GPS to ensure you don’t miss the small parking lot that tends to sneak up on you. Off the I-1o head east on Marsh Station road. Within three miles or so, there will be a small parking lot on the right-hand side. Once you’ve parked, pedal your way along the south part of this trail to take advantage of the beginner-friendly portion of the route.
Pro tip: If you want more technical riding, take the trail north over the train tracks, but be warned, this ground gets craggy, is a much more difficult ride, and isn’t suitable for beginners.
Renting a bike for Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead
Local rental services like Oro Valley Bike Rentals and TucsonBicycleRentals.com offer great options to get you on the best bike to enjoy this great section the world-famous Arizona Trail!