Five2Ride: The Best Bike Trails near Tucson, AZ
Tucson remains surprisingly below the radar as a mountain biking destination. It’s hard to beat the combined forces of over 1,000 miles of quality singletrack, monster climbs and killer descents, blazingly-fast and flowy to viciously-technical trails, the most marvelous Sonoran Desert scenery and flora, and a year-round riding season. No matter what type of riding you like, you’ll find it in abundance around Tucson. Here’s a handful of the best trails for getting to know southern Arizona’s city, desert, and mountain.
The 50 Year Trail and it’s connections have been the quintessential Tucson ride for years, and for good reason. The network provides the ultimate intermediate playground with easy and difficult options, meaning pretty much anybody is going to have a great time. Whether it’s sprinting for Strava KOMs on the fast trails, unleashing your inner Danny MacAskill among the features in the upper reaches, or doing a bobsled run on bikes in The Chutes, ear-to-ear grins are just about guaranteed.
“[I’ve] ridden this trail twice this summer and was blown away both times. Most of the trail flows very nicely and feels like an easy ride for the intermediate. The Chutes are a blast–they are deep grooves in the rocks, and steep too! Awesome ride!” -cisco006
Nothing screams cross country adventure like a long distance trail covering the length of an entire large, western state. The cross-state Arizona Trail passes through the mountains east of Tucson, offering access to multiple segments from a few different trailheads. No matter where you start, you can dial up a quick out-and-back or a lengthy point-to-point excursion.
“This is a great section of the AZT for the XC types. Fast and flowy the whole way. Trail is well engineered so the hills stay between 6-8%. Good trail for beginner/intermediate riders looking for a little adventure.” -Eric Foltz
It has become a badly abused cliche to claim that a trail is “suitable for beginners, but advanced riders can have a good time too.” It’s no cliche with regard to Tucson’s Fantasy Island. Nowhere else is there such a trail so open to novices but so entertaining for more experienced riders. Bobbing and weaving, playing chicken with the Cholla, and pressing for more speed on an astonishingly-flat course… who woulda thought this could be so much fun? But it is.
“Great place to practice turns and take in some awesome desert riding scenery. After riding this place for a few days my turn speed improved a ton. Take the Bunny Trail Loop to get a feel for the trail layout then branch out into the side trails for more fun. Any skill level for the bunny loop – some of the off shoot loops have a bit more technical features and are lengthy. Bring a spare tube and watch out for the cactus!” -NationWIDE
The word “gnarly” falls well short of doing justice to La Milagrosa, a rock-strewn, cactus-lined plummet through a potential house of pain. Some may bemoan a lack of flow, but others prize this trail for its natural, non-manmade features and continual challenge. For those looking for a longer adventure, the starting point is high on Mt. Lemmon for a nearly 30-mile epic with 3,000 feet of climbing… but over 9.000 feet of descending!
“This trail is amazing! The [hike-a-bike] at the beginning could be rideable with some work. And it’s not constant [hike-a-bike], more like riding with some short, steep, exposed moves. After that, it’s a mix of light chunk, hundreds of small drops, dozens of bigger drops, and 2 or 3 pretty steep sections. There are also some screaming-fast wide-open sections.” -skelldify
Another novice-suitable trail network, the Sweetwater Preserve sits in the middle of the densest forest of giant saguaro cacti in all of mountain bike land. This unique and dramatic scenery led to Sweetwater being chosen as one of the five most scenic trails in the western US.
“A really fun place to ride. The terrain is fantastic and the vegetation is awe-inspiring. Trails are laid out very well with a good mix of flowing and technical challenge. Signage is top notch.” -CFM
For a deep dive on what the Tucson area has to offer, be sure to check out this episode of Trail TV: