Guidebook

5 MTB Rides to Explore the Rugged Tucson Mountains

Explore dozens of miles of rough-and-tumble singletrack in the Tucson Mountains.

Greg Heil

Description

The arid Tucson Mountains form a ragged skyline just to the west of the eponymous million-person metropolis. This rocky mountain range doesn't rise nearly as high as the Catalinas to the northeast of the city, but the trails riddling the mountain range are plenty rugged and technical.

As the city continues to sprawl in all directions, most of the Tucson mountains have thankfully been protected by a combination of parks and preserves. The northernmost section of the range has been protected by the western unit of Saguaro National Park. As Saguaro National Park runs to the south, it seamlessly transitions into Tucson Mountain Park, which also protects a vibrant Sonoran desert landscape. The only difference? Mountain bikes are legal in Tucson Mountain Park.

The trail system spidering through the Tucson Mountains is one of the most extensive in the region. The singletrack trails run for miles, seemingly wrapping around every single peak and dropping into every single valley. The trail tread varies from smooth and beginner-friendly to rugged and technical. On average, the trails in the Tucson Mountains are quite rugged and challenging, with short, punchy climbs and steep, twisty descents. The rocks that provide the technical challenge are jagged and sharp, with rough protrusions just waiting to shred your sidewalls or pinch flat your tire.

Between the rocks the soil is loose and shifting, creating challenging cornering conditions and, in the bottoms of the washes, deep sand pits. None of the miles come easily here, yet the beauty of this mountain range and the ability to pedal for miles and miles around and over these rugged peaks while still seeing the entirety of Tucson spread out below you is a unique and wonderful experience. If you want to get the most out of this mountain range, dive into the five highlighted itineraries included in this guidebook.

First up, Starr Pass is the best route for dipping your tires into the Tucson Mountains without getting absolutely brutalized. Some of the miles on Starr Pass actually do come easily.

Stepping up from there, the Explorer and 360-View Loop connects to Starr Pass but runs through a wonderful selection of steeper, and much more rugged singletrack.

The 36th Street -> Bittersweet Loop follows a few similar route idea as the previous itinerary, but it hits a number of different trails in a ride combination that only gets a "Difficult" rating in comparison to Explorer's "Severe."

If you want stupendous views of the Tucson Mountains and Saguaro National Park, Brown Mountain is the place to go! More than just a single peak, Brown Mountain consists of several small summits along a low ridge measuring 1.5 miles long. Located just outside of the national park boundary, the views here can't be beat!

Finally, for an epic route that tries to maximize the mileage found in this network, try the "Tucson Mountains Epic" on for size. This 37-mile route makes the most of the expansive singletrack found in this trail system while minimizing the amount of backtracking required to make it happen. But if you're willing to do a bit more backtracking and weaving around, you can easily turn this into a 50+ mile all-day excursion that's guaranteed to give you your fill of rocks and cacti!

Starr Pass Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Starr Pass Loop

13.6 km
235 m
235 m
A well-rounded mountain bike ride through the gorgeous Tucson Mountains.
Difficult
Private
Explorer -> 360-Vista Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Explorer -> 360-Vista Loop

16.1 km
298 m
298 m
A rugged, technical alternative to the classic Starr Pass.
Severe
Private
36th Street -> Bittersweet Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

36th Street -> Bittersweet Loop

16.6 km
294 m
294 m
Up-and-down cross country riding through the Tucson Mountains, right on the edge of the city.
Difficult
Private
Brown Mountain
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Brown Mountain

7.5 km
228 m
228 m
Enjoy stupendous views of the Tucson Mountains and Saguaro National Park.
Severe
Private
Tucson Mountains Epic
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Tucson Mountains Epic

58.8 km
1,118 m
1,118 m
For an epic route that tries to maximize the mileage found in the Tucson Mountain Range, try this 37-mile ride on for size.
Severe
Private