Guidebook

Total Immersion: Snowbirding in Tucson, Arizona

After three months snowbirding in Tucson, Greg is even more enthralled with this incredible desert oasis.

Greg Heil

Description

Tucson, Arizona has long been a favorite destination of snowbirds from across North America. Traditional snowbirds were retirees who would seasonally flee from the cold and snow of the northern latitudes in exchange for the sunshine and perfect temperatures found in Arizona's desert or on Florida's beaches. But in today's mobile world, digital nomads also join the ranks of people who migrate with the seasons.

During my stay in Oregon's Rogue Valley, a switch flipped in the weather patterns, and the perfect fall temps plummeted into the 40s, accompanied by a torrent of rain. After weeks of rain with no end in sight, I found myself doubting that I could make it through an entire 6-month onslaught of such horrid weather.

After putting up with it for a couple of months, I finally pulled the plug on the dreary cold and hit the road south. It seems those old snowbirds have a few things figured out, as Tucson turned out to be the perfect spot to spend the months of January, February, March, and April.

Tucson lies just over an hour north of the Mexican border in a low elevation valley in the heart of the Sonoran Desert: a magical landscape filled with vibrant life. Here, you'll encounter almost every type of cactus imaginable, in all shapes and sizes and formations. In the spring, the cacti are covered with colorful blooms and the buds of new growth, and in between, wildflowers sprout in vast, colorful carpets from the desert floor. Birds flit from bush to tree to cactus, bees buzz amongst the flowers, roadrunners zip across the trail, and larger wildlife like javelina, coyotes, jackrabbits, deer, and more can be spotted at the right time of day.

After spending several months soaking in the rugged landscape and then subsequently heading back north to the desert zones that I'm more familiar with, I'm even more amazed at how rich with life the Sonoran Desert is. While sure, the Utah desert is a stunning place, if anything, it's an even more desolate environment when you compare the flora and fauna.

I'm in no way a city person, and living in a city of a million people did tend to drain me. Dealing with traffic and having to drive at least 20 minutes in any direction to reach a mountain bike trailhead was a tough transition from my normal ride-out-the-back-door lifestyle. And yet, for such a thriving city, the vast amount of mountain biking and hiking opportunities available right on the edge of town is astounding! I was impressed by the outdoor access on my first visit to Tucson a year ago, and now after taking a deep dive into the trails there, I'm even more blown away.

One incredible resource that I availed myself of several times per week is Tucson's fantastic network of paved bike paths that connect the city's various barrios together. With well over a hundred miles of vehicle-free bike paths, I could easily hop on my bike, pedal right out the door of my condo and onto the bike path, and go for a 20- or 30-mile ride in the evening without ever having to deal with a car. For road cyclists, these bike paths are like heaven on earth!

After pedaling hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails, spending many days hiking through the desert, and exploring hidden corners of the city on my road bike, I came away from my time in the desert with tons of fantastic memories (and photos!). Dig into this guidebook for a deep cut of the best routes that I explored during my 3-month snowbird stint in the incredible city of Tucson.

Best of Golder Ranch
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Best of Golder Ranch

21.3 km
461 m
461 m
This route links up the most entertaining segments in the Golder Ranch trail system for advanced or adventurous intermediate riders.
Severe
Private
Sabino Canyon: Esperero -> Rattlesnake -> Phoneline Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Sabino Canyon: Esperero -> Rattlesnake -> Phoneline Loop

1 - 2 hrs
7.0 km
222 m
222 m
An achievable loop with one steep climb.
Difficult
Private
The Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

The Loop

86.8 km
358 m
358 m
A 54-mile loop through Tucson's superb network of urban bike paths.
Easy
Private
Ironwood Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Ironwood Loop

11.0 km
64 m
64 m
Mellow singletrack with beautiful cacti and views of the Tucson Mountains.
Easy
Private
Bunny Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Bunny Loop

8.7 km
37 m
37 m
A flowy, almost completely flat beginner-friendly singletrack ride.
Easy
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
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
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
John Crane Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

John Crane Loop

2 - 3 hrs
7.1 km
244 m
244 m
Short, steep hike to gain incredible views!
Severe
Private
Painted Hills
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Painted Hills

5.9 km
119 m
119 m
A fun little trail system that's perfect for a quick after-work ride.
Severe
Private
Sweetwater Preserve Trail System
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Sweetwater Preserve Trail System

16.2 km
207 m
207 m
A classic, scenic desert mountain bike trail with challenging rock sections.
Moderate
Private
Arizona Trail: Santa Ritas to Saguaro NP, Day 2
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Arizona Trail: Santa Ritas to Saguaro NP, Day 2

45.6 km
701 m
1,096 m
Continuing north along the Arizona Trail, today’s route is mostly fast and flowing with a lot of elevation loss between the start and finish.
Moderate
Private
Arizona Trail: Santa Ritas to Saguaro NP, Day 1
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Arizona Trail: Santa Ritas to Saguaro NP, Day 1

32.3 km
705 m
899 m
This diverse and exciting three-day adventure features 60 miles of flowing singletrack through oak and juniper forests, across golden grasslands and finishing among stands of giant saguaro cacti.
Moderate
Private
Arizona Trail: Santa Ritas to Saguaro NP, Day 3
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Arizona Trail: Santa Ritas to Saguaro NP, Day 3

17.4 km
170 m
280 m
Limestone dominates the landscape, which makes for challenging riding, but soon disappears as you descend into lower elevations.
Moderate
Private
Sabino Lake Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Sabino Lake Loop

0 - 1 hrs
3.8 km
52 m
51 m
A short but scenic loop to a surprising "lake" in the desert.
Moderate
Private
Golder High Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Golder High Loop

21.0 km
452 m
452 m
A challenging ride accessing the upper reaches of the Golder Ranch Trail System.
Severe
Private
Golder Low Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Golder Low Loop

13.4 km
254 m
254 m
This recommended ride provides a handful of the most challenging slab rides at Golder Ranch in an accessible package.
Severe
Private
The Chutes
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

The Chutes

10.8 km
121 m
121 m
Banked singletrack bobsled runs that swoop down along rolling ridgelines!
Moderate
Private
The Full Lemmon Drop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

The Full Lemmon Drop

47.8 km
1,131 m
3,051 m
One of the most epic and brutally-gnarly shuttle runs in the USA!
Extreme
Private
Fantasy Island
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Fantasy Island

18.9 km
169 m
169 m
A classic cross country ride on the southern edge of Tucson
Moderate
Private
Colossal Cave Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Colossal Cave Loop

24.6 km
299 m
299 m
A rambling XC loop that can be extended with portions of the AZT.
Moderate
Private
Tortolita Mountains Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Tortolita Mountains Loop

26.3 km
935 m
935 m
Pedal through a beautiful, undeveloped mountain range to the north of Tucson.
Severe
Private
Camaro -> 360-Vista Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Camaro -> 360-Vista Loop

1 - 2 hrs
6.5 km
108 m
108 m
An easy loop hike leading to impressive views.
Moderate
Private
Wild Dog Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Wild Dog Trail

0 - 1 hrs
1.5 km
8 m
57 m
Mellow hike among desert flora and low hills within the Bajada Scenic Loop.
Easy
Private
Mount Kimball
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mount Kimball

5 - 6 hrs
13.7 km
1,282 m
1,282 m
One of the most accessible major peaks in the Catalinas.
Severe
Private
Big Wash Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Big Wash Trail

13.3 km
113 m
113 m
An ultra-smooth, ultra-flat beginner ride.
Easy
Private
Honeybee-X Trails
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Honeybee-X Trails

45.5 km
483 m
483 m
A classic, scenic desert mountain bike trail that is just plain fun to ride for all skill levels.
Easy
Private
Arizona Trail Race: Saguaro National Park to Oracle State Park
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Arizona Trail Race: Saguaro National Park to Oracle State Park

136.3 km
3,308 m
3,024 m
The Arizona Trail Race route, running from Saguaro National Park past Mount Lemmon and culminating at Oracle State Park.
Difficult
Private
100-Acre Wood Bike Park

100-Acre Wood Bike Park

10.5 km
29 m
29 m
Phase 1 of an urban bike park.
Easy
Private
Redington Pass
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Redington Pass

41.0 km
789 m
789 m
Beautiful gravel grind from the outskirts of Tucson.
Easy
Private
Chiva Falls

Chiva Falls

13.2 km
335 m
335 m
Difficult 4x4 road ride to a beautiful oasis.
Difficult
Private
Oracle State Park: Big Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Oracle State Park: Big Loop

4 - 5 hrs
17.5 km
405 m
405 m
A long hike circumnavigating Oracle State Park.
Moderate
Private