Arizona cyclists voted in an epic social media battle to determine the best road bike rides in Arizona, and Mt. Lemmon reigned supreme, followed by Mt. Graham and Mingus Mountain. The longest climb in the state, Mt. Lemmon boasts an elevation gain of nearly 6,000 feet with one HC climb and two category-5 ascents all just steps away from Tucson. Thanks to all riders who voted in the Best Arizona Cycling Route Challenge.
Best Arizona Cycling Routes and Road Bike Rides with maps:
- Distance: 56.58 miles
- Location: Tucson
- Climbs: HC, two 5s
- Elevation Gain: 5,961 feet
- Top out Elevation: 8,206 feet
- Why you love it: “Mt. Lemmon is Arizona’s quintessential ride for a lot of reasons,” said Lynn Orchard, Tucson resident and rider for Tolero Racing. “It’s a hors categorie climb that provides a rare combination of sustained climbing, excellent road surface, spectacular vistas, and importantly, an escape from the 100+ summer temps in Tucson. One of the best parts of Lemmon is that it a world class climb right in our backyard. Its an easy ride to the base from anywhere in town. If you are so inclined you can ride Lemmon every day. You can make a quick trip to Molino Basin before work, or you can grind up to Windy Point after work to catch the sunset.”
Description: This ride takes cyclists up one of the highest mountains in the state. From the desert floor to the mountain’s peak, this ride is a challenge with nearly 8,000 feet of climbing!
- Distance: 39.72 miles
- Location: Safford
- Climbs: HC, 1, 3
- Elevation Gain: 7,947 feet
- Top out Elevation: 9,637 feet
- Why you love it: “It’s the whole experience that makes it special,” said Sean McCormack, fourth year racer and San Tan Racing rider living in Buckeye. “The difficulty, the switchbacks, the trees, etc. It lets you imagine that’s what it’s like to do the big climbs in the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees that most of us only see on TV. There’s a reason that’s the state championship hill climb, and I don’t think anyone that has ridden it could think of a better place to fight for a polka-dot jersey.”
Description: This route provides cyclists with a challenge and a view. While making a variety of climbs, a few easy and some difficult, cyclists are provided with a fantastic view of Verde Valley, which looks especially beautiful during the month of October.
- Distance: 91.39 miles
- Location: Cottonwood
- Climbs: 1, 4, three 5s
- Elevation Gain: 5,788 feet
- Top out Elevation: 7,053 feet
Description: This route can be as long or as short as a rider chooses to make it, as there are various pit stops along the way. The bulk of the course takes cyclists through the Superstition Mountains providing cyclists with breathtaking scenery.
- Distance: 90.33 miles
- Location: East Mesa
- Climbs: 1, two 3s, two 5s
- Elevation Gain: 4,628 feet
- Top out Elevation: 2,839 feet
- Why you love it: “Once you hit the ramps into Canyon Lake it really feels like you’re in a different world,” said Jake Spelman, five-year cyclist and Gilbert resident riding for Athlete Octane. “Living in Gilbert, it’s great to know that there’s real climbs and descents not too far away.”
Description: This ride circles Kitt Peak National Observatory and out to west Tucson-Ajo Highway and can be up to more than 100 miles in length if started from the heart of Tucson. This course combines a low, flat road ride and a difficult, steep climb up Kitt Peak.
- Distance: 108.07 miles
- Location: Kitt Peak
- Climbs: 1
- Elevation Gain: 4,942 feet
- Top out Elevation: 6,812 feet
Description: With 6,000 feet of climbing, the ascents are plenty and of a variety. This route crosses Seven Springs, down to Bartlett Lake and back.
- Distance: 76.68 miles
- Location: Scottsdale
- Climbs: Two 2s, two 4s, three 5s
- Elevation Gain: 4,967 feet
- Top out Elevation: 3,592 feet
- Why you love it: “My favorite group ride in the Valley is BOS and I like to ride out to Seven Springs as part of that ride,” said Sally Aston, a five-year cyclist and rider for Bicycle Haus who lives in Goodyear. “It’s a fun out-and-back that adds some miles. I’ve only done the ride out to Bartlett Lake once and I loved it because it’s hilly and pretty. I love climbing!”
Description: This short loop provides cyclists with a variety of wild plant life and cacti giving it the title of one of the prettiest routes in the Tucson area. This route has a few sharp turns and a long climb that goes on for more than a mile.
- Distance: 8.07 miles
- Location: Tucson
- Climbs: 5
- Elevation Gain: 323 feet
- Top out Elevation: 3,227 feet
- Why you love it: “At Saguaro East National Park you are surrounded by saguaros and incredible views all the way around the eight-mile loop,” said Dan Gabalski, a 20-year bike enthusiast and ex-resident of Tucson, currently living in Flagstaff. “The loop is one way and the terrain is perfect for riding. [It has] rollers, a steady climb, fast descents and lots of curves. Sunset rides are absolutely amazing with the views over the Tucson lights and all this for a $25 yearly pass. I love it so much I’ve donated extra money there many times.”
Description: El Tour de Mesa uses this route for its annual road race. It takes cyclists through central Scottsdale, onto the Beeline Highway (State Route 87), along the Salt River and through Usery Mountain Regional Park and back to Mesa.
- Distance: 69.3 miles
- Location: Mesa
- Climbs: 3
- Elevation Gain: 2,059 feet
- Top out Elevation: 2,116 feet
- Why you love it: “I liked the scenery,” said Alexis Gannis, rider for Curbside Cyclery and Grand Canyon University who took third in the most recent El Tour de Mesa. “Tonto National Forest and Saguaro Lake are so beautiful. It makes suffering and hammering it up Beeline, Bush Hwy and Usery so much more enjoyable. [It] gives me something else to focus on rather then listening to my legs telling me to stop! In general, it’s a great route. It’s also very safe [and there isn’t] much traffic.”
Description: This route takes riders around the McDowell Sonoran Preserve though Fountain Hills and and up and down various rolling climbs.
- Distance: 67.28 miles
- Location: Scottsdale, Fountain Hills
- Climbs: Two 4s, two 5s
- Elevation Gain: 2,476 feet
- Top out Elevation: 2,718 feet
- Why you love it: “The Tour de Scottsdale route offers everything – beautiful Sonoran Desert scenery, challenging hills and an exhilarating nine-mile descent. Riding a course through saguaros, cholla and ocotillos is a uniquely Arizona experience, and that’s what makes it so special,” said Michael Murphy, a three-time Tour de Scottsdale participant and 10-year cyclist.
Description: The entirety of this ride goes through both urban and scenic views within Saguaro National Park and can begin in various locations to make the ride shorter or longer. The portion within the park is made up of a variety of climbs and winding roads, which can prove tedious.
- Distance: 93.53 miles
- Location: Tucson
- Climbs: 2, 3, 4
- Elevation Gain: 3,156 feet
- Top out Elevation: 3,235 feet
- Why you love it: “The Gates Pass route is one of my favorites,” said Marilyn McDonald, who has been riding since 1999, competing all over the world from state, to World Cup, to the USAC national racing calendar. “One of my favorite sessions is repeats up the backside of Gates. It’s not a very long climb, but it challenges you with different grades and maxing out on the top. Once you are up there the view is one of the best. [It is] challenging but beautiful and painful, but not so long you hate it. It’s a great climb for any cyclist to see.”
Description: With a max elevation of more than 9,000 feet, this route is sure to take your breath away, literally. The climb to Arizona’s highest peak is not easy, but it is beautiful.
- Distance: 39.38 miles
- Location: Flagstaff
- Climbs: 1, 5
- Elevation Gain: 2,604 feet
- Top out Elevation: 9,541 feet
- Why you love it: “I love Snowbowl because of the views from the summit and the crisp cool air,” said Kyle Gandy, two-year cyclist riding for DNA Cycles Racing and Northern Arizona University. “The altitude makes the workout worth the suffering.”
Description: This popular Saturday morning group ride takes cyclists from Tucson to Green Valley in a loop. The scenery includes mountainous desert before returning back to Tucson.
- Distance: 59.65 miles
- Location: Tucson
- Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
- Top out Elevation: 3,556 feet
- Why you love it: “The Shootout is great because of the route, the cyclists, the challenge, and that it continues year round,” said Ben Ferguson, Tucson cyclist and rider for Tri-Sports/Eclipse racing team. “I have many friends that ride it regularly – just wish I could join them more often!”
Description: This loop takes cyclists up South Mountain and around Ahwatukee. This route includes a tough climb to the infamous towers that many Valley cyclists like to use for climbing practice.
- Distance: 66.76 miles
- Location: Phoenix
- Climbs: 2, 4
- Elevation Gain: 2,116 feet
- Top out Elevation: 2,564 feet
- Why you love it: “I love it because I feel safe riding,” said Alex Argueta, five year cyclist from Tempe who rides for fun. riding for fun. “Toward San Juan Road it’s a nice warm up and then an amazing climb to the towers. [It’s a] great route for intense training if you don’t have much time to train.”
Description: This route is used for the Hillside road race that was unfortunately canceled in 2014. This course includes a big descent before a long climb back out all along State Route 96 and State Route 97.
- Distance: 55.73 miles
- Location: Hillside
- Climbs: 2, two 3s
- Elevation Gain: 3,271 feet
- Top out Elevation: 4,027 feet
Description: This triangle-shaped course has been used as the route for the Colossal Cave road race for years. With a start on Pistol Hill, this ride has few curves, rollers and only one small climb.
- Distance: 8.89 Miles
- Location: Tucson
- Climbs: 5
- Elevation Gain: 368 feet
- Top out Elevation: 3,572 feet
Description: Cyclists start in Tempe, ride through Scottsdale, around Paradise Valley and back. This route is perfect for a gentle group ride with some hills in between.
- Distance: 28.83 miles
- Location: Paradise Valley
- Climbs: Two 5s
- Elevation Gain: 717 feet
- Top out Elevation: 1,969 feet