Cycling Through the Sonoran Desert:
A Road Cycling Adventure in Tucson, Arizona

2023 Text: Virginie Palermo    photos: Mike Kazik

As an avid cyclist, I'm always on the lookout for new and exciting destinations to explore on two wheels. So when I heard about Tucson, Arizona's reputation as a road cycling paradise, I knew I had to experience it for myself.

Tucson boasts some of the best road cycling routes in the country, catering to all skill levels. One of the most popular routes is the Tucson Loop, a 131-mile paved trail that encircles the city. The Loop is perfect for cyclists who want to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert while enjoying a leisurely ride. The trail takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Tucson, from the towering cacti of Saguaro National Park to the winding roads of the Catalina Foothills.

But as someone who loves a good challenge, I couldn't resist tackling the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway. The route starts at the base of the mountain and climbs over 6,000 feet to the summit, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape along the way. The climb was challenging, but the views from the top were well worth the effort. I started my climb early in the morning, and as the sun began to rise, the colors of the desert landscape changed before my eyes. The climb took me through different ecosystems, from the low desert to the alpine forest at the summit. The descent was equally thrilling, with winding roads and stunning views of the valley below.

For intermediate riders, the Saguaro National Park Loop is a must-ride. The trail takes cyclists through the heart of Saguaro National Park, offering stunning views of the iconic cactus that dot the landscape. The trail is relatively flat, making it a great option for those who want to take in the beauty of the desert without too much of a challenge. I rode the loop at sunset, and the colors of the sky reflected off the cacti, creating a beautiful and serene atmosphere.

When planning your road cycling trip to Tucson, be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen, as the desert sun can be intense. If you don't want to bring your own bike, Tucson has plenty of bike rental shops that offer high-quality road bikes for rent.

Tucson, Arizona is a road cycling paradise that should be on every cyclist's bucket list. With its stunning natural landscapes, challenging routes, and vibrant cycling community, Tucson is a place where you can truly discover the joy of cycling. Whether you're exploring the Tucson Loop, tackling the Mount Lemmon climb, or hiking through the desert, you're sure to discover the beauty of the Sonoran Desert on two wheels.

Place we stayed at: Gema Oculta Southwest Tucson

GPX files of the different routes we rode can be found below.

Route 1: AZ - ShootOut Ride - 126km/900m  (STRAVA)
Route 2: AZ - Mt.Lemmon - 130km/2400m (STRAVA)
Route 3: AZ - GatesPass - 64km/700m  (STRAVA)
Route 4: AZ - GatesPass XL - 140km/900m (STRAVA)
Route 5: AZ - Sabino Canyon & Saguaro National Park - 100km/800m (STRAVA)
Route 6: AZ - Madera Canyon - 178km/1728m (STRAVA)