- Lisa Parsons
Tucson Singletrack on Mt. Lemmon
Mount Lemmon tops out at an elevation of 9,159 feet. It is a Sky Island that sits above Tucson Arizona and is a recreation retreat from the hot temperatures of Tucson in the summer. Although it is great all year round and even has a ski area at the summit.
It is about 20-30 degrees cooler on the mountain so we decided to explore more of the mountain by bicycle and by foot.
Mountain biking on Mt. Lemmon is for risk takers who like steep descents and rocky drops with exposure and trails that were definitely not built with mt. biking in mind. Bugs Spring is one of the easiest trails on the mountain, and as we found out is just right for our skill level and level of risk.
"Gnarr, gnarr. Tucson mountain bikers are pretty hardcore if they are riding these trails", David exclaimed as we made our second attempt to ride Mt. Lemmon’s trails.
On Wednesday, the day of our first attempt to mt. bike Mount Lemmon, we dropped the dogs off at doggy daycare in town, hooked up with Homegrown Shuttle Company and embarked on a seventeen mile ride. We were finally going to get to do a long ride. We had a dog free day to ride as long as we wanted. We started from the top of a trail called Green Mountain. Our plan was to ride the Bug Springs trail followed by Prison Camp, the Arizona Trail, and finish on Milagrosa.
Green Mountain showed us that weeks of abusing our bikes had finally caught up with us. I think we were both in denial and thought we could get through another month of riding and worry about repairs when we got home. The bikes did not support this fantasy. My front shock failed and David’s hub was on its last rotation.
After hiking through snow and through some loose chunky off camber rock gardens we bailed at the bottom of Green Mountain and rode the Mt. Lemmon highway back to our car. It was still an amazing ride. Just not the one we had planned. The views along Mt. Lemmon from our mt. bikes were incredible. We took our time and stopped at viewpoints along the way down.
Luckily our shuttle driver Pnut (small like a P, crazy like a nut) told us that we could take our bikes to the Tucson Endurance Performance Center. They had quick turn around times and knew what they were doing. We set our sights on the bike shop and resigned ourselves to seeing Mt. Lemmon by foot for the next few days.
We went in to pick up our bikes on Friday. David’s bike was finished but the new front shock that I needed for my Kona Hei Hei 29er would not be in until Monday. Suddenly our plans of riding Bug Springs the next day faded away. Then they asked if I needed a loaner bike and we were back on. So I now had a Rocky Mountain Pipeline with 140mm of travel and 2.8 tires for my descent down Bug Springs.
We returned to our campground just as the last light faded. The next morning we left our pups in their shaded spot under a giant oak tree and peddled out of camp and up Mt. Lemmon highway to the top of Bug Springs. We rode a gradual 4.4 miles up the road to the top of Bugs. Then from there we had a 20 minute hike-a-bike up some steep trail that jumped up 2 foot water bars straight up the mountain side. We had taken a look at it from the road the day before. It just went straight up to the top of the hill.
There wasn’t time to ease into the rocky descents. Right from the start we were dropping down rock gardens, water bars, and around switchbacks. Then we rode through a canyon crisscrossing over a creek with water in it. Then we rolled along the side canyon until we had another hike a bike up another series of water bars. Then finally we rode along the ridgeline on hard granite slabs past hoodoos and views of the surrounding ridges. The final descent was a long flowing trail down a softer ridgeline and then a series of switchbacks down to the highway.
In Trailforks it says that Bugs is one of the easiest trails on Mt. Lemmon. I guess we won’t be riding the double black diamonds. Bugs is an amazing rocky, technical trail with some great flowy sections. You earn your descent with the hike-a-bike at the beginning. You can add a number of other trails to it. Prison camp which we had ridden on our last trip to Tucson adds another two miles to it and is the after work route for the locals. You can do the shuttle route, the Half Lemmon Drop, which we had initially planned on. There is also the Full Lemmon Drop, which is 31 miles with 6,154 ft. climb and 12,462 ft. descent
Views of the valley, ridgelines, and hoodoos from the trail
Tucson has some great riding. The tough technical trails, like Bugs, are on Mt. Lemmon. There are also many other riding areas to explore. Don’t miss Sweetwater Preserve for some user built singletrack. Tucson Mountain for incredible desert scenery filled with Saguaro cactus and red rock, and a combination of climbing and descending and some flatter trails in the lowlands. There is also Rincon Peak that has some very technical descents and part of the Arizona Trail that connects Prison Camp to the Rincon Mountain trails. Check out Catalina State Park for the 50 Year Trail and Honeybee Canyon in the Oro Valley.
4.6 miles trail
1956 feet of climbing up the highway and trail
1956 feet of descent on the trail
Homegrown Shuttles - Guides - Rentals
Tucson Endurance Performance Center- Bicycle repairs, gear, bikes, bike rentals
Trailforks guide on Mount Lemmon
Honeybee Canyon / Rail X Ranch in the Oro Valley
Molino Basin Campground has nice bathrooms, group camps, no internet / cell and no water. It is located at end of Prison Camp trail and connects into the AZT.
Hirabayashi Campground primitive campground with outhouses. No water. Good internet at times.
Thanks Homegrown Shuttle for going back to get David's bike shoes.
Thanks to Endurance Tucson Performance Center for getting us back on our tuned up bikes!