Madera Canyon (via Box Canyon)

5 Star Route / Ridden and Reviewed by Gravel Girl & Captain ‘O

The Madera Canyon out and back (via Box Canyon) is no secret to local riders and there’s a reason: it’s a solid five star ride. As gravel cyclists, we love variety … in the surface, the scenery, and the wildlife … which this has all three. But the route is backloaded, meaning the second half is harder than the first. So no whining about it, ok? It’s an out and back so you know exactly what you are in for on the way back.

According to Wikipedia, Madera Canyon is rated as the third best birding destination in the US. Why? Bird nerds have documented fifteen species of hummingbirds, thirty-six species of wood warblers, and over 256 species of birds. And the final pitch up to the end of the canyon (13% grade) will give you the perfect speed to look for birds.  

Ride Details
The ride starts at a makeshift dirt parking lot just off Highway 83. The first few miles wind through farmland on a “paved” road (you know the type, Arizona paved) that is slightly uphill. It’s an easy climb that doesn’t buy you much elevation gain, but is a perfect warm-up. At mile 3.5 you switch to a gravel road, which leads you through Box Canyon. We loved the green cottonwoods and silver barked sycamores trees, the stream below us, and the waterfall. (Ok, it wasn’t a GUSHING waterfall, but still fun.) The views get bigger as you twist and turn your way down, down through the canyon.  **Click to Read More

Adventure / Gravel Route

– Loop: 40 miles / 4000 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 55% gravel, 45% paved
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: ~ 45 min south of Tucson, Arizona
– Course by: Sobino Cycles
– Published: May 2019



When we like to ride this …

Almost anytime of year. Summer, go early! Spring has the creeks running full. Fall has the changing colors. And winter, mid-day, can be gorgeous when the peaks are snow capped and the sun is out.

The Start

At gravel pad on the NW corner of Sonoita Road (Hwy 83) and Greaterville Road. This is just before the Border Checkpoint on Sonoita Road about 15-16 miles south of I-10.
Lat / Long: 31.785443, -110.696430

Food / Water

Several spots along the Madera Canyon climb including: (a) Santa Rita lodge (mile 18.8) and (b) a drinking fountain next to the bathrooms on the east side of the road at mile 19.


Cue Sheet / GPX FileTCX File


Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road

For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.

  • Peter Pollard says:

    It wasn’t ideal riding through Box Canyon on road bikes with 28 tires but it’s certainly doable and the incredible views take your mind off the bumping. And we were definitely happy with our bike choices on the pavement up and down Madera Canyon. A really enjoyable ride with lots of variety.

    • Kevin / Co-Founder @ Dirty Freehub says:

      Thx for the feedback! We like this ride a lot. Tire choice is a bit tough – with all the new research coming out on tires, something like a 35 to 40 mm tire seems ideal. Maybe change tire pressure during the ride … or Box Canyon (the gravel) air down, for Madera (the paved) air up. We frequently do this on mixed rides. With 40 mm tires I will go as high as 45 psi.


    Thx Paul

  • Paul Thomas says:

    This ride isn’t great one. It is doable on a road bike…..25mm tires are just fine. Plenty of other variations that can make it into a longer ride.

  • Great experience! We skipped the first paved section so our ride was 33 miles with 3800′ of climbing. The gravel gets chunky in a couple sections but I’m on small 35mm tires and was fine. The climb up to the end of Madera was gorgeous and i loved the challenge.

  • >
    Scroll to Top