Ruby is a historic ghost town just 4 miles north of the Mexico border, with a caretaker and surrounded by the Coronado National Forest. There’s two roads leading into Ruby – one from the southeast and one from the northwest; local gravel cyclists will tell you that they are both amazing gravel routes. We found the road from the south, moving east to the west to be stunning, punchy, and scenic. Check the Ruby website to find out all the details for when you can have a tour. (You can’t just show up and expect to get in.) The town is loaded with awesome history — a mining camp from the early 1900s, with the first strike of gold in the late 1870s, and real wild west drama.
If you know bike math, you know this is not going to be a speedy course: 29 miles and 3,700 feet of climbing (maybe 4200 feet, depending on which GPS device you trust). All gravel. Some washboarded, some cobblestone … mixed with a few shallow wash crossings. **Click to Read More
We got turned around at the start so pay attention here: The road you drive in on (Highway 289) is a paved road that heads toward the Pena Blanca Lake. Before the lake, but with the lake in sight, there is a sign for camping to your left. The confusing part is that this gravel road is your road for the ride; you don’t keep going down to the lake. Park at the campground, the campground is the round circular lot. Continue west on the gravel road (FS 39 / Ruby road) when leading out, it will feel like you are cutting through the back of the campground. Your not. In a few hundred feet you will realize that “yes, indeed” you are on a road that goes somewhere. To Ruby!
The route quickly crosses Pena Blanca wash and then wastes no time in climbing up and out of Alamo Canyon, with grades of 6 to 12%. Alamo Canyon slowly disappears to your left while you continue to gain elevation in an attempt to “top” the ridge amongst dispersed and jagged walls of rock to your right. The riding is never “easy”, there is washboard, some rock cobbled sections, and short downhills requiring your attention.
We loved the plant life: blooming yuccas and open grasslands. (Thorn-scrub and Pinyon-Juniper woodlands of the Sonoran desert.) Once the ridge is attained you will have an eagle’s view of the whole area, layered views of distant mountain ranges to the north and south. Immediately to the north, is the Atascosa Mountains and immediately to the south is the Pajarito Mountains. Roll along on the ridge, enjoy the views, then pop down, down into large oak and sycamore trees, cross a wash. This is the entrance to Sycamore Canyon.
Now cimb again, more grand open views, with “loads” of steep faced rock formations. At ~ mile 9, the terrain becomes less mountainous, replaced by rolling grasslands with Bear Valley to your right. Then, unexpectedly, the road twists and turns. Montana Peak appears to your left, and road drops down (again!) to the town of Ruby, where hopefully you have been smart enough to reserve a time to tour the place.
The way back is about equal to the way out, 300 feet less elevation gain but a steeper climb to the high point (a consistent grade of 8% for 950 feet of gain). The only real surprise was somehow we thought at mile 23 or so that we were done climbing. Not the case. You wind, wind down … but for grins, there’s a few poppers that jump you back to 8%. Let’s just say you have been warned and we do hope you find the humor in these short segments.
This route has a completely different character than Ruby (North). Ruby (North) is much more of an exploration of washes, canyons, and gulches. Ruby (South), this route, is tucked up alongside the Atascosa Mountains and has wide, sweeping views for most of the day. We strongly recommend both routes. And … if your into “big”, give Big Ruby a go. It takes in the best of both routes.
For a slightly longer ride, start at Calabasas group campground on Highway 289. This will add 6 miles (total) of rolling pavement with an extra 825 feet of gain.
Lat / Long: 31.387898, -111.051128
40 mm tires are about the minimum for this route. 650b’s with 50 mm tires or a 29’er with 2.1’s would be our preferred choice.
Regarding Border Patrol. When we come across them for the first time in the day, we stopped and asked if “there’s anything we should be aware of” and we also gave them our route for the day. Border Patrol was professional, helpful and polite.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Difficulty / Strava Metrics
Moderate. There are no long climbs with several thousand feet of gain along the route. Instead, it is a continuously rolling course with little “sit and spin” time. Your mind and body are “on” all day long; picking the best line to avoid washboard or rock cobble. But at times, you just need to ride through it. **Gravel Girls ride metrics.
When we like to ride this …
Late fall to early spring when the skies are clear and the temps are moderate. We would avoid this route in summer as it is very exposed to the sun. Wind could also make this route brutal. Do the route when the ghost town of Ruby is open for touring, otherwise the turn around point will feel a bit anticlimactic.
White Rock Campground. Pit toilets.
Lat / Long: 31.393659, -111.089540
Food / Water
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.