Saguaro (East)

5 Star Route

Silliness. This is not a ride: this is really a grand TOUR of saguaro cactus and all the other spiny plants that make up Saguaro National Park. You just happen to be using your bike as a way to see the park. We’ve combined the paved loop that the cars drive, along with a single track hiking / biking trail to make for just the perfect adventure. You’ll have a million and one opportunities to snap pictures and enjoy the grand saguaros!  (So leave that Strava mentality at home.) 

Now before you get confused, Saguaro National Park has two distinct locations. East and West.   The “districts” are on opposite sides of Tucson, both are dedicated to showcasing all that the dessert has to offer up. This is the EAST mixed gravel bike route.

And before you go thinking super quick, super easy … remember it’s 15 miles, a 1,000 feet of climbing and 5 miles of single track with a prickly poke for any handling mistake.  

Adventure / Gravel Route

Figure 8: 15 miles / 1000 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 35% single track, 65% paved
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: Tucson, Arizona
– Published: January 2020

Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]

Moderate (Overall)

  • Technical Riding Difficulty: Moderate
    Due to the prickly consequences of going off trail on the single track. Ouch!
  • Navigation Challenge & Risk: Easier+
    The turns onto the single-track are easy to miss the first time, but the consequences of a missed or wroing turn are low.are a number of turns, many unsigned. A wrong turn to the south would make for a very long day.
  • Remote Risk: Low
    The ride is within the urban setting of Tucson. Expect some traffic on the outer loop and hikers and bikers on the single-track. This is not a remote ride.

When we like to ride this …

Fall to 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. Or as an alternative, ride it very early in the morning or later in the evening. The Park Service requires a rear reflector and headlight.

The Start

The Visitor center. Flush toilets. Water.
Lat / Long: 32.180001, -110.736403


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.

Legend

Red = paved road
Blue = single track

Ride Details

The route starts at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center. You can park by the front, but you still have to pay to ride into the park. We recommend a quick trip into the Visitor Center to learn about the cactus and the number of animals that live in the park.

The route will seem awkward (it’s a crazy Figure 8), but there’s a reason in our madness. The best part is that you are on the Cactus Forest Trail twice, riding it in each direction. South to north. North to south. The first time, you are headed downhill, the second is uphill. It rides completely different in each direction!

Go through the pay kiosk, take a right on Cactus Forest Drive (paved, 2-way)  and go 0.9 miles. On your left will be the Cactus Forest Trail. Take it! You will wind in and out of the giant saguaro cactus, cross several small washes and have big views of the Santa Catalina mountains and Mt. Lemmon. There will be several informational signs along the way. We encourage you to stop and learn more about this special place. 

After 2.5 miles and descending 250 feet, your back to the paved loop road. Go right. You will now complete the outer loop of the park on the paved road, returning back to this point to re-run the single track but in the opposite direction. North to south.

On the paved road, climb up and up to Rincon Mountain overlook at mile 5.7, the high point for the day. 250 feet of gain, at 6%. From here it is rolling, undulating downhill back to the main entrance. Turn right, away from the main entrance. You don’t want to be done! 

Now come the roller coaster hills, all trending downhill. Not to be missed!! After 2.8 miles of big smiles, go right and take the Cactus Forest Trail north to south. Buzz again through the cactus forest on the single track, but with an upward trend. Different than the first time, but super fun and highly visual. When you reach the paved road, go right, and spin easy back to the main entrance.  

Food / Water

None

Ride Notes

The single track, Cactus Forest trail, is multi-use, please give way to hikers and families with small children.

Payment is required to enter the park, even for bikes.

Recommend at least 32 to 35 mm tires and a red blinky light.

EBikes are allowed! Please see this statement from the Park Service for the details of their policy.

Ridden and Reviewed by …

Gravel Girl / Team Dirty Freehub

She loves a good day of gravel like most people like a good book. She’s always amused by the outdoors and the wild adventures. Gravel Girl is a Co-Founder of Dirty Freehub.

Captain O / Team Dirty Freehub

He should have “Never Stop Exploring” tattooed on his chest! He loves adventures on bikes and is a Co-Founder of Dirty Freehub.

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