Theodore

5 Star Route

Note: This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.

You’ll venture up and out into the desert of Tonto National Forest through shifting geological landscapes with Theodore Roosevelt lake coming in and out of sight while enjoying spectacular views of the backside of the Four Peaks mountains and wilderness area throughout (which were snow-capped when we rode).

The road itself is never flat, always ascending or descending, and most of the big climbing is loaded on the front end of the route, where you’ll peak at almost 3500 ft around the 10th mile. The road quality was stellar as it seemed to have been recently graded when we rode it, and there was only slight washboard present; nothing too bumpy, but still, exercise caution when descending at high speeds around curves.

Adventure / Gravel Route

Loop: 62 miles / 4800 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 50% gravel/dirt, 50% paved
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: ~ 1 hour, 30 minutes from Phoenix, AZ
– Published: May 2021

Terrain & Technical Riding Difficulty[what this means]

Moderate

On A+Cross Road, there is nothing flat as you are either ascending or descending. There can also be some loose rock on the descent, so you need to be aware and alert of the line you’re taking at higher speeds. The section after the diversion dam in between the 288 and the 188 is sandy and may require some hiking.

Navigation Challenge – Low+. Most of the ride is comprised of two roads that are easy to follow. When you do have to turn, the roads are clearly demarcated.

Remote Risk – On A+Cross, the traffic is very light, mostly hunters and OHVs. On the 188, there is more action and amenities. Cell phone reception was okay most of the time.

When we like to ride this …

October/November through April/May. Avoid this route in the summer as the heat and exposure would be too much. Additionally, after heavy rains, Tonto Creek can overflow and make A+ impassable – do not attempt to cross if it is flowing! Check with the Tonto Basin Ranger District if you’re unsure before making the trek (602) 225-5395.

The Start

Intersection of 188 & A+Cross Rd. There is a pullout on the left just as you jump on A+.
Lat / Long: 33.78833163, -111.2638141

Credits & Acknowledgements

Thanks to AZ Gravel Rides for the discovering and first documenting this route.

Legend

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.


Ride Details

Located in the Tonto Basin in the Tonto National Forest, this area was primarily established to manage and conserve the watershed, which services much of the valley for irrigating farmland and other domestic uses. Since its genesis, six dams have been built along the Salt and Verde rivers, and one of them, the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, has resulted in creating the largest lake entirely contained within Arizona.

At over 2.9 million acres, the Tonto National Forest is the largest national forest in Arizona and the seventh-largest national forest among 154 USDA National Forests.

The Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful lands in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flatlands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude — from 1,300 to 7,900 feet — offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forest. [US Forest Service]

I’ve heard this may be the best gravel in Central Arizona and, although I have not ridden all the gravel it has to offer, I’ve been on quite a bit of it, and I agree with the sentiment thus far. A+Cross Road is an absolute pleasure to traverse, the views are consistently big and beautiful, and the landscape, both flora, and fauna, is captivating.

A Red-Tailed Hawk greeted us at the beginning of our journey, perched atop a towering Saguaro, and followed along with us for a bit. The lake is also known to be an oasis for migratory birds such as bald eagles and osprey. Along with the standard fare of Sonoran Desert flora (Saguaro, Creosote, Prickly Pear, Palo Verde, etc.), the area is also home to a good number of Canotia Holacantha, also known as the “Crucifixion Thorn”, which you will wade through after descending the initial climb at about 2500 ft.

Miles 0 to 9 / A+Cross Road Initial Climb

Beginning at an elevation of 2100 ft., the first four miles feature a steady ascent of a few hundred feet with an average grade of 1.1% to get the legs warmed up before descending back to about 2200 ft. The subsequent big climb will come into view, and you will begin ascending at mile 4.5 for about 4.5 miles, climbing almost 1300 ft. at an average grade of 4.3% (max 10%+).

Miles 9 to 25 / A+Cross Road

At the apex of the climb (the nearby peak to the south is called Cactus Butte) and throughout the descent, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the lake and the far-off bridge that you will be crossing later on. The terrain here is nice, but it does have some loose rock, some embedded rock, and some washboard, so be vigilant while descending at high speeds.

Miles 25 to 33 / Globe-Young Hwy

Here you’ll jump on the 288, also known as the Globe-Young Hwy, and head south towards the lake and the Salt River, where you’ll cross a bridge at mile 33. There is a wide shoulder here, but it would still be wise to have a blinking red tail light as a precaution.

Miles 33 to 40 / Diversion Dam

After crossing the bridge, you’ll hang a right into the diversion dam area (see map). Follow the 465 to the 396, which will lead you to an access point to the river where you can stop to cool off and take a dip. When you’re done here, press on another 5 miles or so to the Spring Creek Convenience Store, where you can refuel for the last third of the ride.

Miles 40 to 62 / Apache Trail

This section is all paved, a two-lane highway but with an extra-wide shoulder. Traffic was minimal when we went, and not once did I feel endangered, although again, a red blinky light for precaution is a prudent idea. In the summer months, when the area is far busier for water recreational activities, this road can become more dangerous due to increased traffic.

Food & Water
  • Mile 40 – Water/Food – Spring Creek Store (convenience store)
  • Mile 41 – Water/Food – Mas Kitchen (restaurant)
  • Mile 49 – Water/Food – Finch’s Waterfront Kitchen and Bar (restaurant)
Ride Notes

35+mm tires will do just fine. You may want to air up after A+ to tackle the paved Apache Trail back to the start.

There are numerous fee campgrounds around the lake and excellent dispersed camping along A+ Cross Rd. There is no fee to ride or disperse but you do need a pass to enjoy the picnic sites.

Additionally, excellent camping abounds along the road and, if you are dispersing, it is entirely free!

Tonto Creek, north of the lake, will be impassable by bike after a hard rain. DO NOT ATTEMPT!

A red blinky light is never a bad idea when hitting pavement. The winter months are very quiet, but as the weather warms up, the traffic will increase (as well as the boozing), making the paved stretch more perilous.

Ride Options

You can bypass the rougher terrain mentioned in the difficulty section by continuing south on the 288 after A+Cross Road to the 188 intersection rather than going through the Diversion Dam area. This will add 1.5 miles and 450ft. gain.

Authored, Ridden and Reviewed by …

Craig & Minnie Swetel / AZ Gravel Rides

Craig and Minnie are the founders of AZ Gravel Rides — a site for some of the best gravel routes in Arizona. They also organize the Chino Grinder, Arizona’s original gravel grinder, moderate the Riding AZ Gravel Facebook group and hose several gravel camps.

Photo: Minnie Swetel riding the newest AZ Gravel route the Trans-Arizona Off Road Bicycle Route, a 615 mile trek across Arizona from California to New Mexico.

Contributing Author …

JoshV / Team Dirty Freehub

I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan but now call the Valley of the Sun home. When I’m not riding, I enjoy reading, golf, camping, and spending time with family and friends. Always looking towards the next adventure and exploring more of the Southwest!

Comments

Revision History

Get Involved!

A majority of this route is within the Tonto National Forest. One organization that does a significant amount of education and conservation work in the area is Friends of the Tonto National Forest. If you’re looking fora way to get involved and give back, this is one organization to take a look at.

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