A guide to Mt Lemmon: The scenic route in Tucson, Arizona (pt.2)

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Text: Marshall Opel | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith

‘Sky Island’ is a term for an isolated ridge surrounded by a enormously different atmosphere- in most cases, desert. The expression originated in the American Southwest where 12 -1 4,000 years ago, the climate warmed and dried the depression floors. Isolated mountains retained unique biodiversity especially in contrast to the desert flooring below.

Just out of Tucson, Arizona, lies one of the iconic sky islands — the 9,159 feet( 2,791 m) Mount Lemmon.

On Mount Lemmon, you pass through four definite life zones from cactus of Sonora Mexico, to alpine conifer found in Southern Canada.

A true island in the sky, it’s a refuge for weeds, swine, and undertaking seeking-humans.

Lemmon is a place for seekers. “Everyone is up there exploring something, ” says former professional road racer, Lauren Hall, who devotes part of its first year in Tucson and razzes the mountain often. “There’s no ascent like it. Arizona Trail hikers, rock climbers, hunters, moto equestrians, and undoubtedly, bike equestrians … It’s a thoroughfare for the curious.” Hall admires the wide bike footpath on the paved soar and compassions to get a cookie near the top in Summerhaven.

At 26 miles( 41 km) in span with 5,400 paws( 1,645 m) of horizontal gain, Mount Lemmon is a marathon of a clamber. Fortunately, the road is an ultra continuous 4-5 percent point with no dearth of views from freighter to top.

The vertical addition means you pass through several different climate zones, from sparse desert to tall yearns, on your lane to the aptly-named Summerhaven, a tiny mining city with fresh cooked cookies and other supplies.

Apart from being a massive advance, Mount Lemmon is also the most iconic vistum of Tucson’s riding scene. It looms over the city and has come to define riding there. If you didn’t travel Lemmon, did you even go to Tucson?

There’s something on the mountain for everyone. Roadies, mountain bikers and, more recently, gravel riders( who consume an unpaved roadway to the summit on the mountain’s north-east side) are considered to be in droves all over the mountain. Whether it’s a hard determined of delays, a long distance day, an night cruise, or a lifetime achievement, Mount Lemmon is a mecca for cyclists.

Coaches and data driven cyclists affection Mount Lemmon for greater consistency. Former elite triathlete Ian Mallams use the mountain for interims. “It’s 2-3 hours of rise, the whole time. It’s so nice to know what you’re going to get, there’s no target to hide, ” Mallams says.

But there’s something more to the mountain’s legacy than really being a popular training ground. “It’s an iconic locate. Four trips in one, ” he clarifies. “And some of the opinion around Windy Point are the best you’ll get anywhere.”

Mile markers throughout the climb make for an honest metric. The truth is, there is aren’t any other places in the continental U.S. where you can do a ascent like this 12 months of the year.

The ride launches from the unofficially official start location, Le Buzz, a coffee shop at the gateway to Lemmon often filled with lycra wearing brethren. An unequivocal rosy-cheeked, windblown brightnes clearly marks riders stopping for a post-descent treat versus those yet to climb.

After a handful of miles, saguaro cactus dedicates room to pine forest and unique hoodoo cliff constitutions. A large shoulder and smooth sidewalk make it possible to comfortably razz two abreast while chatting the miles away. Closer to the summit, riders are responded to a brand-new ecosystem of aspen trees and crisp ridge air. Across from the alpine ski neighborhood of Ski Valley is an old school, German style restaurant called The Iron Door with a menu perfectly suited to guilt-free indulgences.

After lunch, make a stop at the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for a freshly broiled dessert of their notorious chocolate chip cookie. “Some people say it’s not the best cookie( and) it’s like eight bucks. But it’s the size of a slab, and I love it, ” Lauren Hall told us. Based on our independent testing, we can confirm that it’s a winner.

Bellies and bottles full, lag your tired form back up the short but specially arduous descend out of Summerhaven.

From there, it’s a circulate, brake-free descent. Forty-five minutes of downhill bliss last-minute, we thumped the desert hollow floor.

Cyclists explore the mountain in myriad modes. “Mount Lemmon is the reason I keep coming back to Tucson. It’s my joyou arrange, ” says Olympic mountain biker turned( self-proclaimed) mind equestrian, Sam Schultz. “It makes all forms of riding together, from super tech mountain bike ways, gravel superhighways, and pavement.”

Schultz used the gradients of Mount Lemmon to develop for the highest standards of mountain bike scooting and now journeys the mountain to escape and explore. “It’s the action I want to interact with my bicycle. You find a rhythm descending up, then you place it down for a gravitation expedited problem be resolved, ” Schultz enthuses.

Mount Lemmon’s close proximity to Tucson constructs it a special backyard gem. A literal haven for wildlife, it’s also a haven for those of us who seek to explore, to challenge ourselves and to see from different considers. I can’t wait to get back.


Through fall and winter months increases generally straddle between 60 and 80 magnitudes Fahrenheit and with an average of over 300 periods of sunshine per year, these months are almost always dry and sunny. This is the prime time for razzing in Tucson. In the summer months when temps at the desert storey can exceed 100 severities, you can head up to Mt Lemmon for a challenging climb to cooler temps and a serious descent. If you choose to tackle Mt Lemmon in the winter months, mantle up and keep an eye on the forecast.


When it comes to wildlife, the Sonoran Desert is anything but deserted. There are plenty of swine that announce this area home including bobcats, coyotes, Gila beings, and hundreds of bird species. Depending on where you ride it’s not uncommon to see some wildlife, specially early in the morning or on the lesser-traveled gravel street.

While most of these animals shouldn’t worry cyclists, the main thing to look out for is rattlesnakes. They don’t pose much of a threat while on the bike, but ever gape before you sit down to take a break and admire the views.


With a metro area population of nearly one million people, Tucson has slew of stores all over the city. Check out Copper Spoke Cycles, Fairwheel Bikes, Oro Valley Bikes, and Tucson Performance Endurance Center. Trust us, it’s not difficult to find a friendly browse and a top-notch machinist in this bike-crazy city.


Pavement quality can alternate on the outskirts of municipality, so a tubeless setup along with a thicker specimen tire is recommended for the more adventurous riders. Plus, you never know when that grime street off in the distance might start calling your name. And while it might sound like a no-brainer, make sure to draw slew of liquid, especially in the warmer months- it is the desert after all.


Did we mention that Tucson is a bike-crazy city? That means that there are way too many clubs to mention here. If you’re looking for more regional info or trying to link up with a group ride, check out the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association( GABA) at bikegaba.org.


Tucson has a little bit of everything but at the end, it’s all about the Mexican food. With literally hundreds of different places it’s not difficult to find a deliciously genuine meal. Head down to South 12 th Ave( aka La Doce) and check out regions like Tacos Apson, El Guero Canelo or BK’s for incredible street tacos and multiple alterations of the famed Sonoran Hot Dog( Hot Dog, wrap in bacon with Mexican-style tops ). Another regional Mexican food favorite is Seis Kitchen, which boasts two locations, including the one at Mercado San Agustin, an ever-popular spot for pre and post-ride meetups. You can even find savory plant-based and vegan Mexican food options at regions like Tumerico.


For drinks be sure to check out one of Tucson’s many aircraft breweries. You won’t be frustrated with the choices or the attention to detail at lieu like Pueblo Vida or Dragoon Brewing. Looking for a broader selection of taps? Try Westbound, Tap+ Bottle, or Ermanos.

And if chocolate is the mission, check out EXO Roast Co ., Le Buzz Caffe( another favourite meetup distinguish at the base of Mt Lemmon ), or the aptly called Presta Coffee Roasters( with one of its two locations at the aforementioned Mercado San Agustin ).


Regardless of whether gravel or road is your flavor, Mount Lemmon has an option for you.

The road route up Mt Lemmon is a 34.1 km Strava segment, with an average grade of 5 %. The KOM is held by none other than Phil Gaimon, with a occasion of 1:18.32( median velocity of 26.1 km/ h ).

Off the buttock of Mount Lemmon is a terrific gravel climb, known locally as’ Steel Cow ‘. That’s a 19.6 km Strava segment, with an average grade of 6 %.


Aside from grabbing some Southside Mexican Food and experiencing the Downtown nightlife on Congress Street and 4th Ave ., be sure to check out some of the area allures. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park both are bike-friendly and provision an immersive intro to Tucson’s unique natural surroundings.

If you want to broaden your scopes, visit one of Tucson’s scientific wonders like Biosphere 2, Kitt Peak National Observatory( too a great ride destination ), or the Pima Air& Space Museum. And record fans will appreciate the tranquil allure of Mission San Xavier del Bac and the stunning accumulation of Native american artifacts found at the Arizona State Museum, located on the campus of the University of Arizona.

For more things to do, appreciate, and eat in Tucson go to VisitTucson.org and retain to call your photos with the hashtag #ridetucson.



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Robert F
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