This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which reminds you to leave no trace when you Enjoy Outdoors.
While the road-tripping hordes remain mostly Sedona-obsessed, Arizona riders know that there are miles of riches to be plundered by heading south instead of north. Tucson is a goldmine of great singletrack, all with a character that’s both distinct from Sedona’s red rocks and definitively southwestern in its own right. The flanks of Pima County’s highest peak, Mount Lemmon, are etched with great rides, but for one of the best descents head 45-minutes east of downtown — and just over two hours south of Phoenix — to the Bug Springs trailhead.
Before heading to Bug Springs, ask yourself one question: To shuttle or not to shuttle? Bringing two cars will save you a relatively mellow 40-minute road climb to the top trailhead, but requires you to have friends who are both on your schedule and want to ride with you. No friends? Just plan a little more time—or call HomegrownMTB for a shuttle. They’re excellent drivers.
- Head east out of Tucson on Tanque Verde Road until you hit the Catalina Highway. Go north.
- That’s pretty much it. The bottom trailhead is just after the 7 mile marker, the top trailhead is just past the 11, and each are well marked by signs.
Bug Springs is only about 4.5 miles point to point, but can be incorporated into several longer rides, including the higher-elevation Green Mountain and lower-elevation Prison Camp, for a more substantial day of riding.
- From the top trailhead, there’s a short ride before you hit a hike-a-bike. This will take 15-20 minutes and has a few steep sections, so be prepared to earn it.
- “It” in this case is the first section, known as the “forest slalom,” of which you’ll get a good view from the top.
- The forest slalom begins with fast, flowy sections followed by increasingly technical sections punctuated by two sharp switchbacks (first right, then left).
- After the switchbacks, there’s another flow section followed by another technical section with short climbs. You’ll know you’re done when you reach the second (and last!) hike-a-bike.
- This second hike-a-bike is much shorter, so stop complaining.
- At the top, catch your breath and appreciate some beautiful views of Tucson.
- Don’t appreciate them for very long, though, because your real stopping point is a short ride away.
- After a sharp left-hand switchback followed by a very technical section, look for the huge rock formations.
- These are called “the hoodoos” (Why? Nobody knows why. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago), and they provide a great bench from which to take in a beautiful view and cool off with a Pale Ale.
- Get back into things with a flow section that follows the hoodoos.
- As things get more technical, be aware that there are a few rock drops to come, which some riders prefer to step down.
- Keep an eye out for a sharp left-hand switchback, as it contains a rock drop right in the apex.
- When the trail begins to flow again, get ready for arguably the fastest section of the entire trail.
- As the flow begins to be interrupted by short rocky sections, the Catalina Highway will come into view. At the fork, head right to come out at the bottom trailhead.
What to Bring
If you’re shuttling, expect to be out for a little over an hour; with a single car, plan for a little under two. The trails around Tucson are more than 1,000 feet lower in elevation than the ones around Sedona, but that has more of an impact on winter temps and snowfall than summer temps, which are hot as blazes in both places.
- Bring plenty of water; a good rule of thumb is “way more water than beer.”
- Pump, extra tubes, and your basic tool kit including levers and wrench set.
- Calorie-dense snacks.
- A cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, to drink with the hoodoos.