“A bit of a drive, but one of the best desert rides in southern Arizona.”
— Greg Armstrong
This 50+ mile desert epic rivals some of the best mtb rides in the country, and takes in part of the AZ Trail. Flowy singletrack, challenging climbs, ripping ridge top downhills, remote location, expansive desert views all add up to one long and amazing ride.
Need to Know
Not much water out here...there's some cattle tanks along the way, and Ripsey Spring often has water, bring some way to filter. Be prepared for the middle of nowhere. Keep the MTB Project mobile app
handy to help stay on track. The loop needs to be ridden in more, as some of the ridgetop riding gets vague.
There are several ways to do this ride, with many access points and bail out options. It is definitely one for the cooler months as you do not want to be out here in the heat. To do this ride, from Tucson - drive north from Oracle Junction toward Florence. Turn right on Freeman Road (graded dirt). In about 16-miles you'll cross the AZ Trail and reach the Freeman Road Trailhead. Park and ride north.
First you'll encounter The Boulders section, part of the AZ Trail - slightly downhill and flowy singletrack, through some interesting rock features and lots of desert scrub. Overall, the trail is not too rocky but a little sandy in spots. Later there's mining and ranch roads on the way to more singletrack. Parts of the road pass within 30-feet of high power transmission lines, where I was getting electricity through my gloves. At first I thought I was getting static shocks, but then I felt definite alternating current (maybe induced through a parallel conductor - my bike?).
In a few miles, you turn off for the Ripsey Wash, where you'll find Ripsey Spring, then climb Ripsey Hill (extra points for a clean ascent, it gets steep and loose on some of the switchbacks), then the long descent to the Kelvin Trailhead. From the wash to the trailhead is all singletrack. The descent is definitely the most fun, with long ridge running, route finding, and steep switchbacks. Lookout for catclaw bush along the trail, it will tear up lycra. At the trailhead, turn left and ride the dirt Florence-Kelvin Highway for eight miles, turn left on a non-descript Ranch Road
and then left again on the Ranch Road Connector
to complete the loop to the top of Ripsey Wash and then return along the mild section you entered in on.
This ride used to be part of the Antelope Peak Challenge, a 125 mile annual race for the truly hardcore, part of the Arizona Endurance Series.