“An amazing trail traversing from the top of Mt Lemmon to the bottom.
— Vernie Aikins
One of the best rides in Tucson. Starting at 9000 feet in the pines, running along flowing creeks, and ending all the way at the desert floor of a 50 year trail system.
Need to Know
This is a ride where you'll want to have a gps (use the MTB Project mobile app!) and the shuttle set-up can be difficult.
The ride starts at 9000ft on the top of Mt Lemmon and links numerous trails together all the way to the bottom.
You'll start on the Meadow trail, meandering along for a mile or so before you get to the Sutherland split. At the split, take a right. You'll be on the Sutherland trail for a very short distance before it becomes an old jeep road. You'll get to the end of the jeep road and there will be a Sutherland CDO junction. Go right here. (Do not go left down Sutherland, which would take you west as it leads you into the Wilderness Area.)
From there you'll start your descent. Spend a few miles with amazing views of northwest Tucson before you get to your second junction, which is signed. This is the first split with Samaniego Ridge. From there you'll take a right and have a fast fun descent for about a mile to a third intersection (also signed). This is your second chance to split off onto Samaniego Ridge. Take another right and this will drop you into the Canada del Oro
The Canada del Oro
then spends many miles riding along the creek and crossing it. This trail is the true definition of backwoods. It's a seldom traveled trail that is lightly marked. There are a few techy spots mixed in here and there but overall it is a great flowing trail through the deep oaks of Mt Lemmon. The wash crossings are the trickiest spot and be mindful when crossing them to keep your eyes open for cairns marking the entrance and exits. There are many sections of this trail that will leave you smiling ear to ear as you swoop through the oak trees or open fields of wildflowers. Don't forget to take a minute once you get out of the deep trees to look back at the top of Mt. Lemmon and see how far you've already descended off the mountain.
After about mile 9, you'll get to the junction with Red Ridge trail (signed). Keep heading north from there along what will become a somewhat unrideable rock-filled wash until you come to the Gap Road around mile 10.
Now on the Gap road, the pain of the climb heading west will begin. It's a pretty strenuous climb and is roughly 3-4 miles long. It's a steep road filled with loose rocks and deep ruts. It's also very exposed with almost no shade, so plan according to the weather down here and not for the weather on top of the 9000ft mountain you start at. There's also no water after you start the Gap Road so be prepared for that as well. The water along Canada is filterable. From the top of the climb you'll continue west down the Gap Road. From the road there will be many options to take to get back to your cars. The preferred method is the one this ride follows.
At roughly mile 15.5, there will be a split off of the Gap Road on some cow trails to get you over to the 50 year trail system. You'll need a gps or the mobile app to find your way through here. Once into the 50 year trail system, pick your favorite route back to the 50 year parking lot.