Rising like a stone monolith out of the southern Arizona desert, Mount Lemmon provides a stark, rocky backdrop to the sprawling city of Tucson. With an elevation of over 8,000 feet at its highest point, the mountain bakes in the summer and freezes in the winter. Saguaro cactuses are a regular feature of the landscape at the lower elevations; pine trees cover the top of the mountain. But, open vistas, rocky outcroppings, and hoodoos are the primary features of Mount Lemmon.
Given Tucson’s temperate climate during the harsh winter months, the region is a destination for amateur and professional cyclists alike. From October through April, Tucson and the surrounding areas are awash with endurance athletes of all types taking advantage of the dry, warm weather. This is one reason why the climb up Mount Lemmon has gained such wide acclaim. The other reason is the quality training experience 27 miles of sustained climbing give the cyclist. In fact, other than Pike’s Peak in Colorado, Glendora Mountain Road in Glendora, California, and Highway 38 in Big Bear, California, there are very few cyclist-accessible climbs of this length and vertical ascent in the United States. And, of course, the views while climbing to the top of Mount Lemmon are spectacular.
The positives of this climb far outweigh the negatives. In fact, I can’t think of single negative aspect of the ride up Mount Lemmon. The road is wide with ample shoulder on both sides. The road surface is very well-maintained and smooth. There are numerous places to stop and enjoy the view. The last several miles of the ascent is through the shade of the pine forest that lines the higher elevations of the mountain. And, in the mountaintop community of Summerhaven, there are several places to buy food and water — and even a steaming hot cup of great-tasting coffee (yes, I did that).
After reaching the summit of the climb and enjoying the quaint town of Summerhaven several miles further down the road, the descent is a fitting reward for the weary cyclist. With the exception of the climb up from Summerhaven to the summit, two somewhat flat sections about halfway into the ride, and s few switchbacks near the bottom, the descent is open straightaways and wide, sweeping turns where a cyclist can easily maintain 40+ mph without pedaling. So, check your breaks prior to climbing Mount Lemmon — you’re going to need every millimeter of your brake pads on the way down.
Overall, the ride up (and down) Mount Lemmon is something I highly recommend that every cyclist add to their ‘bucket list.’
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