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Biking Mount Lemmon

Biking Mount LemmonMany times, I’d heard of biking up Mount Lemmon.  I’d heard things like, “It is incredible! Best ride in Arizona!”, “You MUST go to the Cookie Cabin at the top!  The cookies are the best!”, and “It is the most gorgeous ride ever!”, and so on and so on.  The superlatives just never ceased with anyone who’d ridden Mount Lemmon.

Had I ever biked up Mount Lemmon?  Sadly, no.

Finally, a Sunday opened where I had a long ride (5.5 hours) and no obligations until later in the day.  Facing yet another long ride under the summer heat of an Arizona sun, I decided I would make the journey south and taste whether the stories were true.

Let me start by saying that riding Mount Lemmon is all that it is cracked up to be.  The ride is tough, the views are expansive, the cool and piney air is great, and yes, the cookies are delicious!  That could be the end of my summary, but I wanted to share the facts of the ride because in trying to do a little “Riding Mount Lemmon” research, I came across very little useful data.

Biking Mount LemmonEven though it is an incredibly popular ride, every article or post I found was a little different.  One said the grade was 3-4%, while another said it never got above 5%.  Both are untrue.  One said there’s plenty of places to get water at campgrounds but another said there’s no water.  Both, again, are untrue.  I am sure I could have spent more time and ultimately found all the answers I wanted, but there’s only 24 hours in each day and my kids were getting hungry and wanting to play with Daddy.  Seeing as I am the “Daddy” in that sentence, internet research time was done!  🙂

So, here’s what I learned about biking up Mount Lemmon.  I hope it helps you plan your trip and have fun (while being safe):

Biking Mount Lemmon: Starting Point

After searching for far too long to find a solid recommendation for a starting point, I turned to where I should have started: Google Maps.  I started at the retail center on the northeast corner of Tanque Verde Road and the Catalina Highway.  There’s tons of safe parking and places to get water (e.g., Subway, a coffee shop, etc.)  Plus, this gives you a good four miles of relatively flat roads (meaning, rolling to slightly uphill) to get warm before you hit the climbing.

Biking Mount Lemmon: Hydration

Since there’s a 20 mile climb, averaging 4.9%, and with no water stops, having enough liquid is obviously critical.  When I rode, I had one water bottle on my bike and a full Camelbak.  I consistently sipped my water and had plenty to reach the top, even though it was the middle of summer.  But, I started just before sunrise and had some cloud cover.  If you do end up running out of water, the saving grace is that the entire route is basically downhill once you turn around!

Biking Mount LemmonBiking Mount Lemmon: The Climb

For me, the climb started right at the intersection of the Catalina Highway and Mount Lemmon Short Road, almost exactly four miles from my starting point.  By this point, I was warmed up and ready to start working.  From this point to the first place where I KNOW you can get water is 19.41 miles from my starting point.

Nearly twenty miles of dead, straight climbing…

Yes, it is beautiful.  Yes, the views are as incredible as described.  But, it isn not easy.  The average gradient in this section is 4.9%.  Yikes.  Reading 4.9%, while I sit here in this comfy chair typing, doesn’t seem too tough but while riding it, I felt like every time I looked at my Garmin, it read either 6 or 7%.  Be ready for this.Biking Mount Lemmon

Biking Mount Lemmon: The Palisades

At the end of that twenty miles, you will find a bathroom and water spigot should you need either.  I didn’t stop at I knew I was pretty close to the end but, if I had started any later, that water would have been needed badly!

The Rest of the Climb to Mount Lemmon

The remainder of the bike is pretty mellow.  You have a 2.30 mile descent followed by a 1.31 mile climb but only at 1.8%.  From there, it is a nice cruising descent into the town of Summerhaven, an aptly named place.

My total time was about 4:30-4:40, but I spent a good 20-30 minutes relaxing (and gorging) at the Cookie Cabin.  Realistically, this is a five hour, start-to-finish, ride, and possibly even longer if you don’t enjoy hills!

Biking Mount LemmonBiking Mount Lemmon: The Cookie Cabin

One last note, this place is open everyday from 10am to 5pm.  Not 9:15am, when I arrived.  Given all I’d heard about their cookies, I was exceedingly disappointed, especially since I didn’t have enough time to wait until 10.  Thankfully, while standing there, someone from the Cookie Cabin started setting up the patio for the day.  As best as I could, I politely asked if they happened to have any cookies from yesterday as I was dying to try one of their cookies, even if it was a day old!

Luckily for me, she had a bunch and brought out all of them.  You can see from the pictures, they are HUGE!  Each cookie is the size of a dinner plate and so yummy.  I sampled a couple and very reluctantly returned the delicious remainders…

I hope this helps anyone planning this ride.  If you have any questions, please just ask below in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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