Arizona Trail … Mountain Biking Near Tucson
This 31 mile ride was an out-and-back on the Arizona Trail (AZT) from the Gabe Zimmerman Parking area to Hope Camp. Just past Hope Camp the AZT enters Saguaro National Park ... marking the end of my ride (bikes are not allowed on trails in any National Park). This all takes place to the southeast of Tucson, Arizona. This ride was recommended by Shane, a local Tucson-ian with whom I'd previously shared two rides.
Length: 31 miles
Gabe Zimmerman worked on the staff of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords until 2011, when he, Giffords, and 17 other people were shot in a Safeway parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona. Giffords eventually recovered from the shooting but Zimmerman and 5 others died. I learned this from a plaque I found just south of the Gabe Zimmerman Parking area, just before setting out on the AZ Trail. I also learned that the trailhead was named after Zimmerman because he loved to hike the trails in his home state of Arizona.
I had a heck of a time locating the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead for the Arizona Trail. I was so far out of town that the GPS had no cell signal. I did not think ahead enough to make some written directions.
I knew the trailhead was along Frontage Road on the east side of Interstate 10 and I knew it was way out of town, so I got off the freeway and just followed Frontage Road (not the frontage road).
After checking out the memorial, I took off to the east along the Arizona Trail. Within a hundred feet the trail split into two branches, both heavily traveled. I took the path on the right that seemed to lead to a creek. Just before reaching the creek, the trail angles down a steep bank, most likely cut by the ravaging flash floods which frequent the deserts around Tucson.
Near the bottom of the path I spotted an older couple, maybe in their 80’s, who were moving very slow … trying to negotiate the last 4 feet of the trail. I waited at the top of the bank and tried to be silent, not wanting to startle them or make them rush the final part of their descent. Once down I noticed they immediately turned left, heading for a bridge undercrossing.
- Below is an Interactive Map of the Gabe Zimmerman, Cienega Creek, and the 3 Bridges Area of the Arizona Trail.
- The yellow, purple, and red segments mark represent the bridges.
- The blue “P” marks the Trailhead.
- The squiggly blue represents the first potion of this ride.
After the couple was safely off the bank I slowly crept down and joined them in a slow walk. As we trudged through the deep, deep sand along the creek’s edge, the couple informed me the area was called Three Bridges or Davidson Canyon. They said we were entering the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, and they were going to be looking at birds.
After thanking the octogenarians I pedaled away and soon passed under one of the bridges (a railroad bridge) and came to an Arizona Trail sign pointing up out of the creek bed to the east. I rode across the creek, and climbed a steep trail to exit the preserve (I didn’t know until later that the Arizona Trail actually followed the first left turn and I was supposed to have a permit to visit the preserve).
Once at the top of the bank I found myself on a dirt road, which paralleled Frontage Road. I seemed to be heading the correct direction (east) … but I saw no Arizona Trail.After a bit of checking I realized I needed to cross Frontage Road, climb over the guard rail, ride west on the road shoulder, and then pass under the other railroad bridge.
Once past that bridge the trail was clearly marked and seemed to follow the edge of the canyon (heading north). After traveling north for a half mile or so I got a little worried … was I really on the correct trail? But soon after the path did turn toward the east, climbing over small hills and dropping back into shallow arroyos in between.
Arizona Trail … Interactive Map.
- The blue “P” marks the Trailhead.
- Click GPX for a track of this ride.
- This time the squiggly blue represents the entire ride out to Hope Camp.
Have you done this ride? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
From Cienega Creek, the AZ Trail climbs steadily until topping out at the hill above Colossal Cave, the next portion of the ride.