Gravel biking is taking the Southwest by storm and with the incredible dirt road options available across the state of Arizona, there’s no question as to why! The new and innovative gravel bike models hitting the market have taken the best technology from the worlds of road and mountain biking to create the perfect machines for crushing mixed terrain over long distances. Arizona’s wild west is crisscrossed with wide open dirt roads just waiting to be explored. We put together the routes below for those serious gravel adventurers looking to put in some epic miles.
Note: these routes are rugged backcountry gravel roads without any services or along the way. Some riders may be more comfortable on a mountain bike with suspension than a drop bar rigid gravel bike.
This 168 mile route is a great multi-day touring option. It features the best of the desert and highlights of the Rim Country and includes coursing along the banks of Roosevelt Lake and an ascent of the famous Mogollon Rim. The Rim is the dramatic and sudden edge of the Colorado Plateau where the landscape drops off from the high elevation pine forests to the arid desert below. Conquer the grueling climb and enjoy a short traverse of “the Rim” before the trail winds through the forests along the “Desert to Tall Pines” scenic byway, passing through the ranching hamlet of Young, Arizona. This part of the Sierra Ancha was the territory disputed in the bloody Pleasant Valley range wars of the late nineteenth century. Soak in the western history and stunning open wilderness views of features like Aztec Peak and the northern horizon of the Superstition Mountains.
Big grades, big mines, big cotton and big views are the highlights of this ride. After semi-circling spectacular Picket Post mountain, the highway makes a 10% grade climb and descent past the gargantuan El Rey (“the King”) copper mine before turning south along the Gila River and paralleling the channel on the Kelvin-Florence dirt “highway.” Look for thru-hikers as you cross the Arizona Trail, and offer a beer if you have one, they’re hiking 800 miles from the border of Mexico to the Utah state line. Views to the north showcase the rugged rock features of the Superstition Mountains and the White Canyon Wilderness. Beyond the cotton fields of Florence are the walls of the Arizona State Prison. Don’t stop for hitchhikers.
Beginning in the old west town of Wickenburg, a discrete retreat of both serious equestrians and recovering celebrities, this ride leads into the upper Hassayampa River drainage before passing the newly renovated historic Castle Hot Springs resort. It then continues past the desert reservoir of Lake Pleasant before once again joining the Hassayampa as it lead back into town.
Starting quietly near the banks of the Salt River, this monster ride heads up the Beeline Highway before turning off-pavement onto the rugged Four Peaks road, crossing Lone Pine Saddle at 5200 feet in elevation on the shoulder of the highest mountain in Maricopa County. It then drops down toward Roosevelt Lake, crosses the dam, and continues along the spectacular Apache Trail, climbing vertigo-inducing Fish Creek Hill along the way. This demanding “Century +” will feel more like a Millennium for even the most accomplished gravel shredder.
Let the red rock monuments of Sedona disappear behind you as you pedal up Schnebly Hill; a rugged, unpaved, 2400′ climb which once served as Sedona’s only access road. At the top, take a look back over your shoulders and witness one of the best views in the state. From there, ride through a small piece of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world as you make your way to Blue Grade Road; named for the blue sky above you and the grade below which takes you back to Sedona where you began.
For the bold adventurer looking to escape the confines of Phoenix, this ride includes fording the Verde river (or riding under Horseshoe Dam) before crossing back over upstream on the historic Sheep Bridge. The long climb out of the Tangle Creek drainage is rewarded by passing through the oasis of the Seven Springs Recreation Area before returning to Scottsdale from the north.
Pro tip: We recommend riding a mountain bike for this trail. The mountain bike’s wider tires and suspension will help you through the sections of the trail that have a rocky terrain (such as the road from Verde river to Seven Springs).