Borderline: Graveling along the Border in Arizona – by Gravel Girl (aka Linda English)

Tap your heels three times and you’ll end up in Ruby.  Not in Kansas, but in Arizona, right along the Mexico border.  Just south of Tucson Arizona.  

Now before you hit the next button because you are worried about the border, scan through the photos: rugged, remote and a great place to ride gravel when the rest of the US is covered in ice, snow and teeth-chattering temperatures. The area is scattered with quirky little towns like Ruby (a true ghost town), Arivaca, and Patagonia. 

At Dirty Freehub we spent a month base-camping in Tucson, searching out great gravel.  We were gobsmacked with the beauty of the place. But one word of warning; don’t be skimping on your tire width. Arizona gravel will need wider tires or maybe a hardtail mountain bike. Even the “paved” sections had us wincing for bigger tires. See Captain O’s detailed comments at the end of this article if you’re a gearhead.  

Now some of you will get all freaked about the border. We learned to love the Border Control; heck, they even stopped to see if we needed extra water!  When you are thirty miles in the middle of nothing, you will be thankful.  

What were our favorite routes?  Let’s give you five of them, plus an epic Mt Lemmon ride, just in case you are in the mood for something really insane.

The Routes

arizona gravel cycling routes

Buenos Aire (as in National Wildlife Refuge): 36 miles and 2,500 feet of gain.  Extreme beauty including backdrop views of the Baboquivari Peak. A Dirty Freehub team favorite.

Buenos Aire Route

arizona gravel cycling routes

Big Ruby: 50 miles and 6,400 feet of gain, showcasing the Atascosa and Pajaritat mountains, Warsaw Canyon and Colorado Gulch. Includes a visit to Ruby, the ghost town. (Shorter versions are also available: Ruby North and Ruby South that cover the same area.)

Big Ruby Route

arizona gravel cycling routes

Montezuma: 36 miles and 4,300 feet of gain.  Climb up the majestic Montezuma Pass, across open grasslands, through the San Rafael Valley and to Parker Canyon Lake.   (We also have a 72 mile, 6,700 feet of climbing version.)

Montezuma Route

arizona gravel cycling routes

Madera Canyon (via Box Canyon):  40 miles and 4,000 feet of gain. Big variety in scenery, surface, and wildlife. A Tucson local favorite. (And Madera Canyon just happens to be one of the top birding areas with 256 species of birds.)

Madera Canyon Route

arizona gravel cycling routes

Bud and Bo: 44 miles and 3,000 feet of gain. Big valley, big views. A classic ride for the Patagonia region. We offer it up as a tribute to the hard-working Border Patrol Agents.  (Bud and Boe is also part of Montezuma el Grande which is 72 miles and 6,700 feet of climbing.)

Bud and Bo Route

arizona gravel cycling routes

Mt Lemmon (Epic): 115 miles and 12,000 feet of gain. You have to ride this because it says EPIC in the title and you cannot visit Tucson without some version of Mt Lemmon. That 12,000 feet of gain is just so tempting…

Arizona Gravel Equipment Recommendations

Captain O Tire recommendations: 29’er with 2.1 inch tires or 650b’s with 50 mm tires. Or, a hardtail mountain bike. 700c rims with 40 mm tires are doable but your ride will be more demanding. I don’t recommend anything less than a 40 mm tire. Tubeless is a given especially with required lower pressures. Check out Gravel Cyclist’s handy recommended tire (tyre) pressure guidelines here.

arizona gravel cycling routes

For the ultimate in durability, we recommend Cushcore Inserts into your tires and adjust your tire pressures accordingly …. on really gnarly routes I ran as low as 13 psi in the front, 20 psi in the rear tire on a 700c by 40 mm setup.

For all these routes and more in Arizona, head over to


  1. Avatar Ray

    Wow I want to get in the van and go now!!

  2. Avatar Jim

    Going at the end of February. Waiting for DK lottery it will be nice to be “training” to a goal. Fingers crossed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.