Mt. Lemmon Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Mt. Lemmon

AZ, USA

One of the most spectacular bike climbs in the US and World.

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Climb Summary

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - two PJAMM Cyclists ride on pavement surrounded by large Saguaro cacti

Mt. Lemmon is the most popular bicycle climb in the US.

More cyclists climb Mt. Lemmon per year than any other Top 100 US Bike Climb.

World Top 10 Most Scenic Bike Climb

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - Hoodoos at Windy Point, Hoodoos from above windy point, Windy point, 
Cyclist with Tucson in background and cyclists ascending near start, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

The beauty of Mt. Lemmon

Photos top left clockwise - Hoodoos at Windy Point, Hoodoos from above windy point, Windy point,

Cyclist with Tucson in background and cyclists ascending near start (center)

For more information on awesome climbs in Arizona, see our Arizona Climb Page.

If you have to pick only one bicycle climb in Arizona, Mt. Lemmon should be the one.  This is an exceptionally scenic bike ride beginning at the northeastern edge of Tucson, Arizona (the desert!).  You begin in the heat of the high desert at just under 3,000' and climb into the cooler regions of Mt. Lemmon (just above 9,000').  The grade for most of the climb is as steady as you will ever find – generally within the 4-6% range, until turning right onto E. Ski Run Road from N. General Hitchcock Highway at mile 25.8. The last 3.2 miles of the climb average 7.5%, and the final push past the ski resort up the final 1.7 miles to the observatories (the gate at the end blocking the last 200 yards has only been open on one out of our four trips to the top) is 8%.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - cyclists ride on two-lane roadway surrounded by Saguaro cacti

Views along the first couple miles of the climb.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - road signs along the climb, including NPS sign for Coronado National Forest, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Signs along the way.


The lower portion of this cycling climb constantly reminds us that we are in the desert, with thousands of saguaro cacti and mesquite trees along the way.  The saguaros make this a unique ride for the first three miles, but it is the spectacular rock sculptures and
 hoodoos from about miles 15-18 which make this an otherworldly adventure (see slideshow above).

Bicycling Mt. Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona

Thousands of saguaro cacti during the first couple miles.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - views along the climb, two-lane highway surrounded by saguaro cacti, desert landscape, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Views between start and Windy Point.

  Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - views between the middle segment of climb to Windy Point, saguaro cacti, hoodoo, rock formations, PJAMM Cyclists, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Many extraordinary hoodoo and rock formations on the middle segment.

Windy Point at mile 14.7 - THE best spot for photos on the mountain.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - views looking down from Windy Point Vista, panoramic views of road climbing up mountainside, high desert landscape, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Views from Windy Point.

Road leading to and up the mountain from Windy Point.

Windy Point -- 14.8 miles;  center bottom of this drone photo.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon - aerial drone photo of miles 4-10.

Lower section of Mt. Lemmon Highway

Approximately miles 4-10 (drone photo).

As we ascend further up the mountain, we are greeted by cooler air and alpine forests.  Along the way we are treated to some extraordinary Arizona desert rock formations.  These spectacular behemoths justify a “rest” stop or two . . . well, maybe three . . . to really take it all in.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - photo collage, hoodoos, rock formations, bike parked against guardrail on side of highway looking out over rock formations, high desert landscape, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner 

Hoodoo formations within a couple miles after Windy Point.

Windy Point on Mt Lemmon - Hoodoo formations

Climbing at Hoodoo just past Windy Point.

This mountain, this climb, is truly an out-of-this-world, unique experience . . .

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - views looking down from Windy Point, high desert landscape with city beyond, Ski Run Road, two-lane highway

Windy Point to Ski Run Road.

It is 11 miles from Windy Point to Ski Run Road at 2.4% -- but, there are almost three miles of descent that diminish the average grade substantially.  

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - inside and outside views of Palisades Visitor Center

Palisades Visitor Center at mile 20.5.

Only water -- no substantive provisions here.

The first 26 miles of this route are a highway, but the road is very wide and ample bike lanes welcome the thousands of cyclists who climb this mountain each year.  We rate this as a fairly safe road, in spite of its highway designation.  

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - photo collage, snow packs line roadways, PJAMM Cyclist selfie with desert landscape behind him, evergreen trees, road closed, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Final 3.3 miles are at 7.3% average grade to above 9,000’.

Turn right onto Ski Run Road at mile 25.5.

Close to the end of the ride, we encounter a ski resort (great pie at the restaurant!) at the 26.9 mile/8,350’ mark.

Provisions can be obtained in the town of Summerhaven (at the 25.5 mile mark continue a few hundred yards further, rather than turning right on E. Ski Run Road), or you can continue to the ski resort and the Iron Door Restaurant which serves very nice breakfast/lunch.

 Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - photo collage, garmin device, PJAMM Cyclist standing at Mt. Lemmon Sky center Observatory with snow on the ground, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Upper right photo:  81 degrees in Tucson, 34 degrees at the top -- bring warm gear!

Finish - Mt. Lemmon Sky Center Observatory

Beware of changing conditions and the substantial temperature difference from the bottom of the climb (Tucson area) to the ski resort/observatory finish.  This difference can be dramatic; one of our rides up Mt. Lemmon was on March 3, 2014 beginning at 12:45 p.m. (81 degrees at the start) and by the top at 9,000' 3:25 hours later (hey, who said we were fast?) it was 34 degrees, meaning we rode ~8 miles at sub 40 degrees.  

Cyclist riding bike on Mt Lemmon Highway past snow and road sign

We can encounter snow at the lower elevations too.             

When to Cycle Mt. Lemmon:

The road is open, weather permitting, all year.  However, due to the extreme heat at the lower segment of the climb during summer months, we recommend avoiding June through August if possible.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - photo collage, hoodoos along the climb, sign for Windy Point Vista, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Mt. Lemmon has the best hoodoos visible from a roadway anywhere in Arizona.


How to Climb Mt Lemmon by Bike:

No special gearing or gear is needed for this climb.  The grade throughout is mild and averages a reasonable 4.2% for 28 miles (making it the seventh longest road bike climb in the US).  The road is in exceptional condition from bottom to top.  Since there is an over 6,000’ difference between start (2,760’) and finish (9,134’), be sure to bring warm gear for the ride down during the winter months and wind gear during warmer times of the year.  It will be at least 20 degrees colder at top than at the bottom.  Additionally, be prepared for the effect of altitude as there will be 27% less oxygen at the top than at sea level.  The climb itself begins at the corner of E. Catalina Highway (this becomes Mt. Lemmon Highway) and E. Snyder Road, 21 miles from Tucson International Airport (Latitude: 32.2949; Longitude: -110.75438).

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - photo collage,  elevation signs along route, desert landscape below, snow higher up, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Elevation signs every 1,000’.

Weather:

Temperatures can vary up to and beyond 30 degrees from the start of the ride to the top, so plan accordingly.

Le Buzz is THE spot:

Located at the corner of E Catalina Highway and E Tanque Verde Road, Le Buzz is the staging area for cyclists climbing Mt. Lemmon.  This is where many Mt. Lemmon-bound cyclist start their climb.  There is a HUGE parking lot that you can leave your vehicle at for your . . . what . . . ?  6, 8, 10, 12 hour trip.  Whatever the duration, it will be the ride of your life -- it just doesn’t get much better than Mt. Lemmon.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - views inside and outside of Le Buzz Cafe, sunset at Mt. Lemmon

You will not spend more than a few minutes at Le Buzz without encountering a cyclist.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - Le Buzz parking lot

Typical Le Buzz parking lot scene.

Other Top 100 Rides in the Area: 

Since you’ll already be in Arizona, you might as well maximize your time there and check out other local climbs.  Two great options are Mt. Graham (121 miles northeast), and Kitt Peak (56 miles southwest).  Click the links below for PJAMM Cycling’s guides to these two climbs.

Cycling Mt. Graham, Arizona - photo collage, John Johnson standing with bike next to sign reading "Pavement Ends", long stretch of straight, two-lane roadway leading to mountains, bike parked in snow next to elevation 9000' feet sign, panoramic views, PJAMM Cycling logo in co   

Mt. Graham.

 

  Cycling Kitt Peak, Arizona - photo collage, road signs showing 6000' elevation and signs for Kitt Peak, Observatory, aerial views overlooking mountain range, high desert landscape, bike parked in snow on roadside, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Kitt Peak

ARIZONA CYCLING HUB

Jeremiah Inn -- the place to stay when cycling Mt. Lemmon.

We discovered the perfect place to stay for cycling Mt. Lemmon -- the Jeremiah Inn.  The Inn has five rooms and is 200 yards from the start of the Mt. Lemmon climb.  We highly and unequivocally recommend this as the place to stay if you are interested in comfortable and accommodating lodging closer than any other option to Mt. Lemmon.  The Inn can also act as a hub for cycling Kitt Peak and Mt. Graham in addition to Mt. Lemmon.

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - photo collage, breakfast at the Jeremiah Inn, with innkeeper Beth

The Jeremiah Inn with Beth, the GREATEST Innkeeper in the world.

Amazing and varied morning breakfasts.

Chalkboard:  In addition to making everyone feel at home with her personal introductions,

Beth also keeps names on the chalkboard to “refresh recollection”.

Breakfast:  Our morning fare . . . Got us up Mt. Lemmon AND back!

(That is, with a slight detour to the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven . . .)

Map:  A pin for every visitor since Beth and her late husband started the Inn.  

I didn’t count, but that sure seems like a lot of pins.

Speaking of the Cookie Cabin:

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - Cookie Cabin

Cookie Cabin, Summerhaven - just a half mile past the turn off to Ski Run Road.

Our PJAMM friend from the great (but flat) state of Florida, Michael Stork writes:  “Over the summer we trained for a century with a lot of climbing in Georgia.  The ride went very well, but the weather for our vacation the following week looked very bad.  So, I told my wife about your review and how amazing you made it look.  We checked flights, we checked with Beth at the Jeremiah Inn, and then we booked the trip.  I attached some photos of our epic ride up Mt. Lemmon and one of the cookie cabin at the top.  I wish more rides had a cookie cabin!”

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - Cookie Cabin, plate sized cookie and drinks

Michael’s cookie of choice. 👍😋

And, to top it all off, you’re not far from Spring Training . . .    

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Arizona - PJAMM Law Firm partners at spring training in Scottsdale

PJAMM Law enjoying Spring Training (after Graham, Kitt, Lemmon, Sedona [Hwy 89A])

How lucky am I?