Mt. Lemmon Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

10
FIETS
28.8 mi
DISTANCE
7,159 ft
GAINED
4.2 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS
TOUR DETAILS & STATS
2021 Tour de France

INTRO

Mt. Lemmon is the longest bike climb and second most challenging in Arizona (after Mt. Graham). This is also one of the most, if not the most, popular road bike climb in the US.  Unless you ride it in a snow storm or heat wave (though that's relative for AZ), you'll always encounter many cyclists along the climb. Some of the fun and unique points of interest on this bike climb are: (1) thousands of saguaro cactus during the first miles of the climb, (2) amazing hoodoo formations, (3) spectacular views at Windy Point at mile 14.7, (4) observatory buildings at the top, and (5) the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven just off the main climb route.
But for two significant exceptions, Mt. Lemmon has a generally steady 4-6% average grade.  The two exceptions are: (a) 8.1% grade for the last 2.6 miles of the climb and (b) a 2.1 mile -4.2% descent beginning at mile 21.2 and the 0.8 miles -3.3% descent from mile 24.7 down to the right turn to begin the climb up Ski Run Road to the finish. Removing the descents from the equation raises the 4.2% average to 6.8% -- a very significant and difficult average grade for a 25 mile bike climb. 31.5% (9.1 miles) of the climb is at grade 0-5% and 51% (14.8 miles) is at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter mile is 10.5% and steepest mile 9.1%.

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button above.
Roadway:  This is a pristine roadway from top to bottom. 

Traffic:  Although the roadway is through a rural area to a dead end, there is moderate but safely moving traffic throughout the climb. 

Parking:  There are many locations to park on side roads near the start.  We've parked at the northeastern corner of  E Catalina Hwy and N. Melpomene Way just a block southwest of the start (Map; Street View)  and also at our favorite location to stay for the climb - Jeremiah Inn (Map) a half mile from climb start.  Another popular place to park is the Le Buzz parking lot 4.5 miles from climb start (Map; Street View). 
 Provisions:  There are no spots for food along the climb, although there is water at the Palisades VC mile 20.5 (Google Map + Reviews);  be sure to try the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven 4/10's of a mile past the turn off to E Ski Run Road (MapStreet View; Google Map + Reviews) - best giant cookies in the world!  Also a great place to eat is the Iron Door at the ski resort near the finish - Street View; Google Map + Reviews. 

Weather:  We have finished twice in the snow on Mt. Lemmon - both times during Spring Training trips in March.  Be sure to check the PJAMM weather forecast for the climb finish to assist you in choosing what gear to bring with you.  Since you are starting in the desert at 2,700' and finishing over 9,000' in an alpine mountain setting, the temperature can drop 30-40 degrees from the bottom of the climb to the top. 
When we have travelled to Arizona to climb the Big Three (Mt. Lemmon, Mt. Graham, and Kitt Peak) we always fly into Phoenix and drive to Tucson to stay at  the Jeremiah Inn (Google Map + Reviews) which is a couple of blocks from the start of the Mt. Lemmon climb. 


For you baseball fans, Scottsdale is just a long fly ball away - for example, since we are Giants fans and it is 2 hours to the ball park - Route Map

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Strenuous
4.1
Road
3.3
Traffic
4.8
Scenery

CURRENT WEATHER

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MEMBER REVIEWS & COMMENTS

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Jun 7, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 5
Jun 7, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 5
Its a long climb but the grade is not difficult. Its a lot of fun though. Amazing Arizona views and there were a ton of cyclists out (March 2020). Fun descent too.
May 24, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 4
May 24, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 4
Rode from Le Buzz to Summerhaven on May 14, 2021. This was my second climb on Mt. Lemmon, the last one being in May 2019. Epic ride. Stunning scenery. You start in a forest of saguaro cactus and climb to an alpine meadow. In between are incredible hoodoo formations. Just went with 50/34 compact and that worked fine for me, but I was just spinning my way to the top and not pushing it hard. Oxygen concentration in the air we breathe drops from 19% at 2,500 (at the base) to 15.4% at 8,000 feet. It was hot when I rode, 25 degrees hotter than the same time period in May 2019. Some rest facilities were closed, I think because of the pandemic? Saw many terrific road bikers on the way up, all of whom easily passed me and many of whom were much older. Inspiring. And humbling. Stopped for a slice of peach pie in Summerhaven. Hope to ride again next year.
May 3, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 5
traffic: 2
road: 5
May 3, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 2
road: 5
I climbed Mt. Lemmon for the first time on 5/1/21. The climb and the scenery as awesome as advertised, nothing short of breathtaking. The forecast called for upper 90s heat from midday on, so I left from the Le Buzz parking lot at just after 6 AM to make sure I was at a higher elevation by them time it started to get really hot. That strategy worked really well and made for a very pleasant experience. The grade from the beginning on was very constant. I rented a road bike from "Tucson Bike Rentals" that had a 32t cassette which I found to be perfect. THIS CLIMB PAGE MENTIONS THAT THE PALISADE VISITOR CENTER IS OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK, BUT IT WAS CLOSED ON 5/1/21 WHEN I WENT. I had planned on refilling my water bottles here, but couldn't as a result. It turned out fine since I brought a 3rd bottle. Maybe call ahead to see if they are open or not to plan accordingly. The sky observatory was not open, but was visible on 5/1/21 Traffic was light on the way up, but heavy coming down.
Apr 30, 2021
Rode up Mt. Lemmon on Wednesday, 27 April 2021. The weather forecast wasn't the best. Clouds and 49 degrees at the top. Left the Safeway parking lot at 10:30am and it was 55 degrees. Climb is long and just keeps going. It was quite windy out. We had crew support as one of our newer riders wasn't really fit to take on the whole mountain so just rode part way and then returned. At the 6000ft level it was all clouds and the temperature was dropping. At 7000ft we got a few flakes of snow. By 7500ft it was a full on snowstorm. We rode on to 8000ft but now it was really coming down. The temperature was at 32 degrees. We had two incidents of thunder and lightening and the snow was now sticking to to the road. This is where we pulled the plug and put the bikes in the van and started down. Fun but very tiring day.
Apr 23, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 3
Apr 23, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 3
Long but worth the effort. Climbed to top on 4/22/21. Some stretches pretty windy and then you'd go around a curve and wind died down, most of the upper mt was that way. I'm not from area and given the elevation I thought that was probably typical but I was speaking with 2 local bikers and they complained about how windy the day was. The last several steep miles were definitely a challenge after completing so many miles but for me maybe the hardest part of the day was the 2 mile, not very steep, climb on the return trip. I think my body just rebelled when asked to do a little more climbing. Scenery was spectacular loved the Hoodos which were amazing.
Apr 16, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 5
road: 3
Apr 16, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 5
road: 3
Climbed on an early Tuesday so traffic not bad. First 16.5 miles are (especially) the star along with the last 4 miles up to the observatory via Ski Run. Gate up the final steep run to the observatory open 4.13.21 along with newish pavement on that 1.5 mile stretch. Substantial bike lane both sides nearly the entire road up to Summerhaven.
Apr 10, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 3
road: 4
Apr 10, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 3
road: 4
This is another climb where the gradient is never too unmanageable, but the distance (and maybe heat) wears you down. Some of the worst gradients are up to the ski area at the top and above. The final road segment up to the very top was in bad condition when I did it. As you get lower on the descent, it can feel like someone is pointing a hair dryer at you! Take plenty of water with you.
Apr 5, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
Apr 5, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
4/2/21 was my first time climbing/descending Mt. Lemmon and it was amazing. I lived in Tucson in my 20s after undergrad and had driven/camped the Catalina Hwy many times, but there is nothing like riding it! My climb began at dawn from a central Tucson VRBO at 65 degrees. Was a bit windy from the east with sustained winds of 16 mph and gusts in the high 20s, making the initial climb a bit dicey. Wind calmed as I made it to the interior of the range. I met a local legend (John Timbers) at Windy Point. Surprisingly, the temp was also 65 degrees when I arrived at Summerhaven (never had to unpack my windbreaker). The descent was exhilirating and upon my return to the desert floor, the temp had risen to 94 degrees (perfect for a post-ride dip in the pool at our rental house). Gotta say, Tucson's done it right with its commitment to cycling - seems every major road in the city (but for the Tucson Mts.) has a nice shoulder lane. Can't wait to ride Lemmon again, as well as Graham and Kitt!
Apr 2, 2021
the last 1.6 miles to the observatory is past a gate that is locked between December and March 1, and periodically thereafter. it was locked yesterday (April 1). i was able to walk my bike around the gate. the views are sadly even more spectacular after last year’s fire.
Apr 5, 2021
I saw the gate was locked on 4/2/21 as well.
Mar 28, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 4
Mar 28, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 4
Has bike lane all the way up, great views!
Mar 18, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 4
Mar 18, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 4
Highly recommended!
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

Climb Profile Not Found
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.   

“This is a long, classic climb out of the Sonoran desert from the northern edge of scenic Tuscon.  The grade is fairly stout at the start and it clings to the edge of the cliff in places making the bottom half very scenic including several dramatic switchbacks.  Near the middle of the ascent is a quite shallow but highly scenic section.  At mile 25.3 turn right on Ski Run Road to continue to the summit.  You soon pass through the ski area and continue on a single lane, poorly paved road.  The climb ends at a parking area and locked gate.  Due to its far south location this high altitude climb is open all year (winter snow will close sections temporarily).  This road can carry a lot of traffic on good weather weekends.”  (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 124.) 

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?