7 Minute Read

Another Gem From Tucson: Gate's Pass

Gate's Pass and its rolling hills and wonderful road quality is an incredible climb near Tucson. Image contains: Saguaro cactuses, hiking trail, mountains, desert view.

Another fantastic ride in Tucson

Continuing on the theme from my previous post, this ride was another one that was recommended to me by a friend of mine who had recently done some riding in the Tucson area. Not to mention that it’s also recommended by basically every other website out there that is talking about cycling in Tucson.

This ride was awesome, and it absolutely deserves its own post. Let me tell you why.

Route Overview and Highlights

Coming in to Gate’s Pass is magnificent. If you start out on the west side of town like we did (we had an AirBnB not far off Starr Pass Blvd), it’s a smooth rolling, relatively easy, and incredibly scenic way to start off a ride. You can always add miles to get to the start of this climb, but the main segment on Strava can be found here.

It’s a bit pitchy at the beginning

This is what makes things fun. The pitchy and reasonably steep sections are a bit short lived, but are interspersed with rollers that look like something out of a graphic novel. Or maybe some kind of driving movie. I didn’t really expect this the day that I went out there with my girlfriend, but I was in awe when I first saw them, given just how picturesque they are.

The overall pitches aren’t actually all that steep, but I do remember one of them towards the top being noticeably steeper than the others. Still, it’s short, and you can totally do it. The overall elevation difference really isn’t that much from the start of the road up to the pass itself.

Stop at the Trailhead overlooking Gate’s Pass

So according to the signage that’s at the top of the trailhead, Gate’s Pass is the pass where a man named Thomas Gates found a shortcut to his carbonate mine in Avra Valley. He paid some money to clear the path, built a road, and subsequently got a road and pass named after him.

I don’t think Gates could have imagined that this pass would eventually become a popular cycling route for the region. But maybe! I remain positive. Perhaps he was more of a visionary than I thought, I’m not one to judge.

The descent is absolutely amazing.

And maybe also the Scenic Overlook down below, too

Okay, so the video above was relatively shorter than I had planned, but when we were out there, we absolutely felt the need to stop and take a look around at the scenic overlook just below the trailhead. You’re out in a bit of a bowl, looking back up where you came from, the road snaking back up to where you just were, surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. And there’s still more perfect road to descend!

Old Tucson

This was a fun little find out here. Despite it being closed right now due to COVID-19 restrictions, it’s still a fun stop right off the main road.

Two bicycles parked next to the sign outside Old Tucson, a tourist attraction near Tucson, Arizona

It’s where something like 400+ movies have been filmed, including the original Three Amigos movie. Normally, this would be a great spot to stop, walk around, and fill up on water or eat some snacks if you need it.

McCain Loop

Part of the ride includes what’s called the McCain Loop, and you have to choose which direction to go around it, as the road basically splits into a Y. The counter-clockwise direction of this loop happened to be closed this day due to construction, so we followed all the cars and went left, going clockwise. See this segment for reference.

While this was incredibly beautiful, the road conditions unfortunately were not great. There are patches of asphalt every 10-12 feet or so that cause quite a stir through the frame into your body, so it gets a bit repetitive as you make a big lap around Brown Mountain.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Given the direction we went, we had to double-back to get here. It’s worth it, though, as there are nice restrooms and water available for you (although I think the fountains were taped off again that day). Apparently my girlfriend had actually been here in the past, as she had come out as part of a day trip when she was in college at ASU.

Bicycle leaning against a wall overlooking several flags at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park West

At this point, you are thoroughly surrounded by cactuses, ever pointing outwards, waving hello in all kinds of directions. Watch out for Goat Heads in the road! Luckily, we didn’t come across any while we were there that day.

Enjoy this part, as the road gets silky smooth again, and the beauty all around you is breathtaking.

Bicycles leaning against the entry sign for the Saguaro National Park West near Tucson, Arizona

Oh! And we thought we’d have to pay to get in to the park this day, but turns out we never passed the gate station. So nothing to pay there (although we have the US Park Pass, which would have gotten in the passholder, along with up to three others).

Coming back via Picture Rocks Road

So this part was a bit of a gamble for me, as my friend who had originally scouted out this ride told me that getting back from the park to Tucson was, in a word, “meh”. So instead, I tried to find something more interesting to do. And…I got lucky!

This road was one of my more favorite parts of the day, actually! The chipseal road surface wasn’t too bad, but the views were incredible, and the road just snaked around again through the wilderness, but was viewable from afar. I was so excited as I saw it come into view!

After another short climb to the pass, you’re rewarded with a wonderful view out over Tucson. Along with another fun descent.

Be careful of some of the bumps in the road here, as I remember coming in pretty hot into a turn, and the bumps (similar to the ones mentioned earlier) caused me to lose some traction with the road, and I had to brake a bit more seriously than originally planned, veering a bit wider to account for it. It’s something to definitely look for!

The Loop

While I mentioned this on my previous post, it should be mentioned here again. Our route this day took us a bit further out northwest of downtown, just so that we could come back along part of this infamous loop. Let me tell you, it was worth it.

Cyclist entering The Loop bicycle and mixed-use pathway in Tucson, Arizona

It’s just so efficient to get around! The pavement is beautiful and smooth, and the route generally is interesting, with just enough variation, twists, and turns, that make this so much more fun than the pathways I remember learning to ride on in Orange County.

Remember, there are 131 miles of this pathway all over Tucson, so you can hop in and out of it basically no matter where you are in Tucson.

A “must do” Ride in Tucson

Without a doubt. Two days prior we had gone up Mount Lemmon on the other side of the city, and while that was amazing, we definitely had some concerns with the horrific wind and colder weather conditions.

This ride left me with a sense of wonder that made me forget all of the previous stressors from the last ride. It gave me fantastic views, despite not having to climb more than about 2500 feet in total throughout 50 miles. I can definitely see why Tucson is a popular spot for winter cycling, as even with the cold snap we were experiencing really wasn’t too bad. Dry conditions, too!

Cyclist selfie posing near Picture Rocks, Arizona after a successful bike ride.

So please, please, please do this ride (or some version of it) if you’re out in Tucson and are doing some road cycling. It’s so worth it!

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