Tall saguaro cacti, dry treeless landscapes and rugged peaks make Southern Arizona feel like a foreign land, especially when you’re used to the dense forests and rolling hills of the northeast. It was a welcomed contrast from home.
January temps in Tucson typically average in the low 60’s during the day and 40’s at night, but unlike the northeast, the southwest was warmer than normal with highs around 75-degrees everyday. This was perfect for riding with our three-year-old in her bike seat and afternoon lemonades after a couple hours of riding around.
Tucson is well known for professional and amateur training camps that take advantage of the favorable winter weather, long climbs at elevation, and plenty of routes for cycling. With 180+ miles of bike paths around the city, known as the Loop, we found it fairly easy to find routes that were family friendly and away from any car traffic. Many main roads and paths were still under construction, but based on the work being done, it seems like cycling conditions are only likely to improve.
We started off in the Oro Valley, the northwestern area of Tucson, riding the Loop from a lovely park that had a playground and bathrooms (very important when traveling with a 3-year-old). We cruised around for 30-ish miles, passing a number of parks, stopping at a farmers market, and visiting a children’s museum, all while never leaving the bike path.
Our bucket list also included Mt Lemmon, a 26+ mile climb that soars above 8,000-ft just east of Tucson. While we’re fairly ambitious, we knew climbing that distance on a tandem, carrying our daughter would take the better part of 4-hours so we improvised. Parking at a campground about 5 miles up the climb offered plenty of parking, and again bathrooms. We started our ascent from there, continuing about 10 miles up Mt Lemmon. We made it just past Hoodoo Vista before turning around and cruising back to our minivan rental. It gave us a great workout, with lots of scenic views, without missing lunch or stretching the patience of our little one too much.
Probably one of my favorite rides was the 8-ish mile loop road located within the Saguaro National Park East. It’s a one way, windy, hilly road that offers beautiful views of the park and mountains. We rode to the park from Le Buzz Cafe about 10-miles north of the park, with a little planning we found a pleasant route with minimal traffic. It didn’t occur to us until the way back to Le Buzz that it was a steady climb out to the park so we cruised effortlessly back to the cafe.
While we were focused on getting in some family rides, the running in Tucson was worthwhile as well. Most mornings were in the 40’s, so it made sense to get out early for a run and set out as a family by bike was the temps warmed up. Our second day in town happen to line up with a race (Sun Run 5K/10K) in Reid Park. The venue was perfect for my daughter and husband to hang out while I ran. Reid Park is home to walking paths, playgrounds, a man-made pond and small zoo.
Aside from the children’s museum, we visited the Desert Museum located in Saguaro NP west. The ride out over Gates Pass was beautiful but by mid-day the traffic can be relatively heavy. The Desert Museum was filled with plants and animals, walking paths, a hummingbird aviary, gift shop, cafe and more. It was perfect for our little one to walk around and explore.
Alas, our 4 day visit flew by, leaving us with a wonderful experience, but the desire to explore a little more. We’re so thankful to have stayed with friends, who not only opened their home to our family, but helped us navigate this new territory. We look forward to returning someday.