Looking for a rowdy and epic ride? Mt. Lemmon will deliver. In this post, learn everything you need to know about mountain biking the Full Lemmon Drop in Tucson, Arizona including shuttle options, where to start, and what to expect throughout your ride.
The Full Lemmon Drop is what The Whole Enchilada is to Moab: a long link-up of mountain bike trails that plunge down the ridges and canyons of a mountain – in this case Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona. It is much more rugged and challenging ride than the Whole Enchilada, however, and should only be attempted by experienced mountain bikers who are used to big days in the saddle and don’t mind a bit of suffering.
There is steep, technical descending, hike-a-bike climbs, extremely tight switchbacks, incredible views, rocky staircases, and a bit of hair-raising exposure. It’s a full-day endeavor and should not be taken lightly! But if you’re up for everything this trail will throw at you, it’s a must-ride for sure.
Note: Mt. Lemmon took the brunt of the Bighorn wildfire in 2020. I haven’t ridden the Lemmon Drop since then so I can’t speak to the trail conditions post-fire.
(There’s a good chance that affiliate links are scattered throughout this post. If you click on one I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you and I’ll definitely be using it to buy bike gear.)
The Full Lemmon Drop – Mapped
Lemmon Drop Basics
Miles: 31 miles
Elevation gain: 3,652 ft (this seems a bit high, I think it’s more around 3,000 ft +)
Elevation loss: 9,953 ft
Time needed: 6-8 hours or more
How Challenging Is This Ride?
The Full Lemmon Drop is not for the fainthearted. Not only is it long (30 miles is a big day on a mountain bike), but it’s also very challenging technically and physically.
There are many steep, rocky sections, tight switchbacks, some exposure, and plenty of hike-a-biking.
Most of these trails are not built for bikers, but rather they’re multi-use hiking trails. Some sections – especially on Green Mountain (more about the trails below) – have huge rock steps to bumble down and steep, unswitchbacked climbs.
This trail is also not marked well, so you need to have good navigational skills and some sort of GPS like TrailForks downloaded to your phone.
All that being said, The Full Lemmon Drop is a blast if you take it for what it is: raw, old-school, gnarly in sections, and a full-day adventure.
What kind of bike do you need?
Definitely a bike in very good working order! This is a big backcountry ride with many sections out of cell phone service. Do not attempt this ride on an old, unmaintained mountain bike. It will not go well. If you need to rent a full-suspension mountain bike, give Home Grown a call.
I recommend a mid to long-travel mountain bike. Anything with 140-160mm of rear suspension travel is a great choice.
Full Lemmon Drop Trail Guide
The Full Lemmon Drop is not super well marked and it can be easy to get turned around. A phone (or two) with TrailForks or MTB Project downloaded is a must!
Enjoy the fast, flowy dirt of Aspen Draw because there’s nothing else like it on the rest of the Full Lemmon Drop. The trail starts at the top of Mt. Lemmon at about 9,000ft and descends down through pine forest with tight switchbacks and one rock garden that comes up fast. To access Aspen Draw, you’ll need to pedal a short way down a fire road and then the trail will be on your left. At the bottom of Aspen Draw, take the road into Summerhaven where you will then make your way to Sunset along North Sabino Canyon Park road.
Sunset is a short one-mile connector trail with several pretty technical rocky sections to get you warmed up for Incinerator Ridge. The end of Sunset will bring you to a hiking trail that connects into Mt. Bigelow Road. If you’re not warmed up already, this three mile climb will do the trick. Just before you get to the water tower, you’ll see a trail to the left and that’s the start of Incinerator Ridge.
Incinerator Ridge is where the real riding begins! It is steep, rocky, loose and very raw with several tight switchbacks that require impressive bike handling skills to get around. If you have ridden Bug Springs and Prison Camp and found those trails challenging, you will be walking a lot of Incinerator Ridge.
Green Mountain is a little bit more civilized (I say that in an endearing way) than Incinerator Ridge in that it’s not as rocky and chunky, but it is still very steep in places with large rock steps to bounce down. Green Mountain starts with a grunt of an up (aka hike-a-bike) and then it gets right back into full-on DH. Both Incinerator Ridge and Green Mountain are good trails to stop and session features if you have time (and energy) to spare.
Bug Springs & Prison Camp
Now things start to get fast and flowy again! Bug Springs is one of the most popular trails in Tucson and for good reason. Most of the hardcore tech is left behind on Green Mountain and the trail opens up into hard, fast singletrack with a few rock gardens just because it’s Mt. Lemmon. You’re now mostly below the tree-line, so the views out over Tucson and Saguaro National Park are stunning. Prison Camp is a little less fun because it’s not as fast (😆) but still pretty darn fun.
Ok, now back to the rocky rowdy stuff. La Milagrosa is the final trail on the Full Lemon Drop and since you’re probably pretty knackered at this point it’ll feel like the hardest. But it’s so fun! It’s arguably Tucson’s best technical descent. Where Incinerator Ridge and Green Mountain are more stop-and-go, La Milagrosa has flow and style. But there’s definitely still the tech, so check your speed!
alternative Route To The Full Lemmon Drop
If you still want to experience some Mt. Lemmon riding but don’t want to do the rugged and demanding Full Lemmon Drop, a good alternative is to just do the Bug Springs/Prison Camp section. Both of these trails are super fun without the gnarly rock gardens. You’ll still need to shuttle this route (unless you’re up for a hefty pedal up General Hitchcock Highway), but Bug Springs and Prison Camp are far more accessible to intermediate (NOT beginner) riders.
If you have two cars, park one at the Molino Campground and then drive the other up to the start of Bug Springs. If you don’t have two cars, see shuttle options below.
Mt. Lemmon Shuttles
Home Grown offers mountain bike shuttles on Mt. Lemmon. You can choose to do the Full Lemmon Drop and get dropped off at the top, or you can opt for a shorter day by choosing their Middle Mountain Adventure which accesses Bug Springs. You can also hire a guide for the day or get fitted with a rental bike.
Shuttles to the top are $40 and shuttles to mid-mountain are $25.
What to pack for your Mt. Lemmon Ride
Here’s a list of what I recommend packing for your descent down Mt. Lemmon:
Full-face helmet. There are many high-stakes rock gardens and features, so if you’re planning on going all in I recommend wearing a full-face helmet. I have the Bell Super Air breakaway helmet and love it.
Knee pads. Protect yourself from the sharp rocks with good knee pads. I have the Fox Launch Pro’s which provide a lot of protection. You may also want to consider elbow pads.
A hydration pack with at least 3L of water. This is a big ride, so be sure to bring a hydration pack to carry all your stuff and enough water to last 6-8 hours.
The 8 mountain bike pack essentials. This is a remote ride, so make sure you have everything you need to fix mechanicals or deal with emergencies.
Sunscreen. Depending on when you ride, Tucson can be very hot and much of this trail is exposed.
Lunch + plenty of snacks. Bring more food than you think you need.
Cell phone with TrailForks or MTB Project downloaded. The route is not well marked, so you’ll need some sort of navigational help.
The Best Time To Ride The Lemmon Drop
The Full Lemmon Drop is best ridden in the fall/early winter when the hot Tucson temps simmer down and the snow has yet to fly. I rode it in November and it was perfect. Of course that depends on the year, but I’d say that October-November is prime and you may be able to get away with later winter months if it doesn’t snow (yes, Arizona gets snow).
For the spring, it really depends on winter conditions. It could be super muddy up until April or March/April could be prime. If you’re unsure about conditions, give Home Grown a call and they’ll give the lowdown.
Have you ridden the Lemmon Drop in Tucson? What did you think? Would you do it again? Leave a comment below!
Hi there! My name is Becky and this is my bike travel blog. I’ve always loved exploring the world on two wheels and it’s my mission to help others do the same! My first love is mountain biking, but I’ll never say no to any two-wheeled adventure.