Patagonia, Arizona, is an emerging gravel riding mecca for many reasons. It’s a quaint little Wild West town just south of Tucson, complete with a saloon and wooden sidewalk. The roads see little traffic, mostly just cyclists and border patrol trucks (it’s just 15 miles north of Mexico). And the biological diversity here is astoundingly rich. While there are many great gravel routes near Patogonia, this is one of our favorite loops in the region due to its accessibility, common surface conditions, and overall fun factor.
Starting from the town square, this route has it all. Within earshot, you’ll find plentiful, unrestricted day parking, pre-ride coffee and pastries at Gathering Grounds cafe, post-ride beer and snacks at Red Mountain Foods, and a public bathroom in the park (currently closed due to COVID-19). There are also several other good food options in town, from pizza to a nice little taco shop.
The route begins with a flat to rolling warmup along the paved Harshaw Rd., after which it takes a left turn onto Harshaw Creek Rd. for its first bit of gravel. This narrow, well groomed gravel road meanders along the creek bed for several miles before reaching a primary intersection at San Rafael Valley Rd. After a left turn here, the gradual climb turns to a steep pitch for less than a mile prior to the next turn. Here is one of several sections in which free primitive campsites just off the road entice riders to stay awhile or come back for a long weekend of riding. After cresting this sharp pitch, the route takes a right turn onto the unmarked Apache Rd. and works its way gently up to the high point for the day, again Harshaw Rd.
After the right turn onto Harshaw Rd., riders will pop up one more step prior to a big long descent back down to San Rafael Valley Rd. Harshaw turns to pavement just a mile or so prior to this turn, and there is a stop sign here. A quick right leads back to the junction with Harshaw Creek Rd. and a quick left leads riders back to Patagonia, the same way the ride began.
Beyond just great conditions, incredible scenery, and low traffic, we love the fact that this route has so many easy alternatives for extension. Instead of turning right at Apache Rd., riders can stay straight on San Rafael Valley Rd. and work their way toward the border town of Lochiel, Arizona prior to climbing back up to that same high point on Harshaw Rd. that the Apache loop meets up with. This is a great option for those who want to turn this loop into a bigger day, with a fair amount more climbing after Lochiel but otherwise mostly just fast rolling miles across the plains of the San Rafael Valley. The last time I rode this extended route, I was run off the road by a cattle drive, I was almost hit by pronghorn, and I leaned my bike up next to the border fence and held my head unit across into Mexico just to call it an international ride.
Route by Dillon and Nicole Caldwell - PEARL iZUMi Athletes