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Name: Pistol Hill Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Bike Difficulty: (medium). The trail is mostly a beginner’s trail with moderate hills and only a handful of technical spots. The technical sections are large rocks across the trail which can easily be walked. The last climb to the saddle is difficult with a narrow trail and a steep drop to one side (can be a little scary at times)
Time: 2 - 4 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: 12 miles (out and back) Elevation gain/loss/change: +627 / -447 ft / +180 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 3500 ft
Best time to go: fall, winter, spring Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Medium Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: October, 2009
Short Description: Awesome singletrack along the Arizona Trail in SE Tucson that shouldn't be missed
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Pistol Heights; Pup's Pleasure
References / Contact Information: Arizona Trail; Mountain Bike Trails
Points of interest: Colossal Cave. Great singletrack. Lots of saguaros
Special Considerations: Can be a little crowded on weekends
How to get there:The trailhead (Waypoint 001) is on Pistol Hill Rd about 1.5 miles north of Old Spanish Trail. Pistol Hill Rd is a well-graded dirt road and the trailhead is on the right side of the road, just past a cattle guard. The small parking area has a large wooden sign, though at the time of this posting, the sign didn’t have any information on it. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

This is a great ride in southeast Tucson (Vail) that shouldn’t be missed. It’s 100% singletrack that’s mostly easy with a few technical spots and a big climb at the end. I’ve been mountain biking in Tucson for almost seven years and I can’t believe I waited this long to ride this trail! It’s definitely going to be one of my regular rides.

General Information and History

The Pistol Hill Trail is part of the Arizona Trail (an 800-mile trail that winds its way through Arizona top to bottom). The ride described here takes you from the Pistol Hill trailhead south to the saddle between hills just south of Colossal Cave, but you can also go north from the trailhead or take the trail much farther south if you want.

For the first mile to mile-and-a-half, the trail glides and winds its way through shallow foothills like a kids roller coaster at the fair. I’m calling this section the “girlfriend” section of the trail. Not because there aren’t any good female mountain bikers out there (actually most can kick my butt and we saw a bunch out there doing just that the day we rode this). I’m calling it this because of a website I found describing the Pistol Hill Trail as a beginner’s trail, one you could take your girlfriend on that has never mountain biked before. There were more than a few comments on that opinion from mountain bikers stating that by doing so would be a fast way to lose your girlfriend.

This is NOT a beginner’s trail. Although the first section is very easy, the section through the first saddle and up to the second has some rough spots that I wouldn’t take someone on their first ride up. There are some spots that can be dangerous for someone who is just starting out. Now, if they’ve gone on the Bunny Loop at Fantasy Island and the 24-hour trails a few times are confident in their skills, go for it!

You’ll find the ride along Colossal Cave Mountain Park spectacular as you ride through mesquite trees and forests of huge Saguaro. Awesome! The climb up to the second saddle was tough, but worth it (though the trail is so narrow and winding that you can’t get going real fast on a lot of the trail on the way down).

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The Trail

From the parking area, ride back on Pistol Hill Rd over the cattle guard for about twenty feet and you’ll see a cleared area on your left. This looks like another road, but the singletrack begins on your right just after turning into the cleared area. This is all singletrack, so if you’re riding on a Jeep road for more than thirty feet, you’re on the wrong trail.

Ride south along the rolling hills as the trail makes a shallow climb up toward the first saddle. Remember this “girlfriend” portion of the trail, it’s a blast coming back the other way. Along this portion of the trail, you’ll cross a number of four-wheel-drive roads. I’ve placed waypoints at some of them. The trail is well-marked and all you do is cross the road.

At Waypoint 004, you’ll find yourself at the top of the first saddle. Now begins a gentle descent into the Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The majority of the technical sections are located along this portion of the trail. I made it through some of the rocks, others I had to walk over.

When you reach Waypoint 006, you’re in the park. You’ll find old stone building walls, restrooms, picnic tables and ramadas here. A nice little park. The trail hugs the north side of the park’s road and there are a few more technical sections along this portion.

At Waypoint 007, you’ll have just finished a short descent down to the park’s road (a bit of pavement here) and you’ll ride on it for about twenty feet until you come to a wash and see the trail heading up between two boulders in the wash. As I said before, if you’re riding more than about thirty feet on anything but singletrack, you’re not on the correct trail.

This part of the trail is beautiful as it winds its way through mesquite trees and through some huge saguaros. Some of the rocks are colored a beautiful red in this area. You’ll keep riding straight along the main trail past the intersecting equestrian trails at Waypoints 008 and 009.

A little while after Waypoint 009, you’ll begin riding up the long switchbacks as you climb up to the saddle on your left. Another equestrian trail intersects the trail at Waypoint 010. Be careful as you ride up the last part of this hill. The trail can be very narrow and some of the stones are loose. A fall off the edge here can ruin your day.

Once you’ve reached Waypoint 011, you’ve reached the top of the saddle. Congrat’s! Take a well-deserved break. If you want, you can continue down the other side, heading south toward I-10. I’ve heard that after a while this part of the trail becomes very rocky and almost unrideable. If this hill kicked you butt and you’re wondering if you’re going to make it back to the parking area before your legs stop working, turn around and retrace the trail back to the parking area. For the most part, it’s a much easier ride back.

Save some energy for the last mile or so. The “girlfriend” portion of the trail is a blast in this direction where you can really pour on the speed.

Wasn’t that an awesome ride?!

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