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Name: Sweetwater Preserve Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: Bike Difficulty: to (Learner to Medium)
Time: 1 - 3 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: Varies (you can make it about as long as you want - loop) Elevation gain/loss/change: +400 / -400 ft / +0 ft (example loop)
Type: Loop Avg Elevation: 2600 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: December, 2010
Short Description: One of Tucson's premier dedicated trail systems.
Geocaches: Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Chiligoat 1; Stop to Smell the Cactus;
References / Contact Information: Women's Bike Talk; Pima County NRPR; SDMB
Points of interest: Beautiful saguaro forest; all singletrack, close to town
Special Considerations: Watch out for hikers and equestrians. This is a popular trail and can be busy during the weekends.
How to get there: From I-10, head west on Ruthrauff Rd and keep going as it turns into El Camino Del Cerro. After 2.8 miles, turn left onto Tortolita Rd. Drive south for 1 mile until you come to the large parking area. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

This is one of Tucson's premier, dedicated trail systems. It's well-maintained, marked and fun to ride. It has some easy, beginners singletrack to a few intermediate trails (which are mostly easy except for a few difficult sections). It's close to town and easily accessible. The only downsides are it's a little bit rocky and can be crowded on weekends.

General Information and History

Sweetwater Preserve is a 700 acre preserve located in the eastern foothills of the Tucson Mountains, west of Tucson. The preserve is run by the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation (NRPR) department .

It is used by mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians and has quickly become one of the most popular places to ride in Pima County. I enjoy the ride, my only complaint is the trail is rough (though not difficult) and can be quite bumpy especially if you own a hardtail. This is a much rougher ride than the 24-hour, Chutes and Fantasy Island trails.

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The Trail

I am not going to go into detail on each on of the trails within the Sweetwater Preserve in this adventure. A few reasons for this.

One, the trail system is vast and there are many short trails. Trying to detail each one would be counter productive. Instead, I will give general views on a few of the trails I've run.

Two, the trail system is by far the best marked I've ever been on. Each intersection is well-marked with a map that locates where you are on the trail. A GPS, map or detailed directions shouldn't be required (though I do give a few waypoints for some major intersections if you think you'll need some). Use the NRPR map provided and you should be okay.

The trail system looks bigger on the map than it truly is. Many of the trails are very short and most people do multiple loops. The set of trails shown on the Topo map are only a little over 5 miles long.

One of the best ways to run the trail system is to do the northernmost trails, then loop around to the south. Here's some general information on some of the trails.

Saguaro Vista is a great trail to start on. Ride west on Saguaro Vista toward Sun Circle and Black Rock. This trail is an easy, beginner's singletrack that takes you through some nice saguaro forests.

Sun Circle and Black Rock are also fairly easy trails, especially if you ride these in a clockwise direction. Black Rock has a sustained climb at the beginning, but you get a nice reward the last half of the trail with a subtle downhill ride.

Lost Arrow has a decent climb when riding south from Saguaro Vista. After you make a few small wash crossings, you'll come to a few short rocky sections that can be difficult for some beginners along the climb to The Spine.

The Spine has some longer rocky sections that are better for intermediate riders, but easy for beginners to hike-a-bike through. This trail is easier done from west to east as you're going downhill through the rocky sections.

Homestead trail is mostly easy and connects to the Ocotillo Hill and Red Tail Ridge trails. You can also ride Red Canyon Trail on your way around the south end of the preserve, but this is probably the most difficult trail here. Beginners can do it, but there will be some places you'll walk around. Beware: there's one rocky section that comes as a surprise as you round a sharp corner.

I've never taken the Red Tail Ridge or Oxbow trails. I hear they're fairly easy, but a little boring. I usually ride up Ocotillo Hill Trail to connect back to The Spine. This trail is about the same difficulty rating as the others with a couple of sharp switchbacks near the northern end.

Once back on The Spine, ride to the Wildflower Ridge Trail and head back toward the parking area. This is probably my favorite trail in the preserve. It's a fun downhill to the parking area (connecting to the Roller Coaster trail) with only a few rocky sections and tight switchbacks.

Once you're back in the parking area, you can ride it all over again. It was only a little more than 5 miles, right?

Have fun and be safe!

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