Samaniego Ridge trail has to be one of the most stunning trails in Tucson. You get everything from pine forest single track to desert rock dropping all with in a 10.5 mile ride. This ride is not for everyone and should never be ridden alone. There are not many technical sections on the trail but you are in the backwoods and there are a few spots that can be dangerous. This is also not the trail for the rider who doesn’t like a bit of “hike-a-bike” because there will be some of that, guaranteed. This trail will require route finding, hiking, and even some bike riding but if you are into adventures you will not be disappointed.
You start the ride on the Meadow Trail on the top of Mt. Lemmon and quickly descend to the junction of Sutherland Trail and Samaniego Trail. From here there is some amazing descending with a few tight switchbacks and some amazing views. After some spectacular single track riding you will reach another junction from here you can go either way but the GPS track (see below) will take you to the right for even more wooded, rocky, fun single track descending. This again will take you to another junction which is a little harder to see.
To the right will take you to CDO trail which at this time is not open for business (hopefully soon). The left is the way you want to go, and from here the climbing will start. The climbing, though not entirely continuous, will continue for a while until you descend into Walnut Spring. This is a nice wooded area and a great place to take a lunch break before the real hard part of the day starts.
From Walnut Springs there is some more climbing and descending with great views to the east of the CDO valley. This will take you very close to where things get a little trickier. As you get close to the cliff at the base of actual Samaniego Ridge the trail gets very narrow and has a good amount of exposure. Take caution here and make your way to the cliff edge. From here the trail snakes around to the left and it is a very harrowing descent. Some have even taken to rappelling down the cliff (see video!) as opposed doing the hike a bike portion around the cliff. This is a very steep section and again extreme caution needs to be taken.
Once at the base of the cliff you will continue on the trail up towards Mule Ears which is more uphill and downhill. This bring you to the base of the last climb of the day. It is a brutal thing and requires the need to carry your bike, but is over in just a short amount of time.
After this brute of a hike, you are now onto the juicy stuff… the stuff you have been waiting for…the entire reason why you just carried your bike up a mountain, the DESCENT. This is a magical descent that last for what seems like eternity and has everything you ever wanted. Its 3-miles of woods, rocks, switchbacks, views, and smiles. It’s the reason why you will want to ride this trail again and why you are smiling at the end. But it’s not really over from there because after the official Samaniego Trail ends at the Charouleau Gap Road, you get to pick how you want to get back to your cars! This description ends there but there are numerous ways to get back to where ever you need to go. So enjoy.
One of our great sponsors, Southwest Trekking, offers a shuttle service for those interested. You need to have at least six riders, and the cost is usually around $15/person. Contact John at SWTrekking and tell him you found this on the SDMB site.
Directions: This trail can be a logistical nightmare but is well worth the hassle, because it most definitely is a shuttle that will take you across Tucson. You will be finishing the ride in the 50yr trail area so you will need to arrange a car for that point and one for the trip up Mt. Lemmon. You access the trail from the very top parking lot at the end of Ski Valley Road on the top of Mt.Lemmon.