LivingTravelTop 5 Motorcycle Rides in Central Arizona

Top 5 Motorcycle Rides in Central Arizona

While Phoenix is recognized as one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, still very few cyclists know about the splendid rides in the vicinity of the capital of Arizona. One of the great features Phoenix has to offer motorcyclists is the convenience and variety of a vibrant urban area combined with easy access to magnificent attractions with unexpected diversity.

Through 6,000 feet of elevation change, the roads of central Arizona wind through lone cacti and pine forests, introducing the rider to landscapes from sweeping southwest views to steep canyon walls. The first two of the top five best day rides mentioned here are suitable for cruiser, touring or sports bikes; the last three require a motorcycle that can also be ridden safely on dirt roads. The medley of brisk rides on the asphalt and the captivating beauty and loneliness of unpaved back roads overlaid with a bit of old-fashioned western flair is what we call the “Arizona Motorcycle Experience.” Take part in it!

Fountain Hills, Lago Bartlett

This 145-mile ride offers a delightful mix of culture, suburban and natural beauty, topped off with a hint of Old West flavor. A short warm-up ride takes you to Taliesin West, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, where you can choose from tours of one to three hours, depending on your pace and interest. Passing through the picturesque location of the famous Mayo Clinic, you begin to climb Fountain Hills, one of Arizona’s newest modern desert colonies. As you climb, stay in the right lane and watch the scenic turnout, giving you an aerial view of the East Valley.

The Fountain Hills community proudly features one of the tallest fountains in the world.

Head further north, take a loop around McDowell Mountain Park and perhaps stop for a short hike. You can learn more about the park by spending a couple of minutes at the visitor center. The next stop is a popular summer weekend getaway for the Phoenicians: Lake Bartlett. At the marina, you will better understand the debate over whether or not Arizona has more boats per capita than any other state. As you make your way up the path from the marina, turn right and visit the beaches that offer different views of the lake.

On summer weekends, prepare not to be the only visitor.

Back off Bartlett Dam and Cave Creek roads and enjoy the shops and restaurants embedded in the laid-back atmosphere of the Carefree-Cave Creek area.

By the end of this trip, it will probably be dark when you return to Scottsdale or Phoenix, so take in the sweeping view of the bright city lights on your left as you turn onto Happy Valley Road.

Wickenburg, Prescott

You can get a taste of Arizona’s history and winding tarmacs on this 274-mile ride. For the more ambitious riders, there is an extended version, which stretches for over 330 miles. The destination, the city of Prescott, sits at 5,400 feet, so be prepared for winding roads and significant temperature swings. During the summer this walk offers a great escape from the high temperatures of the valley, while during the winter this route may remind you of those cold northern walks.

Wickenburg occupies an illustrious chapter in the history of Arizona and the West. Although only 54 miles away from the hustle and bustle of modern Phoenix, Arizona’s westernmost community dates back to a different time and place. Don’t miss the stop at the Western Desert Knights Museum. If you want to stretch your legs, pick up a self-guided ‘Historical Walking Tour’ brochure at the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce, just behind the old railway station, and go for a walk. An additional 42-mile drive takes you to visit the world’s largest collection of vintage mining equipment at Robson’s Arizona Mining World.

Climbing Yarnell Hill will be a feast for riders and cyclists alike, but don’t let the spirit of racing overcome your mastery of the great street sweepers. Some of them are out of camber and you will also find some decreasing radius turns. When you get to the top of the hill, you can reward yourself at Buford’s Buzzard’s Roost Café, a popular biker stop in Yarnell.

The Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott is a must if you’re more interested in the history of the region, while The Palace on the Whiskey Row gives you an instant feel of the Old West when patrons viewed it through the salons window.

The shortest trip is to go back the same way, but don’t worry about getting bored, descending from Prescott provides a completely different view. You would hardly recognize that you are traveling the same path.

The extended trip circles around northwest Prescott and reconnects Highway 93, also known as the Joshua Forest Parkway, forty-three miles northeast of Wickenburg. The ride is winding and scenic, but facilities are lacking. Be sure to complete in Prescott.

Virgil Earp was a resident of Kirkland from 1898 to 1902. If you’re wondering what life was like in this area, visit the former Kirkland Store and Hotel, now known as Kirkland Bar and Steakhouse. Legend has it that the face of a murdered lady of pleasure reappeared on one wall of the building. If you have good eyes, you will find it yourself. Look around the back of the restaurant!

Payson, Mogollon Rim

The 256-mile loop incorporates a forty-three-mile forest road ride and rewards riders and riders with magnificent views from the edge of the Colorado Plateau. The first 100-mile walk on the pavement takes you nearly five thousand feet, to the top of the Mogollon (pronounced muggy-yon) rim. With a drop of up to 2,000 feet in some areas, the Rim offers some of the longest-range scenery in Arizona. The vast area covered by tall pines is part of the largest ponderosa pine forest on the continent.

Surprise, surprise, this is Arizona too! Entering the Rye city limit on Highway 87, notice the huge motorcycle salvage yard on your right.

If you are interested in stories of frontier life, pay tribute to Zane Gray, the father of the western novel, by visiting his recently restored cabin in Payson. A few miles north of Payson, the Natural Bridge of Tonto invites you on a scenic hike. If you visit Strawberry on a weekend between mid-May and mid-October, you can reach the top of Arizona’s oldest school, which was established in 1884. Just ten miles from Strawberry, you will be off the pavement and heading towards the Rim Road, one of the best backcountry roads in and around Phoenix.

In addition to the fascinating views, the trail also follows another interesting feature, the General Crook Trail, which the famous Indian fighter razed his fortress at Fort Apache. If you look carefully, you can still see remains of the old chariot road that works its way along the top of the cliffs. The highest elevation on this trip, the promontory lookout at 7,900 feet, also defines the best season for this ride. Unless you want to try the snow, schedule your trip to the Rim Country between May and early October.

At Mountain Meadow, you will reconnect with the pavement. Take a break at Kohl’s Ranch, where you can savor a Payson Cheese Steak or Canyon Creek Sandwich at the Zane Gray Steakhouse & Saloon. You will continue your journey east towards Payson and then descend to the Valley of the Sun. During the summer drought, forest roads are occasionally closed. Check with the National Forest Service for conditions before heading out.

Note: Before planning a trip on unpaved roads, make sure your bicycle is equipped for the trip and that riders are prepared with the appropriate motorcycle riding skills.

Tortilla Flat, Apache Trail

This 223-mile adventure ride features spectacular scenery to rival any in the state. The twenty mile graded dirt section of the trail offers magnificent views of twisted igneous mountains with dense saguaro and Ferocactus forests with several deep blue lakes along the way. Fish Creek Canyon is perhaps the most impressive section. The path hangs alongside this high-walled canyon and winds along tremendous cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet below.

The road was originally built in the 1930s to support dam development along the Salt River. The trail is a day trip from the Phoenix area and the trip is an experience you will never forget. You can avoid city traffic by approaching the trail through Saguaro Lake and the Usery Pass. At the foot of Superstition Mountain, the one you are about to conquer, you can catch a glimpse of the Old West by stopping at Goldfield Mining Town. This recreated ghost town was a booming gold mine over a hundred years ago.

The Mammoth Mine produced around $ 3 million worth of gold between 1892 and 1896.

Tight curves lead to Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flat. The name of the lake couldn’t describe it better. The steep canyon walls rise above the cool, clear water with twisting ravines. Tortilla Flat is the only authentic stagecoach stop to survive the 20th century along the Apache Trail. A remnant of the old west, and still serving adventurous travelers to the mysterious Superstition Mountain area. The pavement ends eight miles from Tortilla Flat. Occasional patches of sand color the dirt-filled road that winds through the canyon and Apache Lake, on the way to Roosevelt Dam.

A few miles south of the dam and along the coast, a short side road leads to the Tonto National Monument. The monument features two fascinating cliff dwellings built in the 14th century. It sits at the head of a lush side canyon with beautiful views of Lake Roosevelt. On the way back to Phoenix are the historic mining towns of Globe, Miami and Superior. Originally there were silver strikes here, but the main mineral has long been copper. The huge mountains of tailings are quite evident along the way.

If you still have time and feel like taking another walk, visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, three miles west of Superior, one of the best botanical gardens in the western desert. You can end the trip with an absolutely unique dining experience by stopping at Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa. The restaurant was designed and built around a four-manual Wurlitzer organ, which was originally installed at the Denver Theater in 1927.

Note: Before planning a trip on unpaved roads, make sure your bike is equipped for the trip and that riders are prepared with the proper riding skills.

Lake Pleasant, Castle Hot Springs

This 210-mile loop requires a little sacrifice up front, but the rest is well worth it. You will be leaving the city on Interstate 10, which is not the trip you dream of, however it is good to get used to the bike if you rent one that you are not familiar with.

By the time you turn off the Interstate at Exit 103, you’ll find surprisingly little traffic on a winding highway amid some of Arizona’s best country scenery. The curves get tighter as the road gradually climbs into the Vulture Mountains. As you will learn, everything in this area revolves around the vulture. You can find out why by stopping at the Vulture Mine, which is certainly on the Vulture Mine Road, fourteen miles southeast of Wickenburg. It’s not entirely surprising that the ghost town you’ll see here is the remnant of the ancient city called Vulture City.

Rub the ore in the mine and you will see the glitter of gold on your palm.

Wickenburg is a good stop for an early lunch or refreshment before venturing beyond the pavement. It is also a good idea to refuel your motorcycle. Don’t miss the stop at the Western Desert Knights Museum. If you want to stretch your legs, pick up a self-guided ‘Historical Walking Tour’ brochure at the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce, just behind the old railway station, and go for a walk.

It is another ten miles on the pavement to reach the Castle Hot Springs road, the core of this day’s adventure. This ride is only for well-experienced riders as the graded gravel road intermittently crosses and follows sandy creek bottoms. One stretch of road follows Castle Creek for 3 miles. The road is generally in good condition except after heavy rains and flash floods. As the name suggests this road leads to Castle Hot Springs, which is now only the ruins of the first (and one of the most beloved) spa resorts in Arizona.

The compelling scenery of the Sonoran Desert is framed by the nearby low mountain foothills. An unexpected green oasis with abundant palm trees marks the place of the one-time luxury resort, which had achieved some fame at the turn of the century as a spa featuring the «magic waters of the Apaches.» In its heyday, it hosted members of the Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, and Astor families.

After 28 miles of scenic dirt road riding, you’ll see the tarmac near Lake Pleasant Regional Park. You can access the north entrance from the Castle Hot Springs road. The park offers boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing activities. At the Lake Pleasant Visitor Center, you can learn about the history of the area and desert wildlife. Step out onto the balcony surrounding the Visitor Center to get a beautiful view of Lake Pleasant and an up-close look at Waddell Dam.

Note: Before you plan a ride on unpaved roads, make sure that your bike is equipped for such a ride and the bikers are prepared with the appropriate motorcycle riding skills.

Return to the valley on Carefree Highway and take a short detour through Cave Creek and Carefree. Walking into one of the community’s cozy western-style restaurants will make your day complete.

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