Santa Cruz Overnighter, Mexico
74 Mi.(119 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Karla and Daniel
Karla and Daniel are a couple from Sonora, México, who met through riding and believe in the power of bikes to improve themselves and their surroundings. Their trips are mostly on dirt roads and focus on the history, culture, and natural environment of the places they go through. So far, that includes the Baja Divide and several routes in Sonora and Arizona. You can find photos of their trips on @karlatrobles and @perdidoenbici.
This is a 100-kilometer route, of which 60 are dirt and 40 are on a low-traffic highway. It starts and ends in Nogales, Sonora, which borders with the city of the same name in Arizona. It is within the biosphere of the Sky Islands and it highlights an ecosystem that suffers a division by a political border in the shape of a metal fence. If ridden clockwise, the northern part of this square-shaped route goes parallel to the border with the US, with the dirt starting after passing a suburban housing project, up a 500-meter pass, and then a long downhill before it starts going south toward the farming town of Santa Cruz. A 5km in-and-out detour can be made for a visit to the former border crossing of La Noria/Lochiel, which was closed in the 1980s. No habitants are known to live on the Mexican side, although a family lives on the USA side.
This area is under surveillance on both sides of the border, so expect police presence. The town of Santa Cruz has a well-stocked store and a tiny plaza with a roof next to it where it might be possible to camp (ask about it at the store). South of Santa Cruz, there are many ranches and farms, so finding a spot for wild camping, although possible, might take a bit of time. After a little over 20km of dirt you’ll come across pavement on a low-traffic highway that will bring you back into Nogales.
This is a relatively easy route that’s well suited for beginners or a relaxed weekend ride. There’s one steep climb that could be tackled with fresh legs if starting clockwise from Nogales, followed by a long downhill. The rest is mostly flat. The resupply is right in the middle of the route at 55km in a well-stocked store in Santa Cruz, where prepared meals (like burritos) might be available. The route is very straightforward, with an optional short detour to the historical border crossing of La Noria/Lochiel. There’s very little traffic and no bike shops along the route, so be prepared for self-sufficiency in case of a mechanical. Route difficulty: 4, Technical difficulty: 3, Physical demand: 5, Resupply and Logistics: 4
Route Development: This route was created by me and my partner Daniel Zaíd when we met a group of cyclists from the USA who wanted to go bikepacking in México but only had two days. We’ve heard of the town of Santa Cruz before and got a brief idea of the way to get there from our friends from Nogales. After talking with local mountain bikers, it seems like it’s possible to ride parallel to the train tracks on the way back to Nogales, thus avoiding most of the paved section, but we haven’t done this ourselves.
- The 500-meter climb is not too steep and distributed along 10km, making it challenging but enjoyable, with a nice little spot for a lunch break at the top.
- A long descent parallel to the border will have you enjoying the speed while at the same time wondering about the implications of the fence.
- The beautiful natural environment of this area, which is part of the Islas del Cielo or “Sky Islands” biological area.
- A 5km detour to the former border crossing of La Noria/Lochiel, which used to be the same settlement before the establishment of the border.
- Traditional farm buildings and living in Santa Cruz.
- Low traffic, fast rolling paved ride back into Nogales.
- This area can get very hot in the summer months and very cold in the winter, and it isn’t rare to get snow in December and January. When we did it in late February it still got to freezing temperatures, so spring and autumn will make for a more approachable experience.
- This route is completely on public roads. It might be a good idea to ask around about a good place to camp, as some areas are farm land.
- The route crosses an area where smuggling and foot travel take place, so police presence is to be expected on either side of the border. If asked, be open about what you’re doing and that you’re going back to Nogales. Another reason for making the route clockwise is that a southbound traveler is less suspicious than a northbound one.
- If you’re coming from Arizona, crossing the border by bike is very easy, so it might be a good idea to leave your car in Nogales, AZ, and cross only with your bike on the car lane. Avoid the pedestrian crossing, because the revolving door is not wide enough for a bicycle. When crossing from México into the US by bike, locals usually get past all the cars on the lane and ask the next in line if they can get in front of them, which should save you a lot of time.
- Santa Cruz has a municipal building for local events that might be available for spending the night. It’s right next to the store, so ask the owners if you’re interested.
- South of Santa Cruz you’ll be crossing farms and some open spots next to the railroad tracks, where we’ve camped before.
- Avoid jumping fences or opening gates. Because of the foot travel that is frequent in this area, people might be wary of strangers roaming outside at night, so making camp before sunset is recommended.
- Although the area was settled because of the existence of a river, not much of it remains. Carry enough to make it from Nogales to Santa Cruz, where both food and water will be available, then resupply again to make it back to Nogales.
This route is an excellent opportunity to get started into bikepacking, including getting familiar with the use of a GPS device. But once you make it out of Nogales it would be very hard to get lost, as the road is wide and clear, and there many other places to go besides the detour to La Noria/Lochiel. Make sure to turn right once you reach pavement, or else you’d be going south, further away from Nogales.
Rideability: This route is 100% rideable and ideally you would only need to get off the bike for a break or a photo. There isn’t any fence crossing required, so make sure to stay on the side where you are.