The Tombstone Hustle: Bikepacking the Dragoons
72 Mi.(116 KM)
% Rideable (time)
This is a relatively quick loop which could be started on a Saturday and finished just in time to drive back to Tucson or Phoenix Sunday evening. It starts on the fringe of Tombstone and gently meanders into the Dragoon Mountains and Coronado National Forest via Middlemarch Road. Forest Service Road 687 eventually funnels into a burly singletrack passage through the mountainous Cochise divide, named after the famous Apache Chiricahua Chief who held this natural fortress in resistance to the US Army for some 15 years.
After a heart-in-throat descent down the Stronghold, a long gravel downhill leads to a short stint on highway 191 before passing through the historic mining town of Pearce. At this point, there are several options for the loop, but we chose a dirt jeep road that climbed into the southern end of the Dragoons followed by a chunk of a paved road to take us through the town of Tombstone. Tombstone, an historic “Old West” town in Cochise County, was originally founded in 1879 and has since become quite the tourist draw. It was one of the last frontier boomtowns in the American West, its wealth is the product of successful silver mining and its notoriety is the result of its numerous infamous citizens, including gunslingers Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and Johnny Ringo. A few of the sites in town are worth checking out… the Bird Cage Theater, known to the cowboys of its time as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast” is worth a peek, or just head to the nearest saloon for a post-ride glass of sarsaparilla, firewater, or coffin varnish.
- Pedaling through the historic wild west towns of Tombstone and Pearce.
- A mixed bag of terrain; everything from fast singletrack, to grassland, to rocky hike-a-bike.
- A fun and technical descent through the Cochise Stronghold on the eastern side of the Dragoons.
- Beautiful high desert scenery and wildlife.
- Best ridden in early spring or late fall, but is possible in the winter as well, just check the weather before setting out.
- The route lies about 4,000 ft in elevation (1,220 meters), so nights may be cold.
- Most of the route is on dirt roads with moderate climbs, but there is a sizable chunk of singletrack and the section climbing up to the divide has a fair amount of unrideable stretches; expect to push your bike from time to time.
- The Cochise Stronghold pass is bear country; it’s advisable to bring a bear snag system to store food.
- As noted by a rider in the comments, the 1.0-1.5 mile horse trail at the end of the descent might be a bit degraded and “isn’t very pleasant”. It could be avoided by dropping directly down into the campground in a short distance (albeit by hike-a-bike) and then good roads for the 1.5 mile to reconnect where the horse trail ends.
- There are plenty of wild camping spots as well as designated National Forest camping; I recommend several options about 1/4 mile from the posted ‘divide’ on the trail (24.2 on the GPX).
- Unless you are tackling the route within a week or so of rainfall, expect to carry water for a full 1.5 days supply.
- There were plenty of active creeks when we rode it, but that’s not always the case.
- There are several stores and restaurants in Sunsites/Pearce (around mile 36 on the GPX).