Red Ridge....red like scabs!....red like blood!....red like newly scraped elbows!
Colorful metaphors, but not entirely accurate. There is plenty of opportunity for blood and scrapes, but the trail itself is dark and coniferous green with lots of ferns. The ride is 19 anus clenching miles from the top of Mt. Lemmon at 9175 feet, down to the headwaters of the Caada del Oro, followed by 1500 feet of jeeproad climbing to the saddle known as Charoleau Gap, then a faaaaaast desert downhill to 3000 feet at Golder Ranch, where sensible people will have a shuttle waiting for them.
The trail runs straight north, and straight down through the pine needles and ferns. There are fewer switchbacks than you'd expect which only steepens the grade. I think that if you didn't brake, you could hit fifty or sixty mph before you killed yourself on a tree trunk. This is a good ride for disk brakes, as the trail was only a foot wide and full of logs and rocks. The last time we rode it, people's rims were overheating and causing the brake pads to squeal- there would be no animal sightings with all that noise. The experience is like a green and brown blur on a wild bucking horse, jumping, bashing, sliding and skidding on a trail that hasn't been maintained since the Roosevelt administration. Nearly everyone spent some time ragdolling down the mountain.
In no time at all, the forest scenery is replaced with oaks and junipers, then cottonwoods and grass as it intersects the creek. The trail becomes a poorly defined rock garden which weaves back and forth across the creek channel. Soon enough, you t-bone into the Charoleau Gap jeep road for the only climbing on the trail. I have since heard that some public spirited individuals with shovels have made improvements to the creek section of the trail. It's hard to get lost, as the creek eventually runs right into the road where you must go west (left)
The scenery in the hills east of the Gap is beautiful- lots of pine covered peaks and a rusty red jeep road with three and a half miles of climb. It's tough in the Summer to do this part, but not as tough as climbing the west side of the Gap.
The Charoleau Gap descent is legendary. Five and a half miles drops something like 3000 feet on hard clay, granite shelves, whoop-de-doos and boulder fields. Be careful you don't end up being a hood ornament on a jeep coming up the road. A ride through the desert from the bottom of the Gap to the trailhead is the finish. You can compare injuries on this part.
Distance- 19 miles or so (my cyclometer exploded).
Time- time stands still when you're bleeding.
Altitude- 9175 feet at the start (we start at the top of Aspen Draw)
Drive up Catalina Highway to the Ski Valley parking lot. About a third of the way down to Summerhaven, a Forest Service sign on the north side of the road marks the start of Red Ridge. There's no real parking area, and the trail starts with a short, steep climb from there. This is a shuttle ride to be sure. Have somebody waiting for you at the sign-in area at the west end of the Charoleau Gap jeep road. You can also extend the fun by starting at the top of Aspen Draw for 2.3 miles of the best singletrack in the County.
Summary: Thorns, Fire Damage, Downed Trees.... This trail has great potential, but it seems that nobody maintains the trails up on mt lemmon. There are countless trees down preventing any kind of flow down the trail. I recommend Oracle ridge instead simply because there are fewer trees to cross. And I don't mean rideable trees, I mean waist high, get off and climb over trees. It kinda sucked.
Recommended Route: Don't do it unless you have some really good sealant!
Other recommended trails in the same area: Oracle Ridge, Green mtn
Recommended Route: In my review I made one mistake. At the intersection where you can go to Dans's Saddle or stay on Red Ridge, Go LEFT, not right. If you have a map, like you should, you would not dare climb up to Dan's Saddle like I mistakenly told you to. Mistakes like this can cost hours of backtracking and make a person want to hunt down and kill the guy that left wrong info.
Sorry, I didn't mean to be that guy.
Summary: I'm not big on reviewing trails, but this trail needs a little clarification at points. First, I am from Moab, we do big epic rides a lot. This ride is up there with the best of them. The best map I found is the Tucson area trails map by IMBA/Arizona Trails Kompany. Leave a car at the end of Golder Ranch road off of Oracle. There is a dirt parking lot there. The shuttle for this ride is way long, almost rediculous. Drive back through town and up Mt Lemmon. Take a right before Summerhaven and go up to the ski area. There is a gate at the ski area that was open when we did this ride. (Feb 06) Keep going up the road until you round a corner and are looking at a big gravel open area. There is a gate that says "do not park in front of gate" This is where you park to do the Aspen Draw trail. Ride around the gate and behind the ski area. There are some buildings here and there. Aspen Draw starts just to the right of the ski area's fence. Aspen Draw ends up back down at the ski area, a short climb puts you up and over the guard rail. Ride about a mile down the hwy to Red Ridge trail on your left. There is a sign there, again a short climb, and then DOWN. The trail is pretty rocky from the fire and the sharp plants and trees will mutilate your skin if it isn't covered. Knee Shin and arm guards are a must for this ride. Don't miss a big log ride about a 1 mile down red ridge. It is laying along side the trail. From here the trail gets steeper and rockier. Its all rideable by a good technical rider, but even the best will be dabbing a lot. Eventuallly you come down to the creek and a sign. It will say Dan's Saddle to the left, but you will go right. From here it is just a cow trail, realy rocky and loose. You will lose the trail here and there. The next orientaion point is the sign at the intersection with the AZ trail. Take a right, or down the creek. Shortly after that sign the trail spiderwebs into the wash. Look carefully for blue metal hiker badges attached to the trees. This section is a little bit of ride with a lot of walk as the trail criss crosses the wash. Eventually you will come to a wire gate and the jeep road you were hoping was still there. Go left after the gate and begin one long freakin climb on jeep road, destination Charouleau Gap.
Recommended Route: Charlouleau Gap down is a double track dream with ruts and jumps and big time speed. One option is to go left up to a water tank and then down single track back to your car, or if the sun is going down, like on us, take the jeep road all the way to Lago Del Oro and back to Golder Ranch road. Both ways are a blast. Don't kid your self about this ride, we were on the trail for about 6 hrs. We had a few slower riders, but even the fastest guys should count on 5 hrs. If your an XC geek and think that you "wont get your workout with all that down hill" go back to Fantasy Island and shut your mouth!
At the top of Charouleau Gap you will see Samaniego trail on your left and you will wonder why you didn't do that ride, since it doesn't have a leg cramping climb in the middle of it. We are doing it soon so look for my review of that trail also.
If you like em long, with route finding, with bleeding skin and bent derailure hangers this ride will make you happy.
Other recommended trails in the same area: La Milagrosa
Review Date October 28, 2002
Overall Rating 5 of 5
Ridden Trail: Ridden Once
Reviewed by: pedalAZ
, from Phoenix
Summary: The original description and the unattributed review (I think I know who you are) of August 20 are very accurate. I can't imagine doing this in the heat of summer, but some do. When I went I was advised to leave the clipless at home and ride flats. Good call. It gets burly. Also, you will want your arms and legs covered, especially your legs. The trails involved take you through a lot of thorny undergrowth. Peel the protection for the fire road section (you might put it back on for the descent), then put it back on if you want to ride the Upper Sutherland Wash area. This trail is best enjoyed by those who can power through a rocky stream crossing cleanly, as you will encounter meaningful stretches of that type terrain in the CDO section. That wasn't for me; I walked a lot of that part. Best part of our ride: Aspen Draw section in 3" of snow, October 27, 2002.
Recommended Route: Per descriptions of Dave the Brave and August 20, 2002 reviewer.
Review Date August 20, 2002
Overall Rating 5 of 5
Ridden Trail: Please Select
Summary: The bomb of Tucson riding. A true "epic" that encompasses all that is holy to MTB'ing in prodigious quantities: Extended downhill 1 track, buffed 1 track, technical 1 track, drops, switchbacks, water crossings, jeep road climbs, jeep road descents, rock gardens, spectacular scenery, ect, ect. This trail should only be ridden by advanced/experienced riders. If you ride this trail you should posses the following: Solid technical riding skill. A high degree of stamina. Solid bicycle repair abilities. Solid navigational skills. A reliable bike (disc brakes recommended). A well thought out travel plan. "Epic" outback riding experience. A suitable amount of food and water. Budget at least 5 hours for an end to end ride. Although not labeled as wilderness Canada Del Oro is wilderness by virtue of its inaccessability and remoteness. If you brake down or get hurt out there it may be a week or more before someone passes through. I highly recommend starting at Aspen Draw as a test. If you find Aspen Draw intimidating proceed no further. If you cleaned (nearly cleaned)Aspen Draw pass go and collect $100. The Red Red Ridge descent is the easy part. When you get down into the Canada del Oro is when the trail gets way burly. Keep in mind to exit CDO you must climb the Gap. Be sure to retain sufficent reserves as the downhill off the Gap will take its toll on fatiuged riders. If you excercise the Sutherland Wash/50 Year option you will need even more energy reserves. Plan accordingly. This trail is special so don't tear it up with poor handling skills.
Recommended Route: Aspen Draw, Red Ridge, Canada del Oro, Charoleau, Sutherland Wash, 50 Year.