Mountain Biking Arizona: Cyclists Love Prison Camp Trail in Mount Lemmon
When talking about mountain biking in Tucson, Arizona, Mt. Lemmon will always come up in the conversation. But Prison Camp trail, a lesser known portion of Mt. Lemmon’s many mountain biking trails, is one of our favorite spots and top-of-the-list recommendations for cyclists visiting Arizona.
Prison Camp trail begins at the Southwest end of the Gordon Hirabayashi campground, and descends to the Molino Basin campground. It is actually the last section of the Arizona Trail until you get higher up the mountain, and officially part of the “Redington” section of the Arizona Trail. If you’re descending from Bug Springs, it’s a short and mostly downhill biking trail with some technical surprises thrown in for an awesome cycling session.
There is a bit of short climbs you’ll have to bike through here and there, but for the most part it is fast, fun, and downhill. This mountain biking trail can be handled by intermediate riders, but be aware there are some areas that can catch you unaware if you’re not careful. For those not so gravity-oriented, it is equally fun to ride UP the trail, too!
Cycling Through National History in Arizona: Exploring Prison Camp’s Past
Arizona doesn’t only have amazing biking trails and great mountain landscapes—we are filled with rich, vibrant history. Prison Camp trail’s name dates all the way back to 1937 and the beginnings of World War II, when the government established Federal Honor Camp to house federal prisoners. They would supply labor and build roads that provided access into the Santa Catalina Mountains.
In 1942, Gordon Hirabayashi, a then-student at the University of Washington, challenged the constitutionality of internment based on race or ancestry. He was convicted and had to serve at the honor camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. His case was overturned in 1987, and after the 1988 Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan, the Coronado National Forest in Arizona renamed the site in 1999 to honor Hirabayashi and other prisoners. Now the campgrounds are famous for great Arizona scenery and great national history. And you can explore it all on your bike!
Precautions While Cycling Prison Camp Trail in Richest Arizona Mountain Trails
Mount Lemon Prison Camp Trail is a rush for many, many reasons. So we want your biking adventure to not be spoiled by any inconveniences that can be avoided! All cyclists should bring enough water and snacks to last a bit. This is a great exploring trail, and you don’t want your time to be cut short because you didn’t pack a protein bar or two.
Also be mindful that Prison Camp trail is very popular and highly frequented by hikers and equestrian riders. Share the trail with all and everyone can enjoy this bit of Arizona history!
Unlike the higher Mt. Lemmon mountain biking trails, there is not much shade on this cycling trail so it can get intense in the summer. You know yourself better than anyone else, so whether you’re an avid cyclist or a beginner biker, take it slow and listen to your body.
Directions to Mt Lemmon and Prison Camp Mountain Bike Trails – Tucson, Arizona
To get to the Prison Camp biking trail, take Mt. Lemmon Highway to the Gordon Hirabayashi campground. The trailhead is at the Southern-most point, at the turnaround.
One popular option that many cyclists take is parking their vehicles at the Molino View parking lot just South of the Fee Station. From here, cyclists and hikers can shuttle up to Green Mountain. You can easily ride Green Mountain, Bug Springs, and Prison Camp from the shuttle drop-off. And Prison Camp, the last biking trail you’ll cycle through, ends just a mile or so uphill from parked cars. One of our great sponsors, Southwest Trekking, offers a great shuttle service for all interest cyclists. You need to have at least six riders, and the cost is usually around $15/person.
Once you’re done with your mountain biking experience, you can exit through the campground to get right back out on Catalina Highway. Unless you leave a vehicle at the trail exit, it’s a 2-mile bike ride back up Catalina Highway to get to the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground.
Ready to Brave Arizona Mountain Bike Trails but Lack a Bike? Don’t Worry— We Deliver!
What The Bike Bandit Says…
“I love just letting it go and doing the downhill on the Mount Lemmon Prison Camp Trail. Very challenging and fun.”
– Jason, The Bike Bandit