Forest Road 143 Out-and-Back

Forest Road 143 is a wonderful dirt road through remote country to the south of Mt Hopkins and Mt Wrightson. The western end is rockier and hillier, while the eastern end has mainly well-graded road. Some of the short hills in the western end are steep and loose enough that I had to push my bike up a few sections; fortunately these sections were short.

Since this is an out-and-back ride, you’ll get to ride it both ways. I found west-to-east more difficult as the uphills are rockier with more of the short loose sections. The east-to-west ride tends to have longer but not quite as steep hills. I started at the western end as I wanted to ride the harder direction first, but the downside to doing it this way was that I had the early-morning sun in my eyes for quite some time as I started early to beat the heat.

I parked at the Whipple Observatory Visitor Center on Mt Hopkins Road, and rode to the Patagonia Market in Patagonia where I refueled, then rode back. The whole ride was just over 57 miles with 5,717 feet of climbing. I rode this 5/20/20.

You can alternatively park by the start of FR 143 in a large dirt area. The ride from here to Patagonia and back is 53 miles with 5,348 feet of climbing, 2,775 feet of climbing going to Patagonia and 2,573 feet coming back from Patagonia.

I will give distances from the start of FR 143. Also, most of the photos here are from my previous two rides of FR 143 when I rode it one direction each time.


Drive down I-19 past Green Valley to Exit 56 for Canoa Road. At the roundabout go left under the Interstate then turn right and go about three miles down the frontage road to Elephant Head Road. Turn left and drive along Elephant Head Road for 1.5 miles then turn right on Mt Hopkins Road, following the signs for Whipple Observatory. Park here. The entrance to Forest Road 143 is 2 miles before the Whipple Observatory and there’s a large dirt area where you can park if you want to avoid the extra four miles of riding.

East to Patagonia

The road is well marked and very obvious and it’s almost impossible to get lost on it. The first few miles have some downhill but are mainly uphill, on a somewhat rough road. At about 6 miles you get into the real hills, and reach the high-point of the ride at around mile 8. A beautiful downhill (which is one of the best hills on the way back) and more uphill brings you to a signed intersection just after mile 10. Turn right here, and in a few hundred yards you start the long descent into the Salero Ranch Valley. 

At about mile 13.5 the road becomes well-graded and much smoother, and you’ll now have another 10 miles of rolling, then downhill, and you’ll see many dirt roads heading off to the sides, each closed by a Salero Ranch gate. Finally there are a few miles of flat riding into Patagonia. At this point, if you are like me, you’ll be dreading the thought of having to reverse all this.

In Patagonia turn right on 3rd Avenue and the Patagonia Market is on the corner of 3rd and Hwy 82. Refuel, then go back the way you came, turning left on Pennsylvania Ave and following this road for the next 26 miles.

West from Patagonia

The way back starts flat then turns to mainly uphill, then just after mile 7 it becomes rolling, as you ride through the beautiful Salero Ranch valley. At around mile 12.5 you start the long gradual climb up into the hills. Just after mile 16 you reach the signed intersection and turn left, following the sign for Amado. At mile 18.7 you reach the high-point of the ride, which is followed by lots of rough downhill.

Links and Other Clicks

The Amado-Patagonia-Nogales-Amado Loop that rides FR 143 West -> East. I found this the more difficult direction on FR 143.

The Mount Wrightson Loop that rides FR 143 East -> West.

Other rides around Tucson

Other Cycling Pages


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