Bicycle Culture

Cycle: Arizona Canal's 20 Miles of (Virtually) Car-Free Riding

One of the biggest complaints about cycling in and around Phoenix is dealing with cars. If I had a dime for every mountain biker who told me they avoided road riding because of traffic, I'd have three dream bikes parked in the living room.

Frankly, Phoenix and Valley drivers are a piece of cake compared to riding around a city like Los Angeles, but in a place filled with over-sized pickups and SUVs operated by phone- and makeup- distracted motorists, the concern is understandable. Fortunately for local pedal pushers, there is a stretch of pathway that lays out for a gloriously uninterrupted for nearly 10 miles each way.

The Arizona Canal path between Granada Park and 51st Avenue rolls under every street it intersects with (save two, currently) to make for a highly enjoyable two-wheel excursion for any kind of ride from an easy family spin to a light training ride.

There are other multi-purpose paths around the Valley that offer long stretches of car-free riding, including the Scottsdale Greenbelt Path or the Western Canal paths, but both of those require frequent road crossings and car confrontations.

No urban, paved route is truly as car-free as the Arizona Canal.

The canal path can be easily accessed from any main street that crosses over the canal, but the best place to park and start is Granada Park, in the shadow of Piestewa Peak, at Maryland Avenue and 20th Street. The park has decent bathrooms and drinking fountains to make sure that all business can be taken care of before heading northwest.

The canal initially passes to the south of the Phoenix Mountains, including Piestewa, North Mountain and Shaw Butte. The trail has two of the remaining, distinctive Wall Cycle to Ocotillo pots before reaching the Lincoln Road underpass. Also look for the great, retro-looking wall mural on the Armored Mini Storage building calling us to "Support Our Troops."

The features that allow such uninterrupted riding along the canal are the engineered underpasses. Cyclists do need to observe muli-purpose path rules and yield to all other users - pedestrians, joggers, horses, ducks, coyotes or whathaveyou. But the intermittent downhills are a blast to break up the flatness of the rest of the route. Just remember, there is an incline on the other side.

Another noticeable spot along the canal is on the north side of the Northern Avenue underpass. Here you will come across the "largest last stand" of giant eucalyptus trees called the Sunday Ranch Shade.

The trees are marked and described as a windbreak to help ease water evaporation and provide a nice escape from the sun.

There are only two roads to actually cross on this ride. The first is at 7th Avenue, however construction is currently underway putting in a new underpass so even this intersection is being removed.

For the time being, cyclists do have to switch over to the south side of the canal to get around the work. The other street crossing comes at 25th Avenue, just shy of the I-17 underpass. Aside from those two spots, it's clear sailing past Metrocenter to 51st Ave.

The Arizona Canal path does extend west to 75th Avenue, where the canal ends, should you decide to push on for a few additional miles. And technically the canal cuts east through Scottsdale and the Salt River Pima - Maricopa Indian Reservation until reaching its source at the Granite Reef Dam. But the paved portion ends abruptly at the base of the Wrigley Mansion and the Biltmore Resort.

Trip Distance: 19.5 miles round trip
Trip Duration: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Route Map:

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Jason Franz
Contact: Jason Franz

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