There is nothing like telling the story of your latest epic ride, and Arizona is home to several that call to cyclists around the world to partake in uniquely challenging and enjoyable routes (set against a stunning landscape.)
One such ride is a mere two hours north of Phoenix among the rolling hills outside of Flagstaff. The Lake Mary Road route that loops around Mormon Lake isn't one of the most difficult rides around, but it provides a very European classics kind of route, and the views alone are worth the trip.
Best of all, the temps are a standard 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the Valley on any summer day, making for a perfect day trip filled with riding at any pace. And with Mormon Lake Village at the half-way point, the ride has a built-in rest spot with cool drinks aplenty.
The Historic Downtown area of Flagstaff is a great spot to park and start/finish the ride. Both Late for the Train and Macy's Coffee House are excellent spots to grab that pre-ride java jolt before heading south through the NAU campus to Lake Mary Road.
The NAU cut-through can be a bit confusing in a couple of spots. Just follow Beaver Street south to Dupont Avenue. Dupont will dead end and turn left into Knoles Drive. Follow Knoles through campus, across University Drive and down the hill to McConnell Drive. Turn right on McConnell and under the I-17 overpass to Beulah Boulevard.
Beulah is the last road before coming to Lake Mary Road. It does not have a bike lane, so be careful to stay right for the quick mile before hanging left on Lake Mary Road. Once on Lake Mary Road, wide, glassy bike lanes and road shoulders lay out a pristine path to the Mormon Lake Road loop.
The first five miles along Lake Mary Road run past newer and older residential areas that mark the fringe of Flagstaff while pine trees dominate the roadside. Look for the old water treatment plant, a great stone building, on the north/east side of the road around mile four.
Lake Mary is actually two lakes cleverly named Lower Lake Mary and Upper Lake Mary. Lower Lake Mary is actually the northernmost and will come first around the mile nine point. Lower Lake Mary is a mostly dried up bog these days with a slight amount of water running through reeds and grass along the roadside.
Upper Lake Mary is the larger body of water and home to the area's recreation. The parking area and boat launch comes at the 14 mile point of the ride, so be cautious of cars going in and out of this lot. This spot is home to one of Arizona's great triathlon events, the Mountain Man, which has become so popular it has split into two separate events.
The sixteen mile stretch of road from the beginning of Lake Mary Road to Upper Lake Mary is rolling but predominantly flat. At the back side of Upper Lake Mary, 19 miles into the ride, the primary climb of the ride kicks in. The next three to four miles are a series of challenging hills that step up from one to the next. These are deceptively tough hills, so ride at a comfortable tempo with the goal of getting to the top.
Once up, the Mormon Lake Road junction appears on the right. The Mormon Lake Road loop is a total of ten miles around before hooking back into Lake Mary Road, but seven miles to Mormon Lake Village and the Village general store.
Mormon Lake Road is a much rougher road surface with little to no bike lane or shoulder, but traffic is minimal along this stretch. This is now the high point, topping just shy of 7,000 feet. To the west is the large, round presence of Mormon Mountain. The combination of Mormon Mountain and the lake valley cause swirling winds that never seem to blow in the rider's favor. Again, just find a comfortable pace and enjoy the pine-lined ride.
Much like Lower Lake Mary, not much remains of Mormon Lake in terms of a body of water. What was water has largely surrendered to a sea of wildflowers and alfalfa. This lakebed is beautiful yet stark contrast to the dryness that dominates the rest of the state, including the high forests. It looks and feels more like Colorado or Wyoming than Arizona.
REAL DEAL BIKE TIP #17: Be Prepared. Monsoons and summer storms move fast in this area. Cyclists should always leave for a ride prepared to fix a flat and cover other basic mechanical issues. But regardless of how the weather looks when the ride starts, pack as if you expect to get drenched or vice versa. And always carry more food than you expect to eat. Bonking half-way on a rolling, high altitude ride is worse than doing than in Phoenix and not many taxis in Flagstaff will come fetch you out there.
Mormon Lake Village is strange outpost surrounded by vacation cabins and campgrounds. The Mormon Lake Lodge is where riders and other visitors find restrooms and the general store for a cold drink and carb kick. If a 30-mile ride is all you are looking for, this is the spot to park a car to get back into town.
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The road out of the village and back to Lake Mary Road tips up for a good half-mile grunt before turning left and ripping a fast downhill back to the lake bed. Another hill then takes the road to the plateau that overlooks the east side of the lake and typically amazing views of the San Francisco Peaks.
The return trip out from the lakes Mary descends and rolls at a draining but enjoyable pace. Once back into Flag, work back through campus to San Francisco Street and to your car. Before heading home, replenish with some local protein and suds at Diablo Burger on the Main Square.
Trip Distance: 62 miles
Trip Duration: 4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult. There aren't any super nasty mountains to climb, but the hills and high altitude will make it burn.
Route Map: www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/44326296/