bikepacking the sky islands west loop
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Bikepacking the Sky Islands West Loop

The Sky Islands occupy parts of southeastern Arizona and are a unique and much-studied ecosystem. The Sky Islands West Loop is a 170-mile route that starts and ends in Patagonia, AZ and travels through fantastic and remote landscapes. Bikepacking the Sky Islands West Loop was our goal for our Christmas vacation since Covid was in full swing and we didn’t want to risk family gatherings.


satellite view of the sky islands west loop
Satellite view of the Sky Islands West Loop, shown in red.

Download the Sky Islands West Loop GPX, courtesy of

Day 1 – 22.28 miles

We got a bit of a late start out of Patagonia, per usual, and headed up into the Patagonia Mountains. The route starts out through a beautiful canyon, where the grades aren’t too steep. The road up to Mount Washington is fairly gradual but definitely a long steady climb.

bikepacking the sky islands
Sunset on the far side of Mount Washington.

Coming down the other side of Mt. Washington, however, was crazy steep and loose. We slid out a couple times and then decided to just walk our bikes. Andrew had a full wipe out and broke his headlight mount, but luckily was able to work something out with zip ties.

bikepacking the sky islands west loop
Lichen covered mountains on the descent from Mount Washington.

We camped shortly after coming down the steepest section, as the days were short and it was already getting dark. We set up camp in a flat spot right off the corner of a curve in the road.

wild camping on the sky islands west loop
Our campsite on the first night.

Day 2 – 38.12 miles

We descended from the mountains and crossed the highway, taking a short detour to stock up on food at the travel stop. After heading into the Coronado National Forest, we joined up with Ruby Road, which is a beautiful ride through cactus gardens and gorgeous rolling hills. This area is known to be a migrant crossing corridor, but we didn’t see anyone out there when we were passing through.

bikepacking sky islands west loop
Nice gravel past ocotillo and other cool plants.

We found a peaceful cottonwood grove to camp in near the edge of the National Forest. There were several loud vehicles passing by in the middle of the night and we were kind of freaked out since we had illegal trafficking on our mind, but we were hidden from view of passing traffic.

Day 3 – 43.27 miles

We resupplied at the grocery store in Ariavaca around midday then headed toward the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. Andrew saw a bobcat almost immediately after we crossed into the wildlife refuge, so, it’s working! We had a great sunset on our ride through the first part of the refuge, then we filled up our water at the headquarters and found a nice flat spot to camp shortly after.

bikepacking the sky islands west loop
Riding somewhere after Ariavaca.

Day 4 – 50 miles

The morning started out with us watching a hawk that had perched right near our campsite. It was very regal in the winter light. We had a flat, speedy ride through the refuge in the morning and enjoyed the grasslands and amazing views of Baboquivari Peak.

hawk in the buenos aires national wildlife refuge
Hawk watching over our campsite.
Baboquivari Peak on the sky islands loop
Baboquivari Peak looking majestic.

The grocery store in Amado was closed when we were there, but there was a filtered water machine outside that we filled up at. We biked a bit further toward the Santa Rita Mountains before calling it a day.

bikepacking sky islands
Posing with the cholla.

Day 5 – 29.29 miles

This was a challenging day due to the fact that it was Saturday and the Santa Rita Mountains are pretty popular with 4×4 enthusiasts. There was a train of Jeeps that we kept leap frogging to the point of ridiculousness. We’d let them pass us, then they’d stop somewhere to party and we’d pass them, and back and forth. The scenery was awesome but the Jeep song and dance definitely bummed us out.

bikepacking the sky islands
This is from earlier in the trip. We didn’t take many photos during the Jeep shenanigans.

About 5 miles from Patagonia, Jenny had a huge wipe-out in some loose gravel on the inside of a corner. Luckily it happened close to town, and Andrew sprayed the bits of gravel out with a Sawyer syringe. Quite a way to end the trip!

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