Any season, but road conditions may be bad in winter.
Mars Hill is the road that climbs from downtown Flagstaff to Lowell Observatory. It is short but steep, at 0.8 miles but nearly 300 feet of elevation from bottom to top. This is the distance starting from Thorpe Park, but you can extend the ride by starting elsewhere in town and finishing with this leg-burning ascent. It makes a great training ride before taking on bigger hills in the area. The view of downtown is impressive, and you can combine the ride with a visit to the famous observatory on top of the hill.
What Makes It Great
The miles of highways in and around Flagstaff provide endless cycling routes. Most of these are characterized by high mileage with long but sustained climbs and descents, but a handful of rides are windy mountain roads that require power as well as endurance. Mars Hill Road offers a small taste of what bigger feats, like Snowbowl Road, will feel like. It also makes a worthwhile casual workout if you happen to be pedaling around downtown Flagstaff. Near the top is an overlook, valuable as a spot to take a breather and take in the cityscape.
The ride tops out at Lowell Observatory, a historic telescope station that has operated since 1894. Resident astronomers were the discoverers of Pluto and later the first to detect expansion of the universe. Cycling is actually integral to the making of these discoveries, because the observatory’s founder hired a pair of Flagstaff bicycle shop owners who loved to tinker with machines to build the original telescope dome. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this pivotal research station, which offers daily tours and nighttime stargazing programs for a $12 admission fee. A great option is to ride the road at twilight, spend an hour or two with the telescopes at the observatory, then returning to downtown in the dark.
Who is Going to Love It
Cyclists looking to test their gear and their grit can start hill training on this road. The grade is similar to Snowbowl Road, though the distance much less. The short distance and convenient location makes it great for riding up and down laps. The downhill is curvy and thrilling. Be sure to wear proper safety equipment and be careful of automobile traffic that shares the road, especially if riding at night.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From downtown Flagstaff, take Birch Ave (any of the east-west streets will work) to the T-intersection with Thorpe Road. Park at Thorpe park and ride south on the road to the intersection with Santa Fe Avenue then turn right. This turns into Mars Hill Road and starts immediately uphill. Follow signs to Lowell Observatory. There is free parking at the observatory if you choose to leave a car here.
Arizona law requires that cyclists on the road follow the same rules as motorists, including having lights mounted front and back if riding after dark.